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APEC App Challenge: Charting New Paths for Digital Inclusion

By Rebecca Sta Maria Seattle, The United States | 07 August 2023

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The digital economy presents enormous opportunities for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). An Asia Pacific MSME Trade Coalition study shows that digital tools can reduce the cost of exporting for small businesses in the Asia-Pacific region by up to 82 percent and reduce the time taken to export by up to 29 percent. While there is strong interest among small businesses in the APEC region to export, the opportunities remain significantly untapped, both in developing and developed economies.

The APEC App Challenge, now on its seventh year, is an opportunity for our youth to showcase how a digital tool can support MSMEs as they look to expand and grow their business regionally and internationally.

One of APEC’s key areas of focus is ensuring that the needs of MSMEs and other groups with untapped economic potential are reflected across all its workstreams. According to an APEC Policy Support Unit report, there are more than 150 million MSMEs in APEC economies, representing around two-thirds of the total job market in the region. These enterprises typically contribute between 40 to 60 percent of APEC economies’ GDP.

There is of course potential to increase the efficiencies and reach of these enterprises. Going digital is one way to achieve this. However, many of these small businesses lack the resources and expertise to adapt to rapidly changing digital technologies.

So, how can a digital tool help enable these groups seize this opportunity to participate in global digitally-enabled trade?

For people under 30, APEC has been around for their entire lives and they will determine the future of the region. Our engagement with the youth has never been more crucial. Through initiatives like the APEC App Challenge, we get to hear more about their concerns, aspirations and ideas for the future. Their voice is as important as we shape policies that APEC can help advance, such as those pertaining to small businesses and the digital economy.

The App Challenge is based on the host year theme and priorities, which this year is on the interconnected concepts of resiliency, sustainability and inclusivity. 

In the weeks leading up to the APEC Small and Medium Enterprises Ministerial Meeting, taking place on 21 August, 10 outstanding coders and developers will be in Seattle to take part in the APEC App Challenge. They will aim to demonstrate the digital tool they developed. More importantly, they will show us what is possible when given the opportunity to use their talents as they translate this year’s theme of “Creating a Resilient and Sustainable Future for All” into an app that is practical and useful for MSMEs.

Dr Rebecca Sta Maria is the executive director of the APEC Secretariat.


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