MSMEs Go Digital: Expanding E-commerce in Rwanda during COVID-19

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As part of its COVID-19 response and recovery plan, and in alignment with the Inclusive Digital Economies strategy, UNCDF Rwanda partnered with the Ministry of ICT and Innovation and ICT Chamber to pilot a project that aims to support Rwanda MSMEs to increase their revenues through their presence on digital marketplaces with a focus on women-run businesses. While the need for a stronger e-commerce environment was highlighted by the Government of Rwanda (GoR) prior to the crisis, the lockdowns and backsliding of the economy propelled the prioritization of digitalization in the country. With consideration both to broader goals of ICT as a driver for growth and as a coping mechanism to deal with barriers to traditional face-to-face commerce, the MSMEs Go Digital pilot project was launched in January 2021.

Implemented by the Ministry of ICT and Innovation (MINICT) and Rwanda ICT chamber, the objectives of the pilot were to onboard MSMEs to e-commerce platforms to improve sales, drive more customers to buy online, while promoting awareness of e-commerce and building digital literacy within the wider community.

This article highlights key lessons learned from the pilot that can be applied to projects that aim to boost e-commerce both in Rwanda and globally, given the growth in interest in digital platforms both from businesses and clients. Enablers in the public sector are launching new solutions that potentially may drive more growth, with the number of internet connective devices (i.e. cheaper smartphones, tablets, etc.) rising each year, and fintechs and financial service providers partnering to bring more Rwandans to e-commerce platforms. Following the strategy and policy put in place by the GoR, Rwanda is poised to grow in terms of e-commerce as well as in terms of digitized payments.

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