The ACP-DIGI project, funded by the European Union and implemented by Expertise France, worked with Chambers of Commerce and Industry to support the digitization of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in West Africa and the Caribbean. Analyses were carried out to assess the digital maturity and digital capacity-building needs of MSMEs, enabling the design of country-specific training and awareness-raising programs.

For example, in the Caribbean, the Caribbean Export Development Agency, a regional export support organization, trained SMEs in e-commerce, with the aim of integrating and exploiting the possibilities of online commerce. Following this training, the agency set up coaching actions to provide concrete, individual support to beneficiary companies wishing to join a regional e-commerce platform. The project supports the entrepreneur from start to finish, from theoretical instruction to individualized coaching to provide support in applying the knowledge acquired during the training courses. In addition, this accompaniment ensures that the capacity-building of the companies corresponds closely to their needs, as Christine and Julie, managers of Gourmet PAW, a pet treats company based in Barbados, can testify:

“One of the things we really want to do is export our product throughout the Caribbean. And the logistics of that have been quite difficult to conceive. If we have a way of using e-commerce for that purpose, and improving our website and web tools to make it so that someone in Grenada, St. Vincent or wherever can order and have our products delivered at a lower cost that would be ideal. And that’s what we’re hoping to get from the program.”

This type of initiative, combining training and individualized support, has also been implemented by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Benin, and many SMEs have experienced its beneficial effects: “We did digital communication, we learned how to manage our Facebook pages, our social networks in general, and we learned some digital marketing strategies. We’ve also benefited from a website for our company, which is a great service to us. It gives us visibility,” says Abiala O. Neuly Thècle, Director of Agro Health Africa, a Benin-based company specializing in the production and processing of local juices.

In Togo, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Togo has also launched a number of training courses for fifty micro, small and medium-sized enterprises, based on a needs-identification approach and training in the use of digitalization tools.

In addition, the ACP-DIGI project partners have organized awareness-raising events on entrepreneurship and digital technology for the general public. The aim: to demonstrate and promote the driving role played by digital technology in the development of businesses and their resilience in the face of crises. For example, the Ivory Coast Chamber of Commerce and Industry organized awareness-raising sessions in 7 regions of Ivory Coast, reaching nearly 1,500 entrepreneurs. These sessions presented accessible digital tools such as Canva and WhatsApp Business, and their operationalization. “I’m very happy to have taken part in this training. It’s very practical, simple and operational, and it’s helping us to overcome our digital illiteracy” Viviane NENIN, Côte d’Ivoire business owner.

Partnerships have also been set up to offer entrepreneurs access to wider digital networks, including technical support (mentoring, training) and business development tools (marketplaces). “Our company is subject to real monitoring, and this monitoring will make us more compatible with this era of digitalization. This will help us to promote our products and services online,” says Joseph Peter Brown Pobee, owner and manager of the Eden Lodge guest house in Ghana.

These training, awareness-raising and support initiatives for companies, tailored to their specific needs, increase their ability to withstand current and future crises, and support their development and market integration.

ACP – DIGI is a project carried out as part of the DIRECCT program, the ACP-EU digital response program for the Covid-19 crisis. Funded by the European Union, it is being deployed in over 55 ACP countries through 10 projects supporting the digitization of the education, health and small and medium-sized enterprise sectors. It is implemented jointly by Agence Française de Développement (AFD) and the Belgian development agency, Enabel.