USAID Announces Five New Winners

USAID is working toward a future where digital technology promotes inclusive growth, fosters resilient and democratic societies, and empowers everyone, including the most vulnerable and marginalized. In an effort to recognize USAID Missions, Bureaus, and implementing partners that are helping countries and communities work toward sustainable growth and resilience, USAID is pleased to announce the winners of the 2023 Digital Development Awards (the Digis).

Meet the 2023 Digi Award Winners

The Digis recognize and celebrate USAID projects and activities that embrace the Agency's strategic goals of improving development and humanitarian assistance outcomes through the use of digital technology and strengthening open, secure, and inclusive digital ecosystems. The winners of the 2023 Digis are: 

  • USAID/Cambodia: Digital Workforce Development Activity, implemented by the University of California at Berkeley, for employing a comprehensive strategy to empower youth with ICT skills and resources to bolster the digital ecosystem in Cambodia and create new employment opportunities through partnerships with local higher education institutions and the private sector.
  • USAID/Bureau for Europe and Eurasia: Critical Infrastructure Digitalization and Resilience Program, implemented by DAI, for strengthening cybersecurity ecosystems in countries throughout Eastern Europe and building the capacity of key stakeholders in the region to protect critical infrastructure and become more resilient in the face of cyber attacks.
  • USAID/Global Health/Office of Population and Reproductive Health & USAID/India: Game of Choice, Not Chance Initiative, implemented by women-owned small business Howard Delafield International, for developing a mobile phone game for girls in India to practice making informed choices and find products, services, and resources to support their sexual and reproductive health and wellbeing.
  • USAID/Moldova: Future Technologies Activity, implemented by Chemonics, for supporting a Moldovan-founded community digital bank called Fagura to accelerate access to non-traditional banking services and loans, empowering small and medium enterprises across the country to transform their ideas into business opportunities.
  • USAID/Zimbabwe: Target, Accelerate, and Sustain Quality Care for HIV Epidemic Control Program, implemented by the Organization for Public Health Interventions and Development, for scaling up access to HIV care, treatment, and prevention services in hard-to-reach areas of Zimbabwe through the use of a location-based, real-time data system that enhances decision-making and service coordination.

Congratulations to all of the winners! Please learn more about each project below and stay tuned for news about future rounds of the Digital Development Awards.

USAID/Cambodia: Digital Workforce Development (DWD) Activity

The Challenge

Despite decades of significant political and economic strife, Cambodia has become a middle-income country and is ranked among the top 15 fastest-growing economies worldwide, with an average annual growth of seven percent since 2000. 

To continue its economic success, Cambodia seeks to reduce its dependence on labor-intensive industries and use more technology to produce goods and services. This transformation will require Cambodia’s workforce to become more digitally savvy—a key opportunity for Cambodia’s youth, who make up 60 percent of the country’s population and are generally early adopters of new technology. The COVID-19 pandemic widened an already-large digital skills gap within Cambodia, highlighting the urgent need for systemic changes to increase digital literacy and prepare the country’s workforce—particularly young adults—for the future.

The Approach

USAID/Cambodia’s Digital Workforce Development (DWD) activity, implemented by the University of California at Berkeley, employs a comprehensive strategy to empower youth with information and communications technology (ICT) skills and resources to bolster the digital ecosystem in Cambodia, and to create new employment opportunities. To achieve this, DWD is strengthening the capacity of faculty at Cambodian higher education institutions by establishing university-based career centers; overseeing ICT skills training for secondary students; and providing scholarships for students pursuing digital and ICT-related majors, focusing on students in rural areas. DWD has also reformed IT curriculum to better align with global education trends and created new opportunities for faculty to stay current with ever-changing technologies. 

The activity has also facilitated partnerships between higher education institutions and industry leaders, such as Amazon Web Services and Meta, so that faculty can take digital skills courses in order to transfer these skills to their students. DWD has established five university career centers that provide students with internships, job opportunities, skills training, and career coaching to better prepare them for the ICT workforce. This activity also aims to reduce the skills gap between rural and urban secondary students while also empowering higher education students to give back to their communities. For example, in the “KHoding Hero” volunteer program, third and fourth year ICT students spend a month in rural Cambodia teaching high school and secondary students computer coding and basic ICT skills. 

Why It Won

USAID’s DWD activity has created a more digitally savvy workforce by directly engaging young people and major stakeholders in Cambodia’s education and ICT space. DWD trained 124 professors at 12 higher education institutions and over 3,300 young people aged 15 to 29 on industry topics, including the Python computer programming language, machine learning concepts, financial technology, Amazon Web Services for cloud computing and data storage, and Meta for digital marketing and virtual business management. The five career centers serving 22,000 students offer the chance for youth to connect to job opportunities and resources in the ICT sector.

Through DWD’s “KHoding Hero” program, 128 university student volunteers taught computer coding basics to nearly 11,000 secondary school students in more than 30 schools between 2022 and 2023. The activity’s private sector engagement has been particularly impressive, with 26 local and international businesses contributing$300,000 plus staff time to help identify workforce skill gaps, host workshops and speaker sessions, participate in career fairs, conduct walk-in interviews at partnering higher education institutions, and shape the activity’s approach to internships.

