Small businesses have global potential thanks to e-commerce.
SMEs active on the internet export more than traditional businesses.
Heightened economic activity can especially benefit women.
Globalization got a bad rap in part because, by sweeping aside barriers to the movement of capital, labour and goods, it was perceived to have favoured large corporate interests over all others.
With the unfolding e-commerce revolution, however, a fairer and more inclusive balance is reshaping the global business environment to provide more room and opportunity for small businesses, especially those headed by women.
E-commerce: small business accelerator
Today, small businesses – even one-person “social sellers” – can run as global entities thanks to the growing availability of inexpensive digital tools that allow them to source, ship, deliver, pay, collect and virtualize other key aspects of their operations. The fast-developing e-commerce ecosystem, which includes marketplaces, payment gateways and online logistics, is helping to reduce barriers to trade across borders.
Export participation rates for traditional small businesses (those that typically do not sell online) range between 2-28% in most countries. In contrast, 97% of internet-enabled small businesses export, according to the World Trade Organization.
Why is this a big deal? Because firms participating in global value chains see the strongest gains in productivity, income and quality of employment. A report by the World Bank points out that in developing countries like Ethiopia, firms that are part of global value chains are twice as productive as other firms. And in a broad number of emerging markets, companies that take part in global trade are also more likely to employ more women than others with more traditional, male-dominated business models. Female participation in the labour market, in turn, correlates strongly to societal gains in health, education and overall prosperity.
Put simply, e-commerce is creating economic employment opportunities for new sets of players. Amazon claims that the 1 million small businesses selling on its platform have created 900,000 jobs in the process. Alibaba’s Taobao, one of the largest e-commerce platforms in China, has 3,200 “Taobao villages” in rural areas where a significant percentage of the village is engaged in e-commerce transactions. No wonder then, that some non-governmental organizations and think tanks are touting e-commerce as a model for developing rural Africa.
E-commerce: gender accelerator
When it comes to the gender effect of e-commerce, the research is still emerging and much of the data is localized, but early signs are promising.
The International Trade Centre (ITC) has found that despite having less access to technology, women use digital platforms to their advantage. The head of the ITC says four out of five small businesses engaged in cross-border e-commerce are women-owned, while just one in five firms engaged in offline trade is headed by women.
Meanwhile, there is more and more evidence to show how e-commerce and digital technology are bringing women to the fore of global trade:
A McKinsey study on Indonesia’s e-commerce sector found that women involved in online commerce generate more revenue than that contributed by those in traditional commerce.
Taobao says 50% of its online shops were started by women, whereas only 3.7% of businesses across 67 other industries in China are headed by females, according to the South China Morning Post.
The World Economic Forum says one in three Middle East start-ups is female-founded. And Cairo-based ExpandCart, one of the region’s most successful e-commerce enablement platforms, says that one-third of small businesses on its platform are owned by women.
Cross-border e-commerce is the fastest-growing segment of international trade, so all of this should come as welcome news for globalization’s critics and fans alike. More importantly, it can help change the two-decade narrative about opportunity, inclusion, fairness and balance in the global economy.
Technology and e-commerce are finally democratizing access to the benefits of global trade, helping globalization live up to its original promise of shared prosperity and growth.
Sustainable trade will require the participation of emerging economies.
Finding the right balance between sustainability and economics is crucial.
The technology exists; the real barrier is changing existing mindsets.
Eliminating avoidable emissions is a good starting point.
Getting to zero emissions in logistics is a daunting prospect. Developing zero-emissions fuels and vessels is a critical pathway forward, but this approach has its limitations. In a cost-driven industry, a high-cost, high-risk focus on zero-emissions technology may position many players in emerging markets as part of the dirty past – not the clean future. We need a pragmatic approach that balances high-tech practices with practical ones that offer a role for everyone. We can reduce avoidable emissions through more efficient supply chains, but we need to shift mindsets. That’s where we should take immediate steps while continuing the longer journey.
Without the willing participation of emerging market players, a sustainable future for global trade is at risk.
Trade is growing most and fastest in emerging markets, with the growth of import volumes into Asia’s emerging markets as an example. In 2018, developing economies accounted for 64% of seaborne trade. Engaging this majority of actors is essential for the success of the zero-emissions project.
At the same time, we need to balance the environmental with the social and economic aspects of sustainability. If we require investment in new vessels and bunkering infrastructure to participate in global value chains, some actors will simply not comply, and will be left out – and if a port or a country is left out, so are its small and medium-sized firms (SMEs). For SMEs in these markets, accessing global value chains is critical to achieving stable growth and creating jobs. Keep in mind that SMEs contribute over 50% to GDP and account for two-thirds of formal employment in many countries.
