IGF 2019 WS #176 Platform Entrepreneurship for a More Diverse Digital Economy

Organizer 1: Nicolas Friederici, Humboldt Institute for Internet & Society (HIIG)
Organizer 2: Sina Beckstein, Humboldt Institute for Internet and Society

Speaker 1: Titi Takinsanmi, Private Sector, African Group
Speaker 2: EBRU GOKCE DESSEMOND, Intergovernmental Organization, Intergovernmental Organization
Speaker 3: Alison Gillwald, Civil Society, African Group
Speaker 4: Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Private Sector, African Group

Policy Question(s): 

How can the global platform economy be shaped to be more diverse, open, and inclusive?
How can platforms be fostered that enable digital innovations suited to low and middle-income countries (e.g., mobile money, blockchain)?
Which policy conditions are needed at national and regional levels for platform enterprises from LMICs to grow faster and wider?
How can large incumbent platforms be steered to have an enabling rather than stifling effect on platform innovation and entrepreneurship in LMICs?

Relevance to Theme: Digital innovation proceeds generatively: new products are build on existing digital infrastructures, especially digital platforms. Platforms have become the defining structures and standard setters for the global digital economy. Dominant platforms are thus able to shape, not only online activity, but also future generations of digital innovation. Crucially, all major platforms are run by private companies from the US and China. Today, incumbents like Google, Microsoft, Alibaba, and Apple are determining the conditions for digital innovation and entrepreneurship across the globe, including in low and middle-income countries (LMICs). Platform enterprises in LMICs have undoubtedly been enabled by incumbent platforms. At the same time, they have had limited reach, addressing only local and sometimes regional market niches. For more of the benefits of the global digital economy to materialize in LMICs, greater diversity in the platform economy is needed. For a more inclusive and equitable global digital economy, platforms from LMICs need to be enabled to develop competitive and sustainable innovation ecosystems.

Relevance to Internet Governance: In today’s global digital economy, many standards and infrastructures for innovation are set by a small number of multinational platform companies. These actors unilaterally determine the degree of openness of their platforms through application programming interfaces (APIs). How and which digital innovation is facilitated remains the prerogative of few private companies headquartered in the US and China. This trend has meant that de facto Internet Governance is increasingly at odds with the ideal of multistakeholder governance. In effect, innovation ecosystems are built around the commercially most promising technologies and products (such as self-driving cars and artificial intelligence), without accounting for diverging requirements that exist in LMICs. Digital innovations with the greatest impact in LMICs (like mobile money) account for limited resources and infrastructural issues. While national and some regional success stories exist, digital innovations from LMICs are incredibly fragmented, hampering economic benefits in platform markets like network effects and possibilities of big data analysis. The global platform economy therefore needs to be steered in a direction where diverse digital innovation paths become possible at an efficient scale. Incumbent platform companies will play an important role, but it is essential to employ a multistakeholder approach that takes into account the perspectives of other digital innovation and entrepreneurship actors as well, especially those from LMICs.


Round Table - U-shape - 90 Min

Description: The goal of the workshop is to raise awareness, support agenda setting, and provide initial policy guidance on the importance of diverse digital innovation ecosystems and platform entrepreneurship in LMICs. We will convene stakeholders from the private and public sector as well as civil society.

First, ambitions and challenges to create the foundational structures for digital innovation in the 21st century will be highlighted. To this end, the session will hear the perspectives of an African platform enterprise (Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Flutterwave) and of an incumbent platform (Titi Akinsanmi, Google Policy Lead for Africa). At the example of Africa as a major world region, the status quo of the global platform economy will thus be unravelled. The speakers have the expertise to address both limitations of the current global platform innovation ecosystems and discuss incentive structures to support more diverse regional innovation paths.

Second, the practitioners’ inputs will be complemented by perspectives from policymaking experts (Ebru Gökçe Dessemond, UNCTAD, & Dr. Alison Gillwald, Research ICT Africa). They will share their experience of challenges in regulating and steering the platform economy across LMICs at international and regional scales. Specific issues for discussion include which policy instruments (such as market integration, startup clusters) are best suited to reach a more diverse platform innovation ecosystem, and which broader policy conditions are needed for platform enterprises from LMICs to grow faster and wider. Convening experts from competition policy and policy processes is set to do justice to the economic, technical and policy complexity of the topic.

The roundtable format moderated by Dr. Friederici (an expert on digital & platform entrepreneurship in Africa & Europe) will encourage open discussion. The initial speakers’ contributions will be compared and contrasted before participation is opened up to others (see 16. Session interaction and participation).

We are happy to collaborate with other workshop organizers in the same field to ensure that our session is complementary.

Expected Outcomes: The workshop will set the agenda for further policy efforts on how to achieve a more diverse global platform economy, and define initial policy implications from private, public and civil society expertise. Crucial outcomes of the debate will especially focus on (1) reasons and challenges for unilaterally determined innovation paths affecting LMICs, (2) opportunities and challenges for policymaking to create a more diverse global digital platform economy. Furthermore, the workshop will shape the discourse around diversity and inclusion as an important part of the digital economy and raise awareness for the relevance of these factors in achieving innovation ecosystems benefitting the needs of LMICs.

Onsite Moderator: 

Nicolas Friederici, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Online Moderator: 

Sina Beckstein, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)


Sina Beckstein, Civil Society, Western European and Others Group (WEOG)

Discussion Facilitation: 

The inclusive roundtable format will allow the two moderators to actively encourage interaction between all discussants in the room and the invited speakers. The encouragement to ask questions or comment on issues and insights on- and offline will not only be emphasised by the two moderators before the debate, but actively promoted during the whole session. Using IGF’s online participation platform and social media platforms such as Twitter as additional participation channels will ensure high outreach and low participation barriers for all interested stakeholders and civil society.

Online Participation: 

IGF's online tool WebEx will be used as platform for remote participation in the debate through audio and video connection. The online moderator will ensure that remote workshop participants are given equal contribution opportunities during the workshop.

Proposed Additional Tools: The online moderator will manage a workshop and IGF specific Twitter hashtag such as #IGFglobalplatforms as additional opportunity to engage in the discussion. The possibility to ask questions via Twitter as well as remote contribution via WebEx will be shared in the organizing institution's (HIIG's) broad network and communication channels beforehand (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Newsletter, etc.). The online moderator will pass on selected questions from Twitter to the roundtable discussants.


GOAL 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth
GOAL 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
GOAL 10: Reduced Inequalities