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How One Digital Solution Is Enabling Samoa’s Digital Economy

Photo credit: Samoa Observer

The Asia-Pacific region is home to some of the most advanced and fast-moving digital economies in the world. In countries such as China, the Republic of Korea and Singapore, the COVID-19 pandemic has further accelerated this momentum. With so many consumers moving online, companies are quickly investing in digital solutions to create optimal consumer experiences with payments, logistics and other services.  This shift is being seen across the region, including in island nations such as Samoa.

In 2018, SkyEye Pacific - a Samoan geospatial and IT solutions company - decided to branch out and embark on a new e-commerce solution to service the country. Through SkyEye’s geographical information systems (GIS) location pin capabilities, the major logistical hurdles caused by the country’s lack of physical addresses and street numbers was solved. And through rigorous human-centric testing and development, the Maua app was created with a focus on meeting the needs of Samoan entrepreneurs at every level - from grassroots to enterprise – as well as consumers.

However, soon after the initial design and conceptualization of the app, SkyEye was faced with another challenge. How could payments be seamlessly facilitated through the app? 

Samoa does not have a national payments gateway and the country’s four commercial banks are not interoperable. This means that making digital transactions between Maua’s entrepreneurs and its online customers is not possible unless they use the same financial service provider. This is not the seamless digital process that clients have come to expect.

In 2019, SkyEye gained support from the United Nations Economic Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF) to develop Samoa’s first-ever home-grown interoperable payments system - MauaPay. The purpose was first and foremost to enhance the functionality of the Maua e-commerce app. Yet, the benefits of MauaPay’s creation were far-reaching.

With MauaPay in place, any bank (overseas or domestic), e-commerce platform or shop looking to shift towards digital payments can connect. This is an important move for accelerating Samoa’s digital economy and opening up local businesses to the global marketplace to sell their products and services.

The Samoan government recognizes the significance of MauaPay’s role as a locally developed digital solution to advance entrepreneurship, access to finance and accessibility of services. The government recently highlighted it in its ‘Samoa 2040’ plan, which provides a roadmap for the country’s development, with a focus on Samoa’s digital economy.

Since its creation, SkyEye has not only managed to onboard local payments providers – Digicel and Vodafone Samoa – but has also connected with Stripe. This partnership allows individuals living overseas – for example in New Zealand or Australia – to make payments and purchases from abroad. During the pandemic, this has been critical. With many jobs having been lost, Samoans living overseas could purchase groceries and other products available on the Maua app and have the items sent directly to their family members’ doorsteps in Samoa.

"I recently purchased lapita fabrics online via the Maua app and managed to pay using MauaPay from New Zealand,” said Matalena, one overseas Maua app user. “For us overseas especially during these COVID times, this app has enabled us to purchase goods and have them delivered to our families and now delivered overseas without having to take time to find a Western Union outlet and paying extra to send money overseas. Maua is a safe, timesaving, cost effective and customer friendly way to shop for goods in Samoa.”

“With the already limited local market being closed to our second largest source of income – tourism, which is inaccessible due to the pandemic - Samoan entrepreneurs have the opportunity to access the global market, contributing to the country’s GDP and local employment through our platform,” said Sam Saili, CEO of SkyEye.

While still in its early days, the platform has facilitated much more than digital payments in the country. It has enabled women entrepreneurs – a key target group for the app – to reach more customers, save time and create a digital invoice and payments history. Digitization of these processes not only helps women entrepreneurs save precious time but allows them to access financing more readily through digital record keeping.

The challenges SkyEye faced in the development of its e-commerce platform are not unique. But, technology and innovation are enabling companies like SkyEye to solve structural barriers and development challenges in the markets where they work. SkyEye’s MauaPay is one digital solution that is well positioned to accelerate Samoa’s digital economy in the years to come.

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In 2019, ESCAP and UNCDF launched the Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund. The fund provides risk capital to FinTech and digital solutions which benefit women entrepreneurs.

The fund is part of a regional programme titled Catalyzing Women’s Entrepreneurship (CWE), funded by the Government of Canada and implemented by ESCAP in partnership with UNCDF. The CWE programme aims to accelerate women entrepreneurs in the Asia-Pacific region through addressing challenges faced at three levels: enabling policy environment, access to finance and use of ICT for entrepreneurship.

Support for the Women MSME FinTech Innovation Fund is provided by the Government of Canada, Dutch entrepreneurial development bank (FMO) and Visa Inc. The Innovation Fund is hosted by UNCDF’s Shaping Inclusive Finance Transformations (SHIFT) in ASEAN programme, supported by the Australian Government.

Find out more at: https://www.unescap.org/projects/cwe

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Deanna Morris
Programme Management Officer
Trade, Investment & Innovation +66 2 288-1234 escap-tiid@un.org
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