Even in mature markets, the largest industry players can’t agree on who should cover the cost of transitioning to a zero-emissions logistics industry.
Logistics is a highly cost-sensitive industry. Just consider that second-generation biofuels are commercially viable, but not available, because no one is yet willing to consistently pay higher costs to ship goods. When given a chance, only a handful of shippers choose the environment over cost. The industry consensus is that a global fuel levy will be necessary to incorporate the social cost of carbon into fuel costs – but action on this has stalled, because oil companies don’t think it’s fair that they shoulder most of the cost burden, even if that cost is ultimately passed on.
Will emerging markets be able to afford the transition to cleaner fuels?
Transitioning to new fuels will be expensive in the short term. Recent research by the Global Maritime Agency – due to be published in late January – estimates that out of up to $1.9 trillion in investments needed to fully decarbonize maritime shipping by 2050, only 13% is for ships. The remaining 87% would be for land-based infrastructure and production facilities for alternative fuels. The International Renewable Energy Agency says “any shift toward a cleaner sector will require important changes to port terminal infrastructure and operational equipment [see chart below], as well as daily operational practices”.
Consider coastal African countries, or Viet Nam, where newly-discovered offshore oil resources have the potential to drive considerable growth. How should these countries consider these potential assets in a zero-emissions future? Should they not plan to benefit from their natural resources? Should they, instead, invest in port infrastructure for zero-emissions fuels that they will likely need to import? Is that fair?
The industry should mobilize around practical, system-level approaches to address avoidable emissions across supply chains.
No matter what the fuels of the future will be, it will be useful to reduce the total amount of fuel needed to power global trade. More fuel-efficient transport modes, supply-chain optimization and operational efficiency should be prioritized for their emissions-reducing potential. These solutions are not, and cannot be mode-specific, but must address global logistics as a system.
To address avoidable emissions, data-informed optimization across modes and supply chains deserves more industry attention.
Avoidable emissions are embedded into inefficiencies at every step along the supply chain. It’s tough to measure their contribution to overall transport emissions, but the share could be substantial. Consider that in many markets, sometimes more than 40% of trucks on the road at any given time are moving empty, and a much greater percentage are underutilized.
Beyond individual shippers or supply chains, optimization across the logistics system makes better use of transport assets across a country’s distribution network, or back and forth along a trade lane. On a global scale, the containerization of US agricultural exports addressed the asymmetry of cargo flows between the US and China. Digital freight booking platforms, like Cargo X in Brazil, can drastically improve asset utilization, reducing trips, kilometres, costs and emissions. In the US, when Ocean Spray and Tropicana, two fruit juice competitors, collaborated to enable sharing of empty refrigerated rail boxcars, both parties reduced transport costs, and Ocean Spray’s emissions were reduced by one-third.
The barrier isn’t tech. It’s mindset. How do we shift it?
Logistics is full of myriad actors with high levels of interdependence and competing interests, and this drives down costs. Fierce competition leads to such low prices in road freight that often it is cheaper to send a dedicated truck less than half full than it is to use a small freight carrier. From this baseline, how can industry players work together – in ways that preserve competition – for incremental environmental gains?
First, emissions should be a measured key performance indicator against which supply chain performance is evaluated. For example, some shippers have instituted an internal carbon price. Other sustainability performance rankings can help, both internally and for third-party service providers, but we must be careful to avoid the proliferation of varying questionnaires, and include incentives to improve environmental performance. Immediate exclusion of carriers that can’t meet high environmental standards won’t shift behaviour, and may bankrupt smaller players.
Second, we need to amplify the message about the business case. Logistics services providers can use their visibility across supply chains to identify collaboration opportunities and estimate cost and emissions savings, so shippers can visualize lost value. We all must be retrained and our data systems redesigned to actively look for these opportunities. When collaboration is successful, we need to transparently communicate these stories to clarify what’s possible and set higher environmental aspirations.
Reducing avoidable emissions alone won’t get us to zero. But this approach is open to everyone everywhere, starting now, and it can save fossil fuels in the present, and open the door to zero-carbon fuels in the future.
Company helps small businesses in MENA build online stores in minutes
From left to right: ExpandCart co-founders; Amr Shawqy and Sameh Nabil
KUWAIT – DEC.28, 2019 – Agility Ventures, the venture capital arm of global logistics company Agility, announced that it has invested in ExpandCart, a Cairo-based e-commerce enabler that allows entrepreneurs and small businesses to build online stores quickly and without any technical expertise.
