Opinion-editorial by Mahmood Al-Bastaki, Chief Operating Officer of DT World, part of DP World
Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) play a central role in developing economies across Africa, driving growth, creating jobs and pushing innovation. Micro, small and medium companies represent more than 90% of businesses on the continent and provide 60% of all jobs. In Rwanda, for example, SMEs account for an enormous 98% of businesses and 41% of private-sector jobs. To ensure that these businesses continue to flourish and reach their full potential in an ever-increasingly competitive global marketplace, digital solutions are crucial to ensure they can expand and support Africa’s future economic growth.
In particular, new digital systems will be at the heart of accelerating trade and providing access to new markets for African entrepreneurs. Now is the time for corporates, governments and other investment role-players to find ways to support homegrown businesses. It is these very businesses that will become the vital manufacturers and exporters needed to take both domestic trade, and international exporting, to the next level.
Logistics solutions and E-commerce will enhance local business
The availability of easily accessible e-commerce platforms will be a crucial factor in realising African growth and increasing trade. Businesses and customers must be able to find each other and easily interact, whilst businesses need safe and secure platforms to transact.
Such platforms must also be backed by a network of logistics infrastructure to move goods from place-to-place, encouraging regional trade growth and supporting businesses in their expansion plans. Africa is home to 16 landlocked countries, including Rwanda, and roads, railways, ports, free trade zones and delivery providers will be vital in creating widespread market demand for once-local products and jobs throughout the supply chain. Corridors that connect landlocked regions with the coast and beyond, bolstered by digital and physical infrastructure, are the way forward.
As an international trade enabler, DP World recently launched DUBUY.com, a global wholesale e-commerce platform, targeting Africa in the initial stage. The importance of the logistical side of this new e-commerce platform can’t be underestimated. This supply chain partnership is helping meet the expectations of both customers and suppliers.
The launch of these integrated services has the potential to enable new digital trade corridors across Africa, while still remaining affordable. SMEs in the region will be able to find and connect with new trading partners overseas, while in future, larger companies will be able to reach new customers regardless of their location – domestically and internationally.
Such platforms will empower business owners in Africa and help realise the continent’s vision of becoming the most digitally enabled global economy, while also accelerating the nation’s recovery from COVID-19.
Digital safety as business environments develop
Of course, thriving e-commerce is not achievable in any market if the safety and security of transactions are not ensured. As digital platforms enable exciting opportunities for trade, new concerns around data protection are emerging. Half of African countries have passed legislation to protect consumer privacy, while another 17 countries have draft legislation in the works, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD). Most of these are similar to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) enacted by the European Union, which sets the standard in this market.
By partnering with payment gateway service providers such as Equity Bank Airtel Money, MPESA and Orange Money, e-commerce platforms are helping smaller businesses and individual entrepreneurs to make secure online payments in regions where this was simply not possible before. These platforms provide the digital infrastructure – a payment processing portal – that mean SMEs can easily accept debit or credit card, bank transfers and mobile money purchases from customers, while still protecting financial data according to the highest international standards.
Businesses must make sure that consumer data they collect is held securely, that participants have consented to their data being collected, and that data is used in the manner for which it was intended. Obviously, the most sensitive data is collected when customers make payments, so it is critical that this is done safely and securely.
DUBUY.com recognises these realities and their impact on exporters and traders, and therefore provides the highest levels of data protection. By maintaining personal data on the most secure servers, ensuring staff receive regular data security training, investing in the newest protective software and using only the most up-to-date systems, we ensure that all our clients have zero security concerns.
This protection is key to a newly digitised business’ success as they start their regional and international trade journeys.
If entrepreneurs and SME owners can be empowered through access to new, safe technology, they are given more opportunities to participate in online ventures and cross-border trade. While large companies are already making their mark through e-commerce across the continent, new, more inclusive platforms are starting to emerge, impacting the lives of ordinary people running smaller operations.