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Micro and Small Enterprises Get Their Own Digital Ambassadors in Colombia

A look at how DigitAll, a financial and digital inclusion initiative, is supporting MSEs on their digital journey
Woman smiling in front of a table with woven bags.

Approximately 16 million people in Colombia depend on income generated from micro and small enterprises (MSEs). Digital platforms and tools can help MSEs grow, but uptake and use is impeded by diverse challenges.  In a needs assessment conducted by Fundación Capital in 2020, we found that only 40 percent of MSEs were familiar with available options. Moreover, according to a 2020 Inter-American Development Bank report on the challenges of e-commerce for MSEs, small business owners lack access to trustworthy, accurate information on the implications and benefits of digital technology for their business. Therefore, they are unable to make informed decisions and are insecure about their abilities to maneuver and use digital tools, especially when it comes to carrying out financial transactions. 

To support struggling MSEs in navigating the complex world of apps, platforms and tools, Fundación Capital collaborated with Mastercard’s Center for Inclusive Growth to form the financial and digital inclusion initiative, DigitAll.

An Ambassador Model designed to promote trust and behavior changes

In Colombia, the DigitAll initiative is implementing an Ambassadors Model as a strategy to promote behavioral changes toward greater digitization of small businesses. This model is built on the premise of trust-building. DigitAll Ambassadors are individuals that live in the same region as the program participants and are familiar with the daily context of microentrepreneurs in their communities. They help participants dispel misconceptions and fears around digitizing business processes and overcoming insecurities.

Two women at a shop counter looking at a phone
A DigitAll Ambassador explains how to download and use digital payment applications to a small business owner in Riohacha, Colombia.   

At Fundación Capital, our DigitAll Colombia team has identified five key steps to incorporating an effective Ambassadors model:

1. Map out relevant actors in the MSE ecosystem.

Mapping out the most relevant national, regional and local actors that serve MSEs  - such as employees of local financial institutions, students or staff of academic institutions and employees of local chambers of commerce or municipal government entities – is the first step. These people are key for identifying program participants, as well as finding qualified ambassadors.

2. Identify the community leaders and early adopters 

We also identified DigitAll Ambassadors through our initial online and in-person program activities. Program participants that already have knowledge and experience using digital platforms and apps are generally quick to adopt new digital tools and to see the benefits for their business. These small business owners are among the most effective DigitAll Ambassadors because they are able to convey the benefits of digitization through their own experience and send the encouraging message, “If I was able to do it, you can do it too.” They can also provide peer mentoring through tips and advice.

3. Provide support and training for Ambassadors

If Ambassadors are to help MSE owners move forward on the path to digitization, they need to understand the reasons business owners may be reluctant and what factors could motivate them to digitize.  So, a key component of support for Ambassadors is educating them not only on the digital solutions available, but also on the most common misconceptions and motivations for MSE digitization.

For example, in an unpublished qualitative study by our research partner Decodis on the digitalization journey of small business owners, most respondents said they started using digital payment solutions because customers were asking for them. The study also showed that despite low levels of trust in social media, small business owners recognized the need to use social media to market and grow their business. This type of data on incentives and disincentives are incorporated into the training sessions, videos and brochures Ambassadors use in their outreach efforts.

Since many of the Ambassadors are entrepreneurs themselves, they are also supported by the program’s staff in their own digitization journey. The in-person and online trainings they receive provide a space for exchanging experiences and ideas with a peer network. 

4. Provide incentives – not only financial.

The time, effort and energy that Ambassadors dedicate to promoting digital tools must be met with appropriate incentives. DigitAll provides a financial incentive, paying Ambassadors for every small business owner they contact who eventually becomes a DigitAll participant. In addition, the program promotes pride in Ambassadors by raising awareness of the important role of small businesses in their communities, as well as in their local and national economies. The networking opportunities created by DigitAll – and the resulting sense of pride, solidarity and support – also provide a compelling motivation for participating as an ambassador.

5. Create concrete targets and goals with Ambassadors

Fundación Capital’s experience with implementing the Ambassadors model has demonstrated that Ambassadors are much more successful when they receive support in creating concrete targets for a specific period of time. This also allows for more effective monitoring and follow-up from the project team. 

Ramping up and solidifying behavioral adoption

To date, DigitAll has engaged over 14,600 MSEs in Colombia, connecting them to digital solutions and platforms to improve business productivity and administration. The support of Ambassadors has been crucial in addressing MSEs’ lack of information on digital solutions, low confidence and trust toward financial institutions and social media, and frustration that emerges in the user journey. Now, in its last months of implementation, the DigitAll Ambassadors are focusing on scaling up small business engagement, helping MSEs get over hurdles to digitization and mitigating attrition in the digital journey. With these digital tools in their pockets, thousands of MSEs are now set up for continued success and growth.

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