Informal Online Commerce: A digital market without the e-commerce platform


14 July 2021 6:00 am - 7:30 am EDT
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Emerging evidence from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Myanmar has revealed a form of digital commerce that runs in parallel to formal channels called informal online commerce. Driven primarily by women on both the seller and buyer end, it allows women to combine ingenuity, entrepreneurship, and the digital world to pursue livelihoods and become empowered, often in the face of systemic and normative constraints.


Dr. Rashid Bajwa | CEO, NRSP

Dr. Rashid Bajwa | CEO, NRSP

Dr. Bajwa is the CEO and founding member of the National Rural Support Programme (NRSP), Pakistan’s largest not-for-profit organization aimed at poverty alleviation for the rural poor.  

Across his 16 years at NRSP, Dr. Bajwa has set the organization’s strategic direction, designing and implementing cutting edge initiatives across a range of sectors. Under his direction, the company has grown exponentially; today NRSP works in 72 districts across Pakistan, organizing 3.7 million community members and training 4.8 million rural households in managerial and vocational skills. Moreover, during his tenure, NRSP has grown to become the country’s largest microfinance provider. As the CEO of NRSP, Dr. Bajwa has successfully led the transformation of NRSP’s microfinance operations to a regulated, deposit taking, privately owned Microfinance Bank with equity from ACUMEN Fund, KFW & IFC. 

Dr. Bajwa holds a medical graduate degree from King Edward Medical College Lahore and a MPh from the Nuffield Institute of Health, University of Leeds, UK.

Sophia Salim

Sophia Salim | Chief Product Officer, Bykea

Sophia Salim is a technology product professional with 17 years of global experience across large corporations and startups. She is a Stanford MS in Management Sciences & Engineering (concentration in Technology Entrepreneurship), a CS undergrad, a Microsoft engineer (Redmond, WA & Silicon Valley), a Stanford StartX founder of her own startup - Ropazi - in San Francisco, and currently the Chief Product Officer/Advisor to Bykea - a Series B startup with $22 million in total funding, disrupting ride hailing in Pakistan. Ms. Salim’s second startup, The Data Leap, focused on building products for the consumer banking and fashion retail space. As the co-founder/CTO of her Stanford backed startup Ropazi, Ms. Salim built a cloud-based, full service conversational commerce platform which powers the sales channel of messaging for online retailers using Artificial Intelligence and Natural Language Processing. As a Software Engineer at Microsoft, Ms. Salim worked in the VB/C# compiler teams in Redmond WA, and later in the GPU Virtualization team in Silicon Valley.

Meenah Tariq

Meenah Tariq | Partner, Karavan Venture Capital

Meenah Tariq is currently a Partner at Karavan Venture Capital, a Middle-east based VC firm investing in early stage startups in Pakistan. Previously, she was the Head of Strategy and Accelerator at Invest2Innovate Pakistan. Meenah supported hundreds of entrepreneurs since 2015, including directly training 600+ WSMEs, across a wide variety of industries and geographies. She has been designing and implementing programs to practically support women entrepreneurs, encourage entrepreneurial mindsets in young people, and equip entrepreneurs across the country with the business acumen required to scale high-impact businesses and SMEs, with organizations such as the World Bank, DFID, and USAID, including the World Bank Women Entrepreneurs Financing Initiative. Meenah conducts trainings on business creation and scale, mentors a number of startups, and has taught entrepreneurship at local business schools at the undergrad level. She hosts a tv show segment in Urdu, talking about entrepreneurship to the masses, through Pakistan's national television.

Yasmin Bin-Humam

Yasmin Bin-Humam | Financial Sector Specialist, CGAP

Yasmin Bin-Humam works on analyzing excluded segments to more closely examine who remains financially excluded and how financial services might impact their lives. She also serves as a focal point for CGAP’s gender mainstreaming and manages an industry-wide community of practice on women’s financial inclusion. 

Before joining CGAP, Yasmin developed indicators measuring women’s equality under the law for the World Bank’s Women, Business, and the Law project and contributed to publications on legal barriers to women’s economic empowerment. Her previous research includes the historical evolution of labor and family law reform in countries around the world, and she has compiled legislation on banking, nonbank financial institutions, and consumer protection regulations. Her earlier work experience spans the public, private, and nongovernmental sectors. 

Yasmin has Juris Doctorate and Master’s degrees from Georgetown University and a Bachelor’s degree in economics from Harvard. 

Joep Roest

Joep Roest | Senior Financial Sector Specialist, CGAP

Joep Roest is based in Singapore and represents CGAP in East Asia and the Pacific with a most of his time being devoted to Myanmar, Bangladesh, Indonesia and China. He focuses on Government to Person Payments (G2P) and how digital platforms are affecting the financial lives of the poor. 

Before joining CGAP, Joep helped establish Wing mobile money in Cambodia. He later moved to Papua New Guinea to work on UNCDF’s mobile money project spanning the South Pacific. He then spent four years as a member of Queen Máxima’s team at the United Nations.