APEC economies boast some of the fastest-growing and most technologically innovative markets in the world. But though rich in culture, craftsmanship and entrepreneurial spirit, the informal sectors of APEC economies have yet to fully capture the benefit of technology-driven trade.
With support from the APEC Secretariat, Google and The Asia Foundation, this Papua New Guinea initiative explores how new digital solutions can connect entrepreneurs in the informal sector with new customers and business opportunities.
The 2018 APEC App Challenge, which is being held in Port Moresby through 24 May, is the first step in this process. Alongside the APEC Ministers Responsible for Trade Meeting here, 14 teams of software developers and designers from nine APEC economies will participate in a 24-hour app development competition centered on one essential question: how can technology bring trade opportunities to entrepreneurs in the informal sectors of APEC economies?
“During the 24-hour challenge, developers will work closely with micro and small enterprise entrepreneurs from Papua New Guinea’s handicraft sector,” said John Karr, senior director of the Asia Foundation’s Technology Programs. “The goal is to build an app or web tool that helps local entrepreneurs build their brand identities and reach broader market opportunities by selling to both local and international customers.”
“The result will be local artisans using cutting-edge digital technology to promote their traditional crafts and grow their small businesses,” Karr added. “Alongside the policy discussions, the project is a very real and practical outcome for the Papua New Guinea host year theme of “harnessing inclusive opportunities, embracing the digital future.”
While many e-commerce platforms and open source solutions already exist for these products, what is needed from the teams are tools local entrepreneurs can use to amplify their products’ stories and connect with customers in ways that translate into sales.
Around a million people in Papua New Guinea are now using the internet and the use of social media among them is also high.
“The Asia-Pacific is an extremely dynamic region and micro and small businesses here have huge potential,” said Karim Temsamani, President of Google Asia-Pacific. “What they need is the opportunity to showcase their craft to the world – online tools and platforms give them that chance.”
“In Papua New Guinea, those stories are quite literally woven into their products,” explained Karr. “The entrepreneurs participating in the challenge create and sell bilum bags, which are traditional, handmade bags synonymous with Papua New Guinean culture.”
The intricately crafted bags are made for practical use among locals and to sell as souvenirs to tourists. The woven designs may represent a family tradition, a political message or hold another meaning for the artist, making each a highly unique keepsake.
“The APEC App Challenge aims to not only help entrepreneurs expand their capacities to connect with customers, but to identify scalable concepts for online platforms that can be used to grow informal economies in the Asia-Pacific region and around the world,” said Alan Bollard, the APEC Secretariat’s Executive Director.
The challenge will conclude on Thursday when the teams pitch their concepts to diplomats, policymakers and researchers. The winners will be announced to APEC Trade Ministers when they meet on Friday.
“The developers participating in the APEC App Challenge are building on the momentum established during the APEC meetings this year in Port Moresby, where officials from member economies are focused on the prospects for enhancing digital prosperity throughout the region,” concluded Dr Bollard.
“As the 2018 APEC host, Papua New Guinea provides a fertile environment for inclusive digital opportunities to take root.”