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Digital Economy
Many consider Laos one of the poorest countries in its surrounding region. However, its economy has significantly improved in the last 20 years, slowly connecting to the rest of the world digitally, especially as businesses were forced to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic. While Laos has made progress to develop a digital economy, it is still lagging behind as accessibility, quality and affordability are currently issues for its citizens. Thankfully, the Lao Ministry of Technologies and Communications has recognized the need for Laos to develop digitally. In fact, several sectors of the Lao Government are partnering with USAID to allow businesses to access the SMART UP e-learning platform to help enhance their digital literacy.

The Larger Issue

Laos’ lag in digitalization results in a lack of transparency, increased procedural hurdles for investors, high costs for business and lacking public-service delivery for the government. Laos ranks 154 of 190 in the World Bank’s Doing Business 2020 report as well as 117 of 132 in The World Intellectual Property Organizations 2021 Global Innovation Index. Around 80% of the country works for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in which an estimated 100,000 operate informally due to “time, fees and paperwork associated with registering.”

Much of this is due to the Lao PDR’s processes being inefficient, having higher costs and disincentivizing businesses to be part of the formal economy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 78% of children in urban centers and 87.5% of children in rural areas could not access schooling. Around 48.9% of the population remained offline at the beginning of 2020. With 37.6% of the current population in urban areas and 64.2% in rural areas, Laos needs to increase its digitalization for its own development and to catch up with the rest of the world.

Efforts to Create a Digital Economy

The Lao Minister of Technologies and Communications Boveingkham Vongdara has acknowledged Laos’ need to accelerate and move into digital transformation with sustainable development. He claims the ministry is “promoting local language and creation of digital contents by developing fonts and keyboards that support the Lao language for computers and mobile devices.”

The Department of Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion, Ministry of Industry and Commerce and the Lao ICT Commerce association partnered with USAID to launch the SMART UP e-learning platform to help SMEs enhance their digital skills. SMART UP has eight modules that aim to help provide skills to businesses to enhance and promote themselves. It should help with digital literacy to help businesses become agile in the current economic environment, as well as to respond to digital development challenges so SMEs can survive as well as create new opportunities. With SMART UP helping SMEs and entrepreneurs, it will also create more jobs and opportunities for Lao citizens.

Within the first month of the launch, 373 users registered to use the SMART UP platform including 109 for Basic Accounting for SMEs, 63 in Digital Marketing for SMEs, 43 for Introduction to Data Analysis for SMEs, 35 in Full Stack Development, 34 in Multimedia for SMEs and 34 for Introduction to Digitalization. As a result, many small business owners have had a stronger foundation of knowledge in a quickly changing business environment.

Looking Ahead

While the COVID-19 pandemic presented many challenges, it also presented opportunities for the Lao PDR to participate in the digital age and develop a digital economy. With its government recognizing the necessity for a digital economy and platforms such as SMART UP allowing citizens to become more digitally literate, Laos will elevate itself and create more opportunities for economic growth.

– Jerrett Phinney
Photo: Flickr

Technological consumer base in West AfricaThe whole of Africa is known for being an incredibly poor continent. While improvements have been made in certain aspects of life that have provided citizens with better and easier lives in some regions, Africa is still in need of advances that work towards lessening poverty throughout this vast nation. The growing technological consumer base in West Africa, particularly the digital economy and mobile outreach, is becoming a very big deal.

When it comes to technological advances in smaller countries or regions of countries, some nations are way ahead of others. This is largely due to the fact that certain countries have more money than others to invest in these advancements. Even though money may be limited, some areas have found ways to achieve technological improvements.

The technological consumer base in West Africa has experienced a major increase in users in only a decade. Subscribers for the mobile economy of West Africa have reached 47 percent, up from 27 percent ten years ago. These advancements have created new opportunities for government, various industries, start-up businesses, and more. A conference held in April 2018 addressing West Africa’s digital revolution in the last ten years revealed two major factors that contributed to this new digital age: people and technology. People are the ones who rely on, create, and consume technology in increasing numbers while technology and technological advancements continue to broaden their impact the more they are improved upon. The conference was devoted to these two factors in an attempt to bring continued support for integrating mobile and digital technology into society in these regions and bolstering the new growing base of users.

An example of the impact of the increasing technological consumer base in West Africa occurred in 2017. To begin, 85 percent of the world’s population lives in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Large companies such as Google realize that what works for citizens in western culture may not work in the most heavily populated regions of the world. When 1GB of data can cost a consumer almost 10 percent of monthly income, better user options must be considered to grow the consumer base. Recognizing this, Google broadened the YouTube Go app to Nigeria. This app is data-friendly and allows viewers to save and watch videos offline. Google also created an app called Datally for Android which helps users conserve data. As an internet conglomerate, Google realizes that areas like West Africa are the future of the world’s growth. It focuses on ways to enable these areas to grow in a technological age and improve life for its citizens.

Organizations, such as the World Bank Group, have been promoting a digital economy in all parts of Africa. A digital economy will connect Africa’s citizens to various industries, services, information, and each other. In addition, it will provide people with a digital ID to validate their identity and help them connect to necessary government services. Citizens will also gain easier access to formal financial services including mobile money, such as e-commerce and online markets. West Africa’s most recent technological developments and increasing consumer base provide proof that these advancements are possible, they work in these regions, and they make life better for its citizens. This can influence other regions of Africa to continue developing a digital economy.

West Africa’s growing technological consumer base is a possible stepping stone to a better future for Africa as a continent. This growth of the digital economy in Africa that will give citizens much-needed resources, provide more economic opportunities, and create a better way of life.

– Haley Saffren
Photo: Flickr