SMEs and E-commerce in Developing Countries: Frameworks for Assessing the Role of Change Agents

Richard Duncombe and Alemayehu Molla


The purpose of this working paper is to understand the role of change agents in the promotion of e-commerce among SMEs in developing countries, an area where there is little research coverage. The paper argues that both SMEs and change agents in developing countries face unique challenges that call into question the applicability of conventional theory of change agency and SME-led e-commerce adoption. Using preliminary data collected from Uganda and the theoretical lenses of change agency and motivation-ability theory, a framework is presented that explains how change agents can fulfil an effective role in assisting SMEs to benefit from e-commerce.

A five point criteria categorises the change agents identified through field research, which are then assessed according to a four-stage SME and change agency-profiling framework. On this basis the paper proposes a role-based change agency intervention model that assesses the potential of SMEs in developing countries to benefit from e-commerce adoption.  The paper makes an original contribution to theory of e-commerce adoption, as well as providing an assessment framework to assist practitioners in their work to formulate intervention strategies and to assist both SMEs' and agencies' e-commerce initiatives. The paper concludes by highlighting some of the lessons that emerged from Ugandan experience and outlines future research intentions.

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Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. What are the limitations of past research on e-commerce in developing countries? [Part A]
  2. Discuss the main features of change agent and motivation ability theory. [Part B]
  3. Why are motivational factors seen to be of equal or greater importance for e-commerce development than organisational factors? [Part B]
  4. On what research base is the paper founded? [Part C]
  5. What frameworks can be used for understanding SMEs, e-commerce and change agents in developing countries? [Part D]
  6. Summarise the key contribution of the new frameworks to understanding of SMEs, e-commerce and change agents in developing countries. [Part E]

Development questions

  1. Explain the potential of e-commerce for SMEs in developing countries and discuss the constraints to realising the benefits.
  2. E-commerce is likely to advantage developed countries and disadvantage developing countries: discuss.
  3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of using the change agent and motivation ability theories in the context of e-commerce in SMEs?
  4. Identify methodological weaknesses of the paper and suggest ways for improvement.
  5. Suggest realistic recommendations to help SMEs in developing countries benefit from e-commerce.
  6. Critically evaluate and discuss the three frameworks presented in this study.  How can these frameworks be improved?