SMB digital inclusion is an historic opportunity for the GCC

Small and medium businesses (SMBs) across the world are experiencing the benefits of a broad- based digitization of business and the global boom in e-commerce to reach more customers, access new markets, and scale sales and exports. This has been accelerated by the unprecedented disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, underlining the urgency for agility, adaptability, and transformation. According to the World Economic Forum’s Platform on Digital Economy and New Value Creation, industry structures and business models are being disrupted with an estimated 70% of new value created in the global economy over the next decade will be based on digitally enabled platform business models1.

Governments in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) too have zeroed in on this opportunity by developing national digital strategies and matching them with practical activities that promote SMB digitization, e-commerce, and access to finance and markets. These initiatives have the potential to translate into a more robust role for the private sector and SMBs while also enhancing the region’s economic productivity and income growth. These strategies highlight the potential of disruptive technologies such as 5G connectivity, cloud computing, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, and the Internet of Things to create new efficiencies in public services and enable more digitized and knowledge-intensive firms. Some of the region’s countries explicitly promote SMB development and digitization in these national strategies.

This paper is intended to serve as a foundation and catalyst for dialogue across stakeholders on how to advance SMB digital inclusion to foster their growth (from micro to small; small to medium), help them thrive, and make them more effective participants in the emerging business ecosystem. Stakeholders across the GCC have a role to play in scalable capacity- building, especially at a time when the world’s gaze focuses on the region to watch, follow, and participate in a major sporting event in 2022. Games such as FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022™ not only mobilize athletes, coaches, and fans from around the world, but also bring new commerce opportunities to the region, offering GCC stakeholders – in both the public and private sectors – a powerful convening platform to raise awareness, advocate for the next level of digital inclusion for the region’s SMBs, and leave a positive legacy.

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1“The Platform on Digital Economy and New Value Creation.” World Econom- ic Forum, accessed December 2021.

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