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Bottlenecks and points of intervention: Looking through the prism of small business in Africa

Presenter: Nidhi Tandon, Networked Intelligence for Development.
Chaired by: Robert Schware, Senior Informatics Specialist, CITPO.

Nidhi Tandon, Founder and Director, Networked Intelligence for Development (NID), presented the findings of NID's work with a women's entrepreneur association in Cameroon, Association pour le soutien et l'appui a la femme entrepreneur (ASAFE). NID worked in partnership with ASAFE to assist women in integrating ICTs in their market activities. Nidhi showed how systemic change and the rapidity of change brings with it both challenges and opportunities.

Nidhi addressed three dimensions of this initiative: civil society and life long learning, innovation and business, and e-government and e-governance. She addressed some of the bottlenecks they encountered such as, access to hardware, opportunity costs of investing time in "learning", the high service cost of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), and the widening market scope becoming more competitive. She then described how ASAFE approached these challenges and some of the unanticipated outcomes.

Some unanticipated outcomes included:

The private and public sectors approached the women's association for sectoral training on IT policy. Women were interested in knowing the implications of WTO policy on e-commerce, of the multi-fiber agreement on their future sales, and of the implication of taxation on service exports.

Nidhi identified regulatory gaps as one of the main obstacles that ASAFE encountered. This arises from an overall vacuum in e-government at the national level, a lack of capacity to regulate license applications, and the difficulty that conventional governmental mechanisms have in adapting to a "knowledge economy" framework.

She suggested that awareness raising among both women's groups and regulatory authorities of the need for dialogue and for government-business (G2B) interface to be facilitated.

Nidhi concluded her presentation by questioning whether in fact the so-called "digital divide" is really about gender – or simply income differentials. Nidhi suggested that it is not e-commerce that presents such a large area that needs to be tackled, but rather trade barriers and trade policy. She identified these as areas where more work is needed.

Link to ASAFE web page

Updated: 6/9/04

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Special Features

Presentation Materials 06/13/01