The investment is part of a funding round closed this year by Agility, Graphene Venture Capital, Betatron, and other angel investors.
ExpandCart provides merchants with mobile-responsive online templates available in Arabic and English, as well as offering marketing, support, and hosting services. Additionally, it allows store owners to integrate with more than 20 payment and shipping options, streamlining the store-building process from start to finish.
Henadi Al-Saleh, Agility Chairperson and leader of Agility’s logistics venture strategy, announced the investment, saying it was part of Agility’s drive to expand its leadership in digital logistics and e-commerce.
“We think the potential of both digital logistics and e-commerce logistics is enormous. But to realize this potential, we also need to support the larger eco-system for digital trade. In other words, we need to go upstream,” Al Saleh said. “Agility is investing more than $100 million in Shipa.com, a digital logistics platform that allows businesses and consumers to manage freight, e-commerce and urban deliveries online. The ExpandCart partnership helps get more businesses trading across borders in the first place.”
More than 10,000 sellers have launched their stores on ExpandCart, allowing the merchants to receive more than 190,000 orders. In addition to store-building tools, ExpandCart offers sellers support for digital marketing, handling and fulfilment, a point-of-sale system, branded native mobile apps, and after-sale service.
Amr Shawqy, ExpandCart CEO and co-founder, said Agility’s investment and logistics expertise will help accelerate the company’s growth.
“The e-commerce sector is booming in the Middle East, and thousands of businesses are in position to expand their sales online. With help from Agility, our goal is to scale and support Middle East merchants throughout the entire e-commerce process,” Shawqy said. “Our engineers are continually working to provide innovative e-commerce solutions, and we have a substantial product roadmap for the coming period. With Agility behind us, we can unlock the incredible potential of the region, especially for its small businesses and entrepreneurs.”
According to a 2019 Bain & Company study, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) e-commerce market is worth $8.3 billion and has grown by 25% annually since 2014. It is expected to reach $28.5 billion by 2022 and could grow even larger, given that e-commerce penetration in MENA remains low compared with other regions.
“The Middle East retail market is worth more than $231 billion. And although e-commerce is just a small percentage today, the more that we create conditions that allow businesses to trade online, the more we will see e-commerce’s market share grow,” Al-Saleh said.
“Agility Ventures will work closely with ExpandCart to help it grow and reach more customers,” Al-Saleh said. “In addition to funding, Agility will partner with ExpandCart’s team and offer the last-mile logistics and e-fulfillment expertise that is critical to successful online businesses.”
Geoffrey White, CEO at Agility Africa, speaks to CNN at the World Economic Forum in Cape Town in September 2019: “[Agility is building] a network that lets you move goods from one country to another. Africa isn’t a quick-win investment scenario for Agility. It’s a 10, 20 year sustainable rollout of significant funds, building real infrastructure that’s aligned with the growth of the continent.”
Watch his interview with CNN to learn more:
Q3 2019 (Million KD)
YTD 2019 (Million KD)
Q3 2019 (Million KD)
YTD 2019 (Million KD)
Numbers above are rounded
KUWAIT – November 14, 2019 – Agility, a leading global logistics provider, today reported third-quarter earnings of 13 fils per share on net profit of KD 21.7 million, an increase of 8.4% (or 12.1% excluding IFRS16 impact) over the same period in 2018. Q3 EBITDA grew 20.9% (or 2.8% excluding IFRS16 impact) to KD 47.4 million, and revenue increased 1.6% to KD 400.7 million.
Year to date, earnings were 38.2 fils per share and net profit was KD 63.6 million, up 7.9% (or 11.3% excluding IFRS 16 impact). Year-to-date EBITDA was KD 142.4 million, an increase of 24.9% (or 6.4% excluding IFRS 16 impact). Revenue for the first three quarters was KD 1,175.8 million, an increase of 2.2%.
“Our Infrastructure portfolio of companies drove our results in the third quarter, with all major entities seeing growth. Our Global Integrated Logistics (GIL) business, on the other hand, was affected by challenging market conditions and trade-war headwinds that have affected the industry as a whole,” Tarek Sultan, Agility Vice Chairman and CEO, said. “Even so, GIL is moving forward aggressively with its digitization agenda to improve operational efficiency and drive a better customer experience.”
Sultan said: “We continue to invest in technology-driven change and seek to be the digital leaders in our industry. Our Agility Ventures team is partnering with innovative start-ups that are re-shaping the supply chain in areas ranging from green technologies to e-commerce. We are also accelerating in-house development, acquisitions, and partnerships to grow our digital logistics platform, Shipa. We believe this is the key to differentiating Agility and positioning us for future growth.”
