The Future of Digital Commerce in Africa

Who are the African digital commerce pioneers of tomorrow? And how will they break into new and established domestic and global markets? Imagine a young tech entrepreneur in Lagos, building an app. Or an engineer in Nairobi, creating a platform for local vendors. What kind of digital commerce system can these young innovators expect to encounter? And will that digital commerce world propel them forward or hold them back?

Many people will have heard the stories of internet commerce pioneers tinkering away in their garage or dorm room. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, prepared book shipments in his home, while Mark Zuckerberg, who founded Facebook, created the social networking site while in student housing. Technological breakthroughs sparked the birth of these companies, but cooperative markets and contexts fueled their growth.

We’re thinking deeply about the potential of digital commerce to unlock opportunities for young Africans. We believe young people have tremendously innovative ideas and enterprises, and we understand that access to information, markets, and connections through technology has the potential to accelerate opportunities for young Africans.

We’re pleased to launch Digital Commerce and Youth Employment in Africa, a discussion paper on digital commerce scenarios in Africa. Despite the potential for digital commerce to play a significant role in future opportunities in Africa, its success is not assured. As this paper points out, there are many uncertainties shaping the future of digital commerce in Africa. This paper is a first step towards mapping out the possible scenarios – and thinking through what steps can be taken to create an inclusive digital commerce system that opens opportunities for young people.

We’re excited to think about a future in which digital commerce offers employment prospects for young people in Africa. We welcome discussion and debate about the scenarios and pathways laid out in the paper, and we hope that the discussion sparks more ideas and actions towards inclusive digital economies in Africa.