Re-imagining our economy and our lives
The Covid19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions placed on how business is conducted have forced us to re-imagine many aspects of our economy and fast track our adoption of business models that depend heavily on e-commerce.
One unintended consequence of this increased demand for e-services is that the deficiencies that exist in terms of local support systems needed for such projects to thrive, have been highlighted.
Key among these deficiencies are the limited means by which individuals and businesses are able to interact digitally with Government, and the limited availability of digital payment systems that are affordable, allow for safe money transfer across borders, and are accessible to all consumers, even those without bank accounts.
E-commerce is particularly attractive to small entrepreneurs as many creative business ideas can be operationalized with very little capital outlay. With e-commerce, businesses are no longer constrained by the small size of our local economy as the world will become our market. Additionally, e-commerce levels the playing field, especially in relation to selling our knowledge, skill and creativity.
In addition to the sale of locally produced speciality goods, there is real growth potential in e-products and services based on our knowledge, creativity and skills. With these services, we do not have to figure out the logistics of fulfilling orders and shipping them around the world – which can be a real nightmare, in addition to being very costly, making it difficult to be able to compete with vendors in much larger economies like China and the United States.
When we move into the realm of e-products and services which can be delivered from anywhere in the world, those are the areas where we will shine. The sale of e-tutorials and videos that teach people in far flung countries how to build Carnival costumes, play the steel pan or the violin, braid hair, make coconut oil or weave baskets for example, can, if done right, earn our people passive income, with very little effort after the initial set up effort.
All we need is for the enabling environment to be put in place. And rather than excluding vulnerable people like the elderly and the indigent, a digital economy, which includes e-government, will actually be more inclusive.
There are many examples around the world, with India and Zimbabwe being just two, where people who do not have bank accounts conduct all their business transactions, including payment of utility bills and the purchase of produce in the market, using their mobile phones to move payments between vendors and consumers. We therefore eagerly anticipate the roll out next month, here in St Vincent and the Grenadines, of DCash, a digital currency launched recently by the East Caribbean Central Bank.
Consider also how much easier it would have been to track and provide support to citizens who had to flee their homes when La Soufriere erupted, if each resident had a unique digital identifier and were able to communicate directly with government agencies using their smart phones.
Imagine the difference that would have made. Let us make every effort to fast track the implementation of e-government and digital payment systems that would be acceptable to our banks’ regulators.