4. Expand existing support and address the gender digital divide

The government has improved the provision of digital public services and substantially phased out paper-based interactions with the private sector. Some 56% of government services are reportedly available online (E-Government Project Management Center, 2022[1]). An upcoming OECD survey assessing the business climate in Uzbekistan found that 78% of respondents considered the digitalisation of public services at least somehow useful. Uzbekistan moved up 18 places in the UN E-Government Development Index (EGDI) between 2020 and 2022, to rank 69th out of 193 countries (UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs, 2022[2]). An increased use of e-government services can contribute to developing firms’ digital skills, as the latter must learn how to use digital solutions to fulfil regulatory obligations (OECD, 2014[3]). In that sense, the steady strides made by Uzbekistan before and during the pandemic to digitalise public services may have contributed to the digital upskilling of the private sector. Such services include business registration, licensing, VAT payment and access to finance for SMEs. The government also oversaw the expansion of the partially automated online justice system “e-sud”, which was originally launched in 2014. It helped eliminate reliance on paperwork and reduced inefficient bureaucracy (UNDP, 2020[4]).

However, the provision of such services seems to lack co-ordination. Whilst the Cabinet of Ministers is in charge of the implementation of e-government services, ministries report that agencies could benefit from more efficient co-ordination and supervision (ADB, 2021[5]). The e-Government Project Management Centre was established in 2020 and given a broad mandate to lead and drive a “whole-of-government” approach to the digital government transformation of government services (USAID, 2022[6]). It is the only body responsible for developing and proposing e-government projects as well as identifying funding, but some observers fear that it suffers from insufficient capacity to handle these functions (ADB, 2021[5]). The lack of consistent, co-ordinated leadership across government bodies to help break through institutional cultures has hampered progress. Data and information sharing between ministries is based on bilateral agreements rather than on an umbrella government policy. Many civil servants have little understanding of the benefits or need for digital reforms (USAID, 2022[6]).

As a result, government agencies have developed parallel, fragmented initiatives:

  • My.gov.uz is presented as the main, single portal of interactive public services for citizens and businesses.

  • The Chamber of Commerce and Industry provides a range of free services, such as legal and judicial advice, certification and export advisory, etc. Paid services include support with accounting, taxation and business planning tasks. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry also provides IT services. However, these are rather basic, as the services currently offered include copying documents, preparation of electronic forms, scanning, lamination, and saving documents on memory sticks.

  • Online-mahalla.uz assists businesses in receiving soft loans for a specified range of activities in the agricultural sector and provides vocational training grants and subsidies for unemployed people, returning migrants, women from low-income families and young individuals.

  • B-advice.uz, another online platform, provides practical information on opening and doing a business.

  • Birdarcha.uz provides a similar if not identical type of service to b-advice.uz, with information on business registration and taxation.

  • License.gov.uz allows companies to apply for licencing.

The actual use of related government websites seems to be relatively low. For instance, OECD fact-finding interviews find that b-advice.uz, a site providing business advice for firms in Uzbek, English and Russian, registered 6,700 visits over two years, compared to the 411,203 active SMEs registered at the end of 2020 (ADB, 2021[7]). Possible reasons for low use are scattered website locations and functionalities, lack of a single-entry point, and an unclear service offer. This makes it difficult for SMEs to be aware of the relevant services and forms a barrier to increase the use of the digital services provided, as SMEs are usually time- or knowledge-constrained and may not be able to navigate the myriad training opportunities and support available. Increasing the awareness and motivation of employees and managers will depend on progress in developing a consolidated platform to provide comprehensive information on learning opportunities, access to career guidance, and information on skills in high demand.