DWD leveraged a collaborative and user-centric approach, which gives students a comprehensive understanding of potential ICT career paths. The activity’s built-in feedback mechanisms allowed it to adjust activities proactively based on the real-time needs of students, employers, and faculty. The activity also developed a comprehensive handbook for digital education that will be publicly available and free of charge, and it designed a cost-sharing business model for university career centers to attract sponsorships from private sector partners. USAID/Cambodia continues to share DWD’s approaches, including its private sector engagement strategy, as a resource for other programs within the country.

USAID/Bureau for Europe and Eurasia: Critical Infrastructure Digitalization and Resilience (CIDR) Program

The Challenge

The energy, telecom, and financial sectors are essential for a well-functioning, developed economy. However, in the past 20 years, these and other key sectors have increasingly become the targets of cyberattacks, which threaten the stability of cities and countries all over the world. 

The problem is growing in Eastern Europe, where countries face a rising tide of diverse and complex cyber threats on critical national infrastructure. The European Union Agency for Cybersecurity identified multiple trends fueling these attacks: geopolitical tensions, increased capabilities for disinformation and propaganda, technology vulnerabilities, and novel threats that exploit weaknesses in computer systems or networks.

The Approach

As a vital cybersecurity measure, USAID/Bureau for Europe and Eurasia’s Critical Infrastructure Digitalization and Resilience (CIDR) program, implemented by DAI, assumed responsibility for the Critical Infrastructure Cybersecurity Working Group in North Macedonia and established similar working groups in Kosovo and Moldova. These working groups regularly convene key stakeholders of the country’s cybersecurity ecosystem, including government officials as well as leaders in critical infrastructure, the private sector, academia, and civil society. They are chaired by top government appointees and facilitated by CIDR’s country teams. As CIDR’s EU-level experts lead information sessions, group members use “road maps” to build common understandings of their national cybersecurity landscapes. Importantly, these meetings enable members from different sectors to contribute their perspectives, ideas, and recommendations for national cybersecurity development. The knowledge generated from the working groups is contributing to CIDR’s effectiveness across four primary domains: cybersecurity governance, cybersecurity workforce development, capacity for threat detection and repulsion, and critical data-sharing mechanisms.

In 2023, CIDR added four countries to its assistance portfolio: Albania, Georgia, Montenegro, and Serbia. Next, CIDR will increase its testing, assessment, training, and procurement support to critical infrastructure operators in the energy, telecom, and financial sectors, among others, as well as its support to government institutions responsible for cyber support and oversight. To advance cyber workforce development, CIDR will deepen its ongoing assistance in gender-sensitive and updated cyber curricula, training of trainers in university and vocational settings, and women’s employment in cybersecurity—all to address upcoming market needs identified by CIDR research.

Why It Won

CIDR is strengthening countries’ cybersecurity governance by collaborating with a wide variety of partner-nation counterparts in government agencies, public and private sector agencies, and civil society organizations. By bringing together relevant stakeholders around a common goal—developing cybersecurity resilience in critical infrastructure—CIDR is facilitating significant country-led outcomes across the region. 

In Kosovo, CIDR and working group collaboration led to the March 2023 enactment of the Cybersecurity Law; this set the stage for launching the Cyber Security Agency in March 2024. The working group also played a crucial role in the designation process of "critical infrastructure," "critical information infrastructure," and development of a cybersecurity legal framework. In Moldova, CIDR’s technical assistance and training supported the government to thwart all cyberattacks during the 2023 local government elections, following a massive cyberattack on their systems in 2022. In North Macedonia, CIDR provided technical assistance to the process of revising the draft National Cyber Security Strategy and Action Plan to align with the EU NIS 2 directive, then supported an engaging public debate about the strategy. Through the establishment of CIDR’s working groups, the private sector has gained a platform to inform cybersecurity policy-making, joining representatives from the public sector and civil society to actively contribute to discussions concerning legal amendments and other proposed government initiatives. 

CIDR activities are intentionally built to last beyond the life of the program, including assistance and partnerships to create the policies, frameworks, and coordination bodies required for long-term success in building resilient critical infrastructure in Eastern Europe.

USAID/Global Health/Office of Population and Reproductive Health & USAID/India: Game of Choice, Not Chance (GOC) Initiative

The Challenge

Without access to direct information, it can be difficult to make informed decisions concerning reproductive health. In India, many girls have limited information about topics such as menstruation, sexual health, pregnancy, and consent in relationships, which often translates into a lack of confidence and awareness to make informed life decisions. India has one of the highest global rates of early marriage, with 23 percent of marriages involving a girl under 18—a practice that often results in early childbearing and poor sexual and reproductive health (SRH). Once married, girls are more likely to experience early pregnancy and dangerous complications during pregnancy and childbirth, as well as domestic violence and sexually transmitted infections like HIV. 

Social norms perpetuate a culture of silence and shame around discussing sexual and reproductive health, which only increases information gaps on those topics. While these social norms pose many challenges, the widespread use of mobile phones among Indian youth presents an opportunity for girls to bypass gatekeepers and directly access the information and products they need online.

The Approach

As part of the USAID Direct-to-Consumer Approaches to Fertility Awareness and Reproductive Health Information for Adolescents program, women-owned small business Howard Delafield International developed Game of Choice, