Integrating with Information Technologies and Electronic Commerce
8 – 13 November 1999, Douala, Cameroon
Summary report and recommendations
Table of Contents
- Introduction and background
- The training methodology
- Programme structure
- Summary of the training content
- Proposed follow-up activities, recommendations and ways forward
Collaborating private and public institutions
Local sponsors in Cameroun
Appendix I: summary of meeting programme
Appendix II: list of exhibitors and products exhibited
Appendix III: summary list of participants
1. Introduction and background
In 1998, the executive director of the Association pour le Soutien et l'Appui a la Femme Entrepreneur (ASAFE), attended an internet training workshop for women organised by ABANTU for Development, a women’s training NGO in Kenya.
In return to Cameroun, ASAFE initiated discussions with her members to conduct a similar regional exercise for women entrepreneurs – this time with an introduction to electronic commerce. ASAFE approached Networked Intelligence for Development (NID) to partner in the development and implementation of a weeklong training meeting and trade exhibition in Douala, Cameroun. The fact that the two organisations were able to communicate almost daily through electronic mail meant that the objectives, strategy and process of this meeting evolved and matured over a period of 18 months.
It became clear that a dialogue needed to be initiated by African women entrepreneurs on the future of e-commerce for small traders and that the content and relevance of this kind of training for entrepreneurs needed to be tested out. ASAFE and NID agreed on a comprehensive programme for the first meeting, which was called a cyberforum. They agreed that enabling individual entrepreneurs to combine their know-how and entrepreneurial experience and to tap the opportunities presented by the evolving ICTs could help turn some of region's business weaknesses into strengths.
It was agreed then that half the programme would combine structured abstract training on the concepts of e-commerce with specific applied hands-on training on marketing, internet, web page and general computerisation issues, and the other half of the programme would support an exhibition of both participants’ products and of those products required to run e-commerce over the Web.
2. The training methodology
The entire programme, from conception to delivery, was designed in collaboration with Networked Intelligence for Development to ensure full and active participation between participants and resource persons. The focus of the training is people centered
rather than goal oriented and is guided ultimately by the process of self-discovery. This method of training encourages confidence building, skills in problem solving and self-empowerment.
The programme and training methodology of this meeting was designed to ensure that there was plenty of space during the programme for resource persons to have one-on-one contact with individual participants wanting customized training on marketing issues, an introduction to e-commerce, digital camera-work, business plan development and database software development.
This seemed to work well although the resource persons were in demand right up until the last possible hour each day. It became very apparent over the course of the cyberforum that participants were hungry for much more in-depth training, even in the computer basics of information management and business planning. Many participants foresee continuing a relationship with resource team members beyond the actual meeting and this is something that ASAFE and NID encourage and will, where need
3. Programme structure
The training programme struck a balance between technical hands-on training and broader discussions on the impact of electronic communications and processes on domestic and international trade. The programme provided space for three kinds of interaction:
- Specific training sessions, which offered strategic, planning sessions, demonstrations and skill-building components for entrepreneurs. Comprehensive technical sessions included marketing strategies for enterprises wanting to export to Europe and the USA, management know-how, basic technical skills in Internet use, demonstration of the use of a digital camera, and an introduction to the mechanisms and future of electronic commerce;
- One-on-one "how-to" sessions where participants had the opportunity to sit through a management or training exercise with one of the resource team members through a personalised training session tailored to their needs;
- The trade exposition, which gave entrepreneurs the opportunity to display their products to each other and to potential buyers. Products exhibited included African textiles and batiks, dried vegetables and fruits, confectionery and nuts. The trade
exhibition ran for two and a half days parallel to training sessions.
The meeting was held in both English and French. Most of the resource team members could speak both languages, and those who could not, had personal translators.
4. Summary of the training content
4.1 International Telecommunications Union, Telecommunication Development Bureau: Addressing the challenges and opportunities through Partnerships
Alexander Ntoko, Project Manager responsible for ITU development in developing countries introduced the subject matter by taking participants through the ITU’s development initiative on electronic commerce for developing countries – EC-DC. The ITU had initiatives in seven African countries and Mr. Ntoko made it clear that he was interested in identifying local needs in electronic commerce and what the ITU ECDC centers could do to address those needs. The EC-DC strategy involved building e-commerce
infrastructure using, as far as possible, local skills and existing services; capacity building through developing technical skills and transfer of technologies; policy development through supporting national, legal and regulatory frameworks; partnering with appropriate public and private sector organisatoins.
He introduced the basics to electronic commerce, the essentials to getting e-commerce to work in developing countries and how ITU anticipates assisting ASAFE to cater to the requirements of women entrepreneurs. Mr. Ntoko also explained how the ITU is working with its member states to push through the process of privatization so as to encourage competition, improve services and see to the eventual drop in prices.
4.2 International Trade Center: E-Commerce, the Business Perspective
Ms Naas Hachem built on the first presentation by outlining the functions of the international trade centre and by presenting a contextual introduction to the broad policy issues of e-commerce. She distributed a survey to participants to gather data on their
marketing and management needs.
4.3 Bretagne/Afrique pour un CO-Developpement & World Trade Link: marketing, packaging and exporting to markets in Europe and North America
American (Margaret Galabe) market. Both presentations showed how high quality standards, innovative and informative packaging details, adaptation of products to the export market, and the development of a detailed business plan were essential elements to successfully exporting products overseas. What was not discussed was the exporting of products between regions in Africa, many participants began to explore the possibilities as the meeting progressed, and ASAFE may find itself in a position where it is requested to facilitate cross-border trade and information needs of women entrepreneurs wanting to export regionally as well as internationally.
of minimum technical requirements: basic computer skills including familiarity with the basics of PC operation in Windows, as well as a word processor such as WordPerfect or Microsoft Word. He also advised participants against high priced software
packages as there are increasingly more freeware and shareware that is as good, if not superior to these packages. Thumbsplus software for editing digital images, for instance, can be downloaded off the web. (www.cerius.com)
4.5 Crystal Clear Software: Management Information Systems
Hans Verkoijen was able to present a complicated subject – management information systems (MIS), in a simplified manner so that participants were able to understand the importance and implications of a good basic MIS and its applicability in all contexts. Discussions centered around the processes and the parallels between formal banking and credit loans, interest payments, adhering to certain standards in the industry, and how to make the choices on standards. Some exploration of the
software itself served to show the participants that systematic calculation of, for instance, repayment interest rates, were greatly simplified by use of appropriate software which also assured accuracy and transparency.
Most of the participants that came to the meeting were doing things in a more complicated, non-standardized manner. Participants left this session with an understanding of the important implications of computerization, information management and software applications for improving management and information practices.
There is a definite need for more training on this issue because the operational procedures are not common and that makes processes more unwieldy. Micro finance is a new sector, just twenty years old so there are many differences between all the organizations and the way they handle loans and savings. Common practices that are being developed need to be diffused in a more systemic way. As well, small businesses need to be able to assess the kinds of software available to them and how to adapt these to their own needs.
4.5 UN ECA, sub-regional development centre: on-line training
The on-line training took place at a local training centre called College de la Salle. A large proportion of the participants has not used computers as connecting tools. Participants came away from these training sessions with an understanding of the essentials of information technology and how future marketing and trading could be eased and expanded through electronic means. With this very basic understanding, entrepreneurs will invest more of their time and resources towards further training and skill upgrading. It was also suggested that the time for on-line training should be extended from the two hours to four hours per group at a minimum. More than 50% of the participants at this meeting who were not already connected to the Internet, intended to act on this after the meeting.
4.6 Trade exhibition
The trade exhibition was a success, despite the absence of businesses who were invited to exhibit software and hardware products available in the region. Entrepreneurs exhibited products made in Benin, Cameroun, Guinea, Madagascar, Nigeria, Senegal, Tchad, and Uganda. The products on show ranged from raw textiles and unprocessed agricultural produce to designer clothing, unique furnishings and sophisticated juice extracts and exotic alcoholic beverages. All the products boasted the rich
creativity and diverse natural resources of the African continent. Many products were sold over the course of the three-day exhibition to the general public.
5. Proposed follow-up activities, recommendations and ways forward
A lot of ground was covered in a relatively short period of time and while much of the dialogue and training happened on a broader level, on a parallel level, individuals who were learning and comparing also began discussing potential business alliances down the road. When boiled down to critical issues, the key obstacle to small and micro-enterprise trade is less about access to the internet and more about the processes of and the barriers to cross-border trade, within Africa and out of Africa. Participants could see the value of electronic communication and e-commerce in order to make informed choices and to promote alliances between this level of business both nationally and regionally. More importantly, some of the businesswomen could imagine turning regional disparities within Africa into business and trading opportunities, and these alliances would be eased through
the use of ICTs. A few examples are summarized here.
5.1 Regional differences between South Africa and West Africa
The South African participant made some key observations about the differences between South African and West/Central African small-scale entrepreneurs. People in the West/Central regions have well-developed products and have been entrepreneurs for much longer than outh Africans. Only a few entrepreneurs, however, have established formal markets outside of the region. In South Africa on the other hand, people do not have as many products but are saturated with training programmes on how to
become better entrepreneurs, the domestic market for products continues to grow.