Digital tool provision has been increasing but has largely been limited to the IT and business process outsourcing (BPO) sectors. The government has been focusing efforts on developing a national IT sector supported by IT Parks. Since their inception in 2019, the IT Parks have become key actors in the development of the IT sector. They provide resident companies in the IT sector access to infrastructure and modern laboratories, IT education, software development, start-up ecosystem incubator and accelerator programmes. They also support international firms wishing to outsource IT services (BPO) to Uzbekistan, develop IT skills of the wider population through various initiatives, including the One Million Uzbek Coders1, and co-ordinate university partnerships. As of June 2022, they hosted 718 resident firms across the country. Yet, access to IT Parks is limited to companies in the IT sector. The IT Parks launched the IT centres to act as learning centres where the wider population can study IT and IT-related topics at subsidised prices. OECD fact-finding interviews further indicate that there are 800 offices under the hokimiyats chiefly in rural areas used to increase awareness and usage of e-government services which can also be consulted by firms. These offices are particularly useful to self-employed individuals with no employees and unincorporated entrepreneurs, who constitute the vast majority of Uzbek SMEs, but they propose only basic skills and knowledge trainings. The online learning platform “educat.uz” was launched in 2021 by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and offers 30 modules building on skills of all types, some of which focus on standard digital skills. While digital literacy is thereby part of the scope, the offering needs to be significantly expanded. There is an on-going initiative to recruit consultants to further expand the functioning and offer of the learning platform in 2022.

The government has the capacity to expand its reach to SMEs outside of the IT sector as well as broaden the type and complexity of digital literacy capacity-building services it currently offers through the Chamber of Commerce and Industry. The MDT could consider identifying an implementing agency – the Chamber of Commerce and Industry or the SME or national enterprise support agency and give it a strong mandate to act as a digital one stop shop (OSS) for businesses willing to develop their digital skills (Box 4.1). Such an OSS would aggregate information from the different agencies providing support to the private sector, including the provision of digital skills training. It could implement the once-only principle, where firms only have to request the information once for it to be shared across government agencies. Additionally, such an initiative could improve the co-ordination of the various agencies involved in delivering government-to-business (G2B) services. In developing and implementing a digital transformation strategy, the agency could in particular:

  • support the assessment of firms’ degree of digital maturity, including online courses and self-assessments;

  • develop sector-specific digital plans outlining a ‘’digitalisation roadmap’’ from elementary digital skills to digital maturity;

  • provide tailored training services matching guidelines from sector-specific digital plans and the outcomes of the digital self-assessment;

  • facilitate access to a reliable network of certified consultants and advisors; and

  • leverage the expertise and co-ordinate relevant stakeholders’ (government, social partners, education providers, private firms, NGOs) activities related to digital skills development.

Consideration should be given to the provision of training content in local languages, namely in Uzbek, Tajik and Karakalpak across the country. Attention should be paid to incorporate the gender dimension through the provision of initiatives targeted at women. In addition, to resolve misalignment between expectations and results, the SME agency or related actors could guide SMEs towards ‘’innovation agents’’. Once they have provided support and information on available tools to SMEs, SME agencies can redirect firms to such agents which provide more specialised consulting services on digital transformation topics and can address more specific needs. This would ensure the best solution for each firm’s needs. For instance, Singapore’s SMEs Go Digital Initative provides access to a shared pool of digital consultants appointed by IMDA with services covering digital needs analysis, cybersecurity risk advisory, project management services, etc. Experience from Latvia shows that the most effective results to raise SMEs’ awareness of the opportunities offered by digitalisation were obtained when firms were provided with personal, customised support. Experts should explain to them how available digital tools can help solve some of their challenges, and which public financing is available to support the acquisition of such tools.

Various financial incentives have been introduced across OECD countries to develop firms’ skills and reduce SMEs’ gap in adoption, such as direct and indirect financial support to help firms cover the costs of accessing digital tools. Korea, for instance, provides financial support for SMEs to access cloud services. In Germany, Denmark, and Slovenia, financial incentives support firms in augmenting their digital skills (OECD, 2020[9]). In Uzbekistan, the government has already introduced some financial incentives, such as soft loan programmes for SMEs and partial training reimbursement upon successful completion of training, where 70% of the costs spent are covered by the government up to a limit of UZS 1 million (EUR 91.05). Residents of IT Parks can benefit from tax breaks (Table 4.1), as well as customs exemptions for the import of equipment or software not produced in Uzbekistan. However, such support is available only to firms in the IT sector that are IT Park residents.

Beyond IT park incentives, the government could introduce additional financial incentives to stimulate private investment in digital technologies and capabilities, and offer those incentives to a wider range of sectors. Direct financial support includes partial or full training reimbursement, grants, vouchers or soft loans to help targeted SMEs cover the costs of accessing digital tools such as cloud services, big data, digital consultancy services, digital skills. Indirect financial incentives include training costs deductible from profits, accelerated depreciation schemes and tax credits to stimulate private investment in digital technologies, broader tax support for R&D investments, and allowing an extra-amortisation on the purchase of certain eligible tangible assets and human resources (OECD, 2021[10]). Further tailored support could be considered for rural SMEs, which unlike large firms in rural areas, cannot access training centres and may face prohibitive costs when engaging with training providers based in urban areas.

Introducing training leave legislation could help address barriers for employees lacking time to engage in skills development. To encourage the uptake of training leave, the Uzbek government could offer compensatory mechanisms for learners and employers, in line with several OECD countries, by paying workers while on their training leave (OECD, 2018[11]). Recognising and signalling skills acquired by workers on these trainings would also help firms recruit individuals with the right skills and incentivise people to invest in their skills development.

Attracting foreign talent with digital skills allows cross-pollination and can further support local firms in their digital upskilling. According to the Westminster International University in Tashkent, 68% of surveyed firms highlighted IT and computer skills as one of their key criteria in hiring new employees. Yet OECD fact-finding interviews found that there is a shortage in IT skills and relevant experience on the labour market. Some 47% of the 2020 Start-up Ecosystem Review respondents reported the lack of qualified IT specialists as a key challenge for start-up development (USAID, 2022[6]). A recent programme introduced by the government, which aims to attract foreign IT specialists, provides an opportunity for local firms to benefit from these specialists’ expertise. The relocation programme offers attractive benefits such as a 3-year IT visa, a streamlined procedure to apply for residency, tax and customs breaks, an expedited process to open a bank account and support to find accommodation and an office space (IT-VISA, 2022[12]). However, it does not provide actual jobs, and OECD interviews indicate that few expect these specialists to stay longer than a few months at most, due to the mismatch in salary expectations and employment offers on the Uzbek job market.

The digital transformation provides new opportunities for women’s economic empowerment and can contribute to gender equality. However, hurdles to access, affordability, lack of education as well as biases and socio-cultural norms limit women’s and girls’ ability to benefit from the opportunities offered by the digital transformation (OECD, 2018[13]). With 90% of jobs worldwide having a digital component (UNESCAP, 2018[14]), digital literacy is seen as an essential skill for employability and a driver of higher earnings and better economic opportunities. However in Uzbekistan, digital divides along gender lines are significant, as women and girls are disadvantaged compared to their male peers when financial choices must be made about access to the internet, digital literacy and skills-improvement programmes (USAID, 2022[6]). IT and tech are stereotyped as men’s interests: women represent less than 10% of students in IT-related university programmes, 22% of students in technical universities, 2% of start-up founders, 12% of IT entrepreneurs in the IT Park, and 13% of applications for IT Park start-up programmes (USAID, 2022[6]). A recent World Bank study found that women are discriminated against in male-dominated occupations2. The study also revealed that a large share of job postings contains gender preferences (World Bank, 2021[15]), which negatively affect both women and men. Such gender stereotypes may perpetuate occupational segregation, prevent efficient talent allocation and can contribute to women staying in less remunerative job occupations.

