UN and e-Residency join forces to empower entrepreneurs in the developing world

The UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has gathered global policy makers and leading entrepreneurs in Geneva for e-Commerce Week. They’ll hear how Estonia’s e-Residency programme has joined forces with UNCTAD for its groundbreaking initiative, e-Trade For All, which can help unlock global growth by giving more people the power to start a business online.

“We have to build a world that is more transparent, a world that is more inclusive, a world that cares about others and empowers others.” — Jack Ma

Jack Ma worked as a teacher before starting his first online business and didn’t acquire his first computer until the age of 33.

Today, he’s a world leading internet entrepreneur as the Founder and Chairperson of the Alibaba Group, which owns China’s largest online retailer — and he’s on a mission to spread the benefits of e-commerce and entrepreneurship to more people around the world as Special Advisor to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD).

Jack Ma is now in Geneva for e-Commerce Week (24–28 April) where UNCTAD has gathered the world’s leading entrepreneurs and policy makers to discuss how more people around the world can trade online.

UNCTAD’s groundbreaking new initiative to ensure more entrepreneurs in the developing world can access e-commerce is called e-Trade For All and Estonia’s e-Residency programme is a founding partner.

In 2000, Estonia became the first country to declare that internet access is a human right, a notion that was then backed by the UN and other countries around the world in various forms. As internet access increases rapidly around the world, Estonia is now leading again by ensuring that access to entrepreneurship online is also available to everyone.

Jack Ma predicts that 90% of all business will be online in the next 30 years. At present, however, a large proportion of the world’s population is unable to benefit from that growth — often just because of where they live. People in developing countries, women and other marginalised groups currently have the greatest challenges accessing e-commerce.

The financial and administrative barriers to establishing and managing a business may be too high, their business may not be trusted online or they may have difficulty accessing all the tools they need, such as international payment providers.

This is why Estonia’s e-Residency programme is crucial to helping unleash the world’s entrepreneurial potential. It means aspiring entrepreneurs can apply for a secure digital identity issued by the government of Estonia and then use it to establish and manage an EU company online with minimal bureaucracy.

On Tuesday, e-Residency Programme Director Kaspar Korjus will take part in a high level discussion with Jack Ma and others and then help launch e-Trade For All’s new online platform, which will help the scheme grow wider.

The e-Residency programme will then co-host a high level discussion on Thursday with UNCTAD and the International Trade Centre to identity practical initiatives that will help more small and medium sized enterprises in developing countries benefit from e-commerce. The keynote address will be provided by Dr. Liam Fox, the UK’s Secretary of State for International Trade, while Victoria Saue, Head of Legal and Compliance at e-Residency, will talk more about how the programme already provides a solution.

E-Residency is currently in the public beta phase of development, which means that improvements are continuously being made based on the feedback of real entrepreneurs already benefitting from the programme.

Such is the enormous potential of this initiative to transform the world that the G20 has now recommended that all its members actively support e-Trade For All and its key policy areas.

e-Trade For All in action

One of the first examples of e-Trade For All in action is now underway in Delhi, India where women are being helped to start their online businesses through e-Residency of Estonia.

The Indian Institute of Technology Delhi has launched an initiative called Women Entrepreneurship and Empowerment (WEE), which is supported by the Indian government’s Department of Science and Technology.

At present, women in developing countries are the least likely to benefit from internet access so WEE is helping the participants develop their business ideas and then turn them into a reality through e-Residency.

Women Entrepreneurship and Empowerment (WEE) helps aspiring female entrepreneurs in India

Riho Kruuv, Estonian Ambassador to India, explains that Estonia and WEE have a shared objective of empowering women entrepreneurs and helping them scale to international markets.

“By eliminating physical borders, we can provide new opportunities that the digital world offers to people no matter where they were born,” says Ambassador Kruuv. “By doing this, they will also become active players in the growth of their own country.”

Sakshi Gupta from Delhi, India, is now applying for e-Residency of Estonia

Among the participants in the programme is Sakshi Gupta from Delhi who has always dreamt of running her own business, but says she lacked the knowledge and confidence until she discovered the WEE initiative.

“The mentors are not just providing accurate guidance, but they also keep boosting our morale to achieve something big in life,” says Gupta. “So, I would say that WEE is a life changer for me.”

As people in India increasingly live further apart from their elderly relatives, Sakshi saw the opportunity to establish an online business that could help them connect. She is building Zingobox so that young people can send a personalised box of gifts to older relatives, which is tailored to the time of year and each holiday season.

Gupta proudly describes herself as a startup geek so already knew of Estonia as an advanced digital society and the birthplace of Skype, but never imagined she could be digitally part of the country herself until she joined the WEE programme.

“In spite of the fact that I have not visited the country, the e-Residency programme is giving me an amazing opportunity. Being an e-resident, I can now easily access the digital benefits of a country that I have never visited.”

Estonia’s gift to the world

The experience of Sakshi and many others like her will be on the minds of global policy makers next week as they consider the potential of e-Residency to empower more entrepreneurs around the world.

In a speech to UNCTAD, e-Residency Programme Director Kaspar Korjus will explain that e-Residency is not just a project for Estonia, but for the world, and is already empowering entrepreneurs in 137 countries.

“Small businesses shouldn’t need to wait to integrate themselves into global trade,” says Korjus. “Why not support these entrepreneurs while at the same time helping entire countries overcome infrastructure deficiencies?

“With an a-Residency platform already internationalised and in place, entire regions can immediately be empowered. Businesses, financial companies, governments and organisations in every part of the world can integrate themselves into this platform for the benefit of their own citizens and clients.”

By providing more people with the opportunity to start a business online, e-Residency wouldn’t just empower individual entrepreneurs to succeed, but also help their families, communities and countries benefit too.

The Republic of Estonia has just begun its centenary celebrations, which will lead up to the 100 year anniversary of its founding in 2018. Estonians at home and around the world are being encouraged to offer their own ‘gift’ to the country to mark the occasion.

At the same time, e-Residency — the opportunity for anyone, anywhere to succeed as an entrepreneur — will continue to be Estonia’s gift to the world.

You can find out more about e-Trade For All at etradeforall.org. Also, anyone in the world can apply for e-Residency by clicking here.