September 2006

Community Based E-commerce

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ChasquiNet transformed the perceived needs and opportunities of the telecentres, with which it works, into a business idea which became a project.


The situation in international e-Commerce

e-Commerce, ‘the distributing, buying, selling, marketing, and servicing of products or services over electronic systems such as the Internet and other computer networks’, generated in 2003, sales worth USD 12.2 billion. However, the distribution of this sales represents the inequality, be it social, digital, economical, in the Information Society.

In some countries or regions companies like e-Bay, amazon.com and others base their business activities on a working infra-structure of postal services, credit cards and other financial mechanisms, easily available broadband Internet access and favourable policy environment. In other countries/regions this infrastructure is practically not existent. Postal services are expensive and not reliable. Credit cards and credit in general is only available for a small and rich percentage of the population. Internet access is a costly resource and the policy environment is characterised by corruption, scarce know-how and frequent change of governments.

Latin America is one of the latter regions, but it is by far not the only one. e-Commerce in these regions and community based e-Commerce (throughout the world), in general, face a similar problem. Independently how well designed are the applications? Independently how thoroughly had the market analysis been carried out? The all deciding question is: How to get the goods from here to there and how to pay and get paid? When answering this question, e-Commerce in Latin America and in other regions fails to reach more than the small percentage of the rich population, because the mentioned barriers hinder the take off of big scale e-Commerce projects.

The problem
The result is shoddy overpriced merchandise that the importers bring in, which they mark-up (including marking up on the freight and customs duties). The same importers have distributors to the interior cities that sell to the stores and resellers, both of which also mark-up. The variety is weak, the quality poor, the prices outrageous and the guarantee of new products is virtually non-existent. Many of these products come from contraband, obviously without warranty.

Need for powerful alliances
In any place of the world, a solution which aims on changing this reality must be a powerful one. It must organise, capacitate and empower the excluded communities and it must bring them together with world class service providers in the areas of logistics, payment and technology. Only such an alliance has the ability to overcome the described barriers and to provide world class services for affordable prices to people, who individually are excluded from participating in the Information Society, but who, as a community, can play an active and productive role.

Role of telecentre networks
Telecentre networks play a key role in the creation of this kind of alliances. They are the intermediary actors who provide the glue that bonds together the approaches of global business players with local community initiatives. These networks understand the reality of their member telecentres and their respective communities. For being a network with added value, they must be able and willing to translate these realities into projects with regional or even global approach. Furthermore, they must be able to communicate the value of such projects to global actors, in the case of e-Commerce to transnational corporations and international service providers.

At the end of this chain stands a Multi-Stakeholder Partnership (MSP) which organises itself in order to become a glocal (global+local=glocal) service provider who provides local services on global or transregional basis and vice versa. Only this kind of organisation is able to respond to the local needs and opportunities, while having a global approach and only in this way e-Commerce can be realised on international scale.

The I-Malls idea
Based on this understanding the Ecuadorian Fundaci

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