Lao SMEs Improve their Digital Skills via a New Online Training Portal
Digitalization has become a determining factor of whether a company survives while COVID-19 restrictions are in effect. SMEs in Lao PDR are at risk of being left behind in the digital marketplace due to low levels of digital literacy. 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 (www.smartup.lica.la) that provides 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.
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; Introduction to Full Stack Web.
A launch event that was organized both in-person and via Facebook Live attracted over 1500 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 in Multimedia for SMEs
34 in Introduction to Digitization
Looking back at the experience working on this initiative, I am grateful for the trust from the USAID LBE Project that offered me the opportunity to take lead in developing the platform. As a small business owner myself, I believe that SMART UP will open the door for entrepreneurs to build a strong foundation of necessary knowledge in order to adapt to the fast-changing business environment. The eight modules that were made available on SMARTUP are what I wish I had learned during the first stage of my entrepreneurial journey. As businesses are making extra effort to adapt to the “new normal” to stay competitive, it is undeniable that digital transformation and the adoption of digital tools have become more vital today than ever before. I hope that SMART UP platform will enable more people across the country to access resources that could strengthen their digital skills and help them reach their full potential in the global and digitalized economy. 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.