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Lessons on propelling sustainable growth through e-commerce

Business must work alongside governments to ensure that equitable growth for all does not get left behind by the e-commerce boom. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Business must work alongside governments to ensure that equitable growth for all does not get left behind by the e-commerce boom. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

For centuries, trade has defined borders, moulded communities and broken barriers. In the early days, smoke signals and drum beats may have been the first indication that people were willing to trade.

Later, using dug-out canoes and dhows, ocean liners, aircrafts, cars and more recently, through computers, the internet, and the mobile phone, humans have continuously worked to improve their means of exchanging goods and services.

One thing has remained constant throughout this evolution. The balance of power has typically favoured those groups that have the widest reach, the deepest pockets and who were logistically-savvy.

But there are some new rules of trade that are emerging, defined by an increasingly digital landscape. This means that anyone can now sell or buy, as long as they can access a platform.

And those platforms come in a growing number of formats these days.

From the mammoth e-commerce platform Alibaba, which is leveraging the latest in deep learning AI to deliver faster, further and better; to start-ups like Dfter, which exist solely on Instagram, the concept of the ‘platform economy’ is increasingly influencing the world of commerce.

Much of this growth will come from emerging markets. These are markets that are just starting to get a glimpse of the vast possibilities brought about by digital technologies as they become more connected.

Over the next few years, emerging markets are going to be essential for e-commerce growth, as retailers in developed markets may soon reach saturation in terms of consumer growth.

For years, the biggest beneficiaries of this new platform ecosystem have been the largest and biggest producers of goods and services.

We all know that the largest firms anywhere in the world today have the market power to purchase the best logistics services to move goods or pay for the best services, technologies or talent from anywhere in the world.

This opportunity to use technology to open new doors for trade means that cottage industries, rural farmers, artistes and basically anyone who has access to a data connection can now participate in the global market from the comfort of their homes.

In an instant, the traditional barriers of trade like distance and language are being broken down and forming a new landscape for more inclusive and sustainable growth.

To build more inclusive economies that can withstand the pressures of a changing world, business must work alongside governments to ensure that equitable growth for all does not get left behind by the e-commerce boom.

This convergence of technology and shifts in trade gives the world the opportunity to reboot its thinking around how to source and supply goods sustainably.

This realization is the underlying philosophy behind Masoko (Kiswahili for markets) which Safaricom launched a few months ago to link buyers to markets.

Masoko hopes to unlock the untapped e-commerce market in Kenya by connecting consumers, merchants and vendors to each other using a powerful online portal.

Bob Collymore is CEO, Safaricom Limited.

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