Agility Global Integrated Logistics (GIL)
GIL EBITDA was KD 7.8 million (excluding IFRS 16 impact), a 1% decline from same period in 2018. The decrease was due to higher operating expenses related to new facilities, as well as investments in digital transformation.
GIL gross revenue was KD 285 million, a 2.4% decline (or 0.7% decline on a constant currency basis) from same period in 2018 due to challenges within the freight forwarding industry. GIL’s Q3 net revenue was KD 67.3 million, a 4% increase (or 5.3% increase on a constant currency basis) vs. Q3 2018. The net revenue increase was driven mainly by growth in Ocean Freight, Project Logistics and Contract Logistics. The overall net revenue margin was 23.6% in Q3 vs. 22.2% in Q3 2018.
Q3 Air Freight volume fell 15.8% (in tonnage) as a result of trade concerns and lower demand from customers across industries and geographies. This decline in volume was partially offset by higher yields – expressed as net revenue/ton – which increased 15.5%. As a result, Air Freight net revenue decreased 2.8% vs. Q3 2018.
Ocean Freight TEUs fell 9.3%, but Q3 yields improved 13.7% vs. the same period in 2018. GIL Ocean Freight yields were strongest in the Americas and Europe. Ocean Freight net revenue improved 3.2% as compared with Q3 2018.
Contract Logistics posted healthy growth, mainly in the US, Australasia, India and Singapore, with the MEA region continuing to perform well. Project Logistics also showed solid and increased growth.
Excluding IFRS 16 impact, year-to-date GIL EBITDA was KD 24.5 million, flat vs. the same period in 2018. Year-to-date net revenue improved 2.7%, and revenue fell 2.1%.
To strengthen performance and its market differentiation, GIL is implementing its digital strategy. By accelerating its digital transformation, GIL intends to enhance customer and supplier connectivity, create innovative complex customer solutions, increase the efficiency of its business processes, and enable comprehensive business insight.
Agility’s Infrastructure Companies
Agility’s Infrastructure group EBITDA rose 3.8% to KD 32.6 million in the third quarter. Revenue reached KD 119.7 million, an increase of 13.4%. For the nine months, EBITDA grew 8.3%; and revenue increased 14.5% (all numbers exclude IFRS 16 impact).
Agility Logistics Parks (ALP) reported a 14.2% increase in third-quarter revenue as compared with the same quarter in 2018. Revenue from facilities completed in late 2018 contributed to strong results, as did yield improvement at existing facilities. Near-term growth will be driven by development of new logistics parks and warehouses in Saudi Arabia and Africa, along with optimization of the company’s land bank in Kuwait.
Tristar, a fully integrated liquid logistics company, posted 9.6% revenue growth in the third quarter, driven by increases in road transport, warehousing operations and the shipping business, in addition to business wins from new and existing customers. Tristar continues to execute and to look for opportunities to unlock additional value for its shareholders.
National Aviation Services (NAS) revenue rebounded, growing 8.5% in Q3 after a difficult start to the year. NAS’s first-half performance was hurt by unforeseen regulatory and operational expenses in Kuwait, price reduction in Cote d’Ivoire, and a temporary reduction of flights in and out of Afghanistan. NAS expects improvement in results to continue into Q4 and 2020. Operations in Mozambique, Tanzania and Morocco remain in launch phases and are hindering group performance, but Uganda, Jordan and Egypt continue to outperform.
United Projects for Aviation Services Company (UPAC) posted Q3 revenue growth of 1.4%. UPAC operations are still being affected by the shift in passenger traffic to dedicated airline terminals at Kuwait International Airport. UPAC has been able to offset the impact by generating new revenue from car park management operations in (T4) and through the strong performance of its real estate management operations in Kuwait. In Abu Dhabi, construction continues to progress on Reem Mall, a $1.2 billion project.
GCS, Agility’s customs modernization company, posted revenue growth of 8.2% in Q3. Gains were driven by implementation of new services in customs operations, digital services for the trade community, and port operations. GCS continues implementing digital initiatives to drive efficiency and improve profitability.
Recap of Agility third quarter 2019 Financial Performance (reported)
Agility’s net profit increased 8.4% to KD 21.7 million in the 3rd quarter of 2019. EPS was 13 fils vs. 12 fils a year earlier.
Agility’s 3rd quarter revenue rose 1.6%, to KD 400.7 million and net revenue increased 6.5%.
