Digitalization has become a determining factor in whether a company survives while COVID-19 restrictions are in effect. Now that the transition from traditional to digital ways of doing business has been sped up by the pandemic, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic are at risk of being left behind in the digital marketplace due to low levels of digital literacy.
To stay in business, Lao entrepreneurs need to be able to use digital tools to manage their day-to-day business operations, develop and maintain companies’ websites, and fully utilize digital marketing opportunities. Strengthening SMEs’ digital skills and facilitating their active participation in the digital economy will improve Laos’ competitiveness and ensure sustainable and inclusive economic growth.
With this goal in mind, in September 2021, the USAID Laos Business Environment Activity, implemented by IBI (a woman-owned small business), together with the Department of SME Promotion and Lao ICT Commerce Association, launched an online educational platform called SMART UP that provides Lao SMEs with free training and other resources for enhancing digital skills. In designing and producing the content for the platform, IBI engaged two local partners who are both new to working with USAID: the National University of Laos, whose professors developed the content, and SVENG IT Solution, a local IT firm. Such collaboration allowed IBI’s team to ensure that the courses are designed with a proper understanding of the local realities, including the entrepreneurs’ capacity levels, business trends, and operating challenges. The educational content offered through the platform provides materials that are practical and relevant to Lao SMEs.
The platform offers eight modules developed and delivered by prominent professors from the National University of Laos. Module topics include Multimedia for SMEs; Introduction to Digitization; Digital Marketing and Sales for SMEs; Accounting Tools for SMEs; Data Analysis for SMEs; and Introduction to Full Stack Web. The courses were developed by Lao professors who have the knowledge and experience using educational methodologies that are most effective in Lao, making them more effective and accessible.
A launch event that was organized both in-person and via Facebook Live attracted more than 1,500 views in less than 24 hours. Noy, 29, a small business owner who was never introduced to principles of accounting and the science behind digital marketing, said that the platform has deepened her knowledge of digitalization and helped her shape new business strategies to survive and thrive amid the COVID-19 pandemic. She believes that this platform will offer many entrepreneurs and small business owners, who did not have a university education in business, an opportunity to learn from prominent professors at the tip of their fingers anytime and anywhere.
Within the first month, 373 users have registered for courses through the SMART UP platform, including:
- 109 users enrolled in Basic Accounting for SMEs
- 63 in Digital Marketing for SMEs
- 43 in Introduction to data analysis for SMEs
- 35 in Full Stack Development
- 34 Multimedia for SMEs
- 34 in Introduction to Digitization
Although the pandemic has posed many challenges, it also provides an opportunity to introduce digital advancements that can help the Lao PDR improve readiness to participate in the global marketplace and tackle other complex development issues.
In its over 25 years of working on economic development challenges across the globe, IBI has observed the impressive difference in the results when changes are locally driven. We believe in our tagline – Global Insights, Local Solutions – and follow this principle in practice. Collaboration with local partners is one of the ways IBI ensures our work matches local priorities, has local ownership, and leads to sustainable change.