Global: Digital connectivity and trade (Switch ON)



    Switch ON aims to get more MSMEs online and engaged in digital trade and entrepreneurialism. An initiative of the International Trade Centre (ITC), it is structured into an integrated framework for action across the dimensions of policy, institutional and enterprise capabilities, and partnerships.

    Increasing access and capability to use digital channels and tools could be one of the most powerful mechanisms to respond to the looming economic downturn, and to boost resilience of small enterprises.  Greater participation of MSMEs in digital trade brings important economic benefits, drives the demand for digital capacity and in turn improves the business case for further investments in infrastructure.

    The Switch ON initiative is integral to ITC's 2022-2025 Strategic Plan, which prioritizes digital connectivity as a key enabler to an inclusive, sustainable, and prosperous world.

    Through Switch ON, ITC focuses its efforts on ensuring that investments in connectivity are prioritized and that the conditions are in place for MSMEs in the developing world to profit from digital trade.


    The priority for Switch ON in 2023 is to build partnerships with private sector groups working in multiple countries, in order to continue and extend support through their related operations and networks. The programme will have increased visibility, in particular following the Broadband Commission Working Group, and will leverage relationships with groups such as SmartAfrica, Microsoft, Google, Liquid Intelligent Technologies and local (tech) hubs  to offer complementary solutions and reach a larger public of small enterprises.  These partnerships will be leveraged through other (W2 funded) projects and address various objectives:

    • Policy and strategy support for the digital connectivity sector: training policy makers as well as advice and inputs on digital focused policies and strategies
    • Support MSMEs in taking full advantage of existing digital connectivity networks and connect the unconnected through setting up rural hub(s)
    • Support MSMEs with digital skills, investment readiness and international exposure
    • Activities will foster business-friendly tech ecosystems, e.g. strengthen business support organizations such as tech hubs
    • Leverage partnerships to connect more MSMEs to the internet



    Digital connectivity matters in development

    Core impact areas

    Our cross-cutting delivery model combines the expertise of teams across ITC to address three layers.

    1. Ecosystem layer: looks at how business support organizations can digitalize their clients and advocate for more affordable connectivity.
    2. Strategy and policy layer: disseminates evidence-based innovations in policy and thought leadership.
    3. Enterprise layer: raises the profile of MSMEs to attract investment to new models in connectivity, enabling them to trade digitally.

    Partnerships with local and international companies are expected to play a key role, and will require the contribution of partners beyond those traditionally engaged in "Aid for Trade".

    These partners may have a far more specific and technical role in delivering connectivity and infrastructure and services. ITC will ensure that MSMEs receive appropriate attention and support to meet their potential. We welcome discussions on how we can best work together toward this outcome.

    Ambitions of the Digital Moonshot

    • Enable institutions to implement policy and initiatives so MSMEs can access and use the internet;
    • Affordable and reliable connectivity, in towns of all sizes;
    • Easy, affordable access to online payments;
    • Vibrant e-commerce services, including local marketplaces and other service providers;
    • Digital entrepreneurialism, built on the development and uptake of local solutions.

    Zambia: First Digital Moonshot country

    In the initial phase, in 2022, ITC proposes to evaluate the potential for connectivity to digital trade in Zambia.

    The initial phase will define how to support the Government of Zambia’s ambitions, while also looking at how to work with private businesses to develop the case for investment in digital connectivity.

    Zambia would have a particular role to play as a pilot country. We would aim to define a programme that results in further projects in Zambia itself, in other African countries, and beyond.

    ecomconnect [at] (Contact us) to get involved.


    ITC in the media

    Africa Briefing
    19 Sep 2023