GIL 3rd quarter revenue declined 2.4% to KD 285 million (a decline of 0.7% on a constant currency basis).
Infrastructure’s 3rd quarter revenue grew 13.4% to KD 119.7 million.
Agility enjoys a healthy balance sheet with KD 2 billion in assets. Net debt on a reported basis was KD 295.1 million as of September 30, 2019 (excluding IFRS 16 Net debt is KD 196 million). Reported operating cash flow was KD 98.1 million for the nine months of 2019, an increase of 77.2%.
Successful contract extension includes innovative paperless technology and digital dimensioning solution
Bonn, Hamburg, September 24, 2019: Messe Frankfurt, one of the world’s largest exhibition, congress and event organizers, has extended its exclusive cooperation with forwarding agents DHL Trade Fairs & Events and Agility for five years. This is the third time in a row that both companies have been contracted as the official logistics providers for the exhibition grounds in Frankfurt. These grounds span almost 60 hectares, and feature 11 halls with over 400,000 sqm of indoor and outdoor exhibition space. Messe Frankfurt organizes close to 50 trade fairs a year, including the Frankfurt Book Fair and the International Motor Show (IAA).
“We’re proud to be an exclusive logistics partner for Messe Frankfurt”, says Stefan Engisch, Head of Trade Fairs & Events Germany. “This contract is one of the biggest in global exhibition logistics and by combining best-in-class services and innovative technological solutions we have once more proven being provider of choice for fair and event logistics.”
At the Messe Frankfurt exhibition grounds, Agility and DHL work closely to coordinate the delivery of goods to the exhibition grounds, handle customs procedures, loading and unloading, and ensure the timely delivery of exhibits and their assembly at exhibition stands. Exhibitors have access to a large warehouse for empty transport packaging and unneeded exhibition material. To facilitate and expedite the dimensioning and registration process of all incoming and outgoing shipments DHL Trade Fairs & Events implemented an innovative volume measurement solution. The solution works with camera sensors of a renowned game consoles manufacturer using 3D camera technology.
Further, a specially designed IT solution has been introduced to ensure the smooth and largely paperless handling of all orders, giving all three partners – Messe Frankfurt, DHL and Agility – simultaneous access to all information from every order. Employees will use mobile devices to record all deliveries upon arrival. Additionally, orders, changes and performance specifications can be saved and displayed in real time.
“Agility has been working with DHL to organize professional logistics for exhibitors and visitors at Messe Frankfurt since 2007. Our experience working at this venue gives us unrivaled knowledge of the exhibition space, and demonstrates our successful track record of delivering outstanding logistics services at events and exhibitions across the globe,” said Markus Lingohr, CEO for Central Europe at Agility.
Agility Fairs & Events continues to provide logistics support for the exhibition center
LONDON, United Kingdom – September 4, 2019 – Following a successful seven-year partnership, Agility, a leading global logistics provider, has been awarded an extended contract by ExCeL London exhibition and international convention center to continue being their venue preferred logistics partner.
Under the new five-year contract, Agility Fairs & Events will continue to partner with ExCeL to provide event organizers, exhibitors and contractors with specialist event transportation, pre and post show storage, on-site receiving and delivery, forklift/mechanical handling equipment and customer logistics advice and support.
“We have been working with ExCeL since 2012, and our on-site presence gives us a tremendous insight into their business,” said David Richards, European Regional Director for Agility Fairs & Events. “This renewal demonstrates our successful track record of delivering world-class logistics services at ExCeL. We are excited to continue this partnership for the benefit of the venue’s event organizers and exhibitors.”
ExCeL London, the international exhibition and convention center, is the host venue for a variety of events from award-winning exhibitions and conferences to international association meetings, product launches, banquets, award ceremonies, and sporting events.
“Our vision is to create truly memorable experiences at ExCeL London for organisers, exhibitors and visitors alike,” said Jeremy Rees CEO of ExCeL London. “It is crucial that we align ourselves with the right service partners so that events continue to thrive at ExCeL. We made a commitment to work with Agility Fairs & Events over six years ago because of the critical importance of freight forwarding and logistics to our organisers and exhibitors. We are delighted to be extending our partnership and the successful and enduring collaboration with the Agility team based at ExCeL.”
Agility would like to invite you to join its Fourth quarter 2018 earnings webcast on Thursday February 21, 2019 at 2:00 pm (Kuwait), 6:00 am (New York) and 11:00 am (London)
Ehab Aziz, Group CFO
Rita Guindy, Arqaam Capital
To attend and view the webcast, please click here at least 10 minutes before the beginning of the event.