A range of policy measures can be considered by the government to support the equitable participation of women in the digital economy. These include reviewing digital strategies to ensure they include a gender component, developing metrics that capture gender-disaggregated data, increasing female participation in STEM education, scholarships, awareness raising, direct financial support, community building, etc. (OECD, 2018[13]). The government should pursue and expand its initiatives to promote digital uptake among women, in particular, such as the Gap IT Club recently launched with the IT Park to increase women’s IT literacy and provide them with training and employment opportunities in that field, or the Tumaris Tech project also developed by the IT Park focusing on women start-ups. Showcasing success stories of Uzbek women in IT can serve to inspire and encourage other women to pursue an IT-related career. When women and girls are included in support programmes, attention should be paid to ensure that they are not confined to developing lower-paying skills such as data entry or graphic design and away from more remunerative digital skills such as coding or IT systems management (USAID, 2022[6]).


[5] ADB (2021), ADBI Working Paper Series - Challenges and Opportunities of Digital Transformation in the Public Sector in Transition Economies: the Case of Uzbekistan, https://www.adb.org/publications/challenges-opportunities-digital-transformation-uzbekistan.

[7] ADB (2021), Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises Development Program (Subprogram 1): Report and Recommendation of the President, https://www.adb.org/projects/documents/uzb-42007-020-rrp.

[16] EBRD (2021), Uzbekistan: stepping up for women. Baseline assessment of WSMEs on digitalisation, https://www.ipcgmbh.com/projects/2758.

[1] E-Government Project Management Center (2022), About the center, https://e-gov.uz/en (accessed on 23 May 2022).

[8] European Commission (2022), Welcome to the Digital Skills and Jobs Platform, https://digital-skills-jobs.europa.eu/en (accessed on 15 July 2022).

[12] IT-VISA (2022), IT Visa in Uzbekistan - Relocation program, https://itvisa.uz/en (accessed on 20 June 2022).

[10] OECD (2021), Improving the Legal Environment for Business and Investment in Central Asia, OECD Publishing, https://www.oecd.org/eurasia/Improving-LEB-CA-ENG%2020%20April.pdf.

[13] OECD (2018), Bridging the Digital Gender Divide - Include, Upskill, Innovate, OECD Publishing, https://www.oecd.org/digital/bridging-the-digital-gender-divide.pdf.

[11] OECD (2018), Skills Strategy Implementation Guidance for Portugal: Strengthening the Adult-Learning System, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/9789264298705-en.

[3] OECD (2014), Recommendation of the Council on Digital Government Strategies, OECD Publishing, https://www.oecd.org/gov/digital-government/Recommendation-digital-government-strategies.pdf.

[9] Paris (ed.) (2020), OECD Digital Economy Outlook 2020, OECD Publishing, https://doi.org/10.1787/bb167041-en.

[2] UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (2022), “E-Government Survey 2022”, The Future of Digital Government, https://desapublications.un.org/sites/default/files/publications/2022-09/Report%20without%20annexes.pdf (accessed on 29 September 2022).

[4] UNDP (2020), E-SUD rises to the COVID-19 challenge, https://www.undp.org/uzbekistan/blog/e-sud-rises-covid-19-challenge (accessed on 21 June 2022).

[14] UNESCAP (2018), E-Government Survey 2018 - Gearing E-Government to Support Transformation towards Sustainable and Resilient Societies, https://www.unescap.org/sites/default/d8files/knowledge-products/E-Government%20Survey%202018_FINAL.pdf (accessed on 19 September 2022).

[6] USAID (2022), Digital Ecosystem Assessment - Uzbekistan, https://www.usaid.gov/digital-development/uzbekistan-digital-ecosystem-country-assessment.

[15] World Bank (2021), Gender Discrimination in Hiring - Evidence from an Audit Experiment in Uzbekistan, https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/36311.


← 1. The One Million Uzbek Coders is a joint project between Uzbekistan and the UAE which aims to teach the population programming and digital skills in four areas: data analytics, Android development, front-end development, and full-stack development. As of June 2022, 2.5 million students had reportedly registered to the programme across Uzbekistan, and 1.5 million of them had received participation certificates.

← 2. The results for the IT sector show a substantial difference in callback rates but were not statistically significant, though OECD interviews support the World Bank report’s findings that IT sector positions are considered male dominated.

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