She suggested that while South Africans are concerned about getting products into the domestic market where demand continues to grow, in west and central Africa the local market is saturated and entrepreneurs are looking to export to neighbouring countries and out of the continent altogether. She also felt that while South Africa boasts an established urban network of MSEs who have access to a lot of information, there has not been the kind of entrepreneurial freedom that there seems to be in West
and Central Africa. She recommended developing more links between the two regions to their mutual benefits and will be exploring next steps to this effect with ASAFE and NID.
5.2 Designer exports from west to east.
Participants from Uganda, Burundi, Zambia, Nigeria and South Africa were introduced to a Cameroonian designer in Douala who specialised in linen suits for men and women. The Zambian and Ugandan entrepreneurs are taking samples of these suits to their countries where they would sell very well, being 100% cheaper than other similar clothing. The Ugandan participant wants to give this sample to an Ugandan designer to see if they can work together – she has an established clientele with whom she can
test this sample. If viable, then she will arrange to import from Cameroon – taking orders from people. ASAFE might be able to organize communication in the interim between the two markets. The Ugandan businesswoman was also on the look out for Boubou designs to take to Uganda for the month of Ramadhan.
5.3 Second cyberforum bid by Morocco
A participant from Morocco, Hassania Chalbi Drissi, approached ASAFE and NID to discuss the possibility of holding a second cyberforum in Morocco in December 2000. One of the key objectives behind this meeting would be to foster business alliances between Morocco, Tunisia, and Egypt with sub-Saharan countries.
5.4 E-commerce tools for micro and small enterprises
A whole spectrum of training materials and free software packages are already available on the WWW that would be of interest to small and micro enterprises in Africa. Access to the Web, information about these packages and the lack of information with which to make informed choices about software applicability prevents these enterprises from accessing this freeware. PEOPLink for instance, has training modules available to the public. Information about what to expect from your local internet service provider is available over the web but you need to be connected in order to access that information. Some participants discussed extracting these training materials and free software packages into CDs that could then be made available to micro and small enterprises.
5.5 ASAFE’s follow up
ASAFE was created in 1989 to provide information and banking support services to its members. It has focused its attention on the needs of women entrepreneurs, through awareness raising, education and training, and through delivering means of micro credit. ASAFE is in the process of building its own four-storey resource centre on Boulevard Saint Michel, which is a vibrant and growing area of informal businesses in Douala. The building has been designed to incorporate an area accessible to the public for general inquiries and information, a "cyber-boutique" with six to seven computers for public access, training rooms which will include computer training facilities and an "incubator" area for agro-processing enterprises.
ASAFE aims to improve managerial expertise through disseminating training materials and methodologies. ASAFE also
intends to promote the transfer of technology, both agro-processing appropriate technologies, and appropriate software packages developed for MSEs, from other countries, such as India.
ASAFE intends to develop its website – www.asafe.org - for use by its members and associates for all aspects of e-commerce. This would include the development of alliances between businesses, provision of appropriate marketing and other information, and eventually, commercial marketing over the web. The International
Telecommunications Union is working to support ASAFE’s initiatives to build local capacity and local solutions to e-commerce in the region. ITU has committed US$75,000.00 towards the connectivity infrastructure to enable ASAFE to provide ICT services to her members.
In closing, Gisele Yitamben, the executive director of ASAFE, also announced the launch of Biz2Biz Net – a newly set-up resource for micro and small enterprises funded by IDRC – and invited those interested to contribute to and gain from this net to contact ASAFE.
Association pour le Soutien et l'Appui a la Femme Entrepreneur, Cameroun
Networked Intelligence for Development, Canada
Collaborating private and public institutions:
Bretagne/Africa poir un Co-Development, France
College de la Salle, Cameroun
Crystal Clear Software Ltd., Uganda
Economic Commission for Africa Regional Office, Cameroun
International Telecommunication Union (ITU), Switzerland
International Trade Centre, Switzerland
World Trade Link, USA
General Board of Global Ministries, USA
Global Fund for Women, USA
International Development Research Center, Canada: ACACIA project, West Africa and Micro and Small Enterprises, South Africa
UNDP: from Africa Bureau and IT for Development Bureau
UNIFEM: West Africa regional office
World Bank, InfoDev programme
Local sponsors in Cameroun:
DIGICOM private television network, Cameroun
Groupe Fokou beverages, Cameroun
K&M computer company, Cameroun
SDV transit company, Cameroun
SONARA Oil Refineries, Cameroun
SNEC water company, Cameroun
Zotecom transport, Cameroun
Appendix I: summary of meeting programme
Appendix II: list of exhibitors and products exhibited
Appendix III: summary list of participants