As part of the ACP DIGI project, Expertise France organised a workshop in Abidjan on 13 and 14 June 2023 to build the capacity of Business Support Organisations (in particular Chambers of Commerce and Industry – CCIs) in e-commerce. The project, which aims to support the digitisation of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises in Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Togo, Benin and 15 Caribbean countries, is working closely with the CCIs in West Africa and the Caribbean Export Agency in the Caribbean.

The aim of the workshop is to equip the business umbrella organisations, the programme’s implementing partners, with basic knowledge of e-commerce and a portfolio of training and business support tools to enable them to develop their activities and market their products online. E-commerce is one of the main challenges for the digitalisation of small businesses, and the better equipped they are, the more resilient they will be in the face of crises.

Building the capacity of business Holding

Over two days, these workshops provided an opportunity to discuss the various aspects of the digital transition with representatives of the chambers of commerce. Digital transformation expert Sven Callebaut reaffirmed what was at stake: “Understanding your needs, your interests and your challenges so that we can respond to them, provide the beginnings of a solution or start a dialogue with you so that when you return to your respective countries and offices, you have learned something”.

In the course of these various modules, the chambers of commerce have acquired various tools that they can in turn offer to the entrepreneurs in their network. A number of workshops were organised to build the capacity of business umbrella organisations in these areas. These sessions were followed by question and answer sessions to enable the umbrella organisations to appropriate the knowledge they had acquired.

Skills transfer

The rationale behind this workshop is to equip chambers of commerce to disseminate this know-how to their member companies. Job Diao, representing the Benin Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “We have realised that companies today need to be present on e-commerce platforms. Since 2020, the Benin Chamber of Commerce and Industry has set up a platform so that businesses can have an online shop and promote their products online”.

And indeed, chambers of commerce have a pretty clear idea of their role and mission when it comes to digitisation: “The role of the Togo Chamber of Commerce and Industry? The role of the Togo Chamber of Commerce and Industry is to make information available, to support businesses in their training, to support the installation of tools and the setting up of digital platforms,” explained Yawo Seyenam Kavege, representative of the Togo Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Ultimately, the aim of the workshop was to “demystify the concept of technology and make it accessible to small businesses. Many are familiar with these tools, but few use them strategically. We need to help them embark on a digital transformation”, noted the technical adviser to the Ghana Chamber of Commerce and Industry. This is a step towards empowering chambers of commerce and ensuring that small businesses are able to disseminate their digital know-how over the long term.

What conclusions can be drawn from the Abidjan workshops?

At the end of the workshops, a number of key lessons were learned.

1) E-commerce is booming and offers great potential for businesses of all sizes. However, its development in the region is hampered by limited internet access and infrastructure.
2) There is a need to develop a strategic vision, a roadmap for e-commerce. This roadmap needs to be supported by a human resources strategy as well as regulatory, technical and financial assistance.
3) It is crucial that business support organisations provide toolkits for businesses, including practical guides and even e-learning videos, animations, visual stories, etc.
4) We need to develop more partnerships with donors and development partners…
5) while at the same time developing a wide range of training and awareness-raising programmes (digital literacy, online presence, e-commerce, digital marketing, social networks, cybersecurity, etc.).
6) Finally, participants expressed an interest in developing networking and learning exercises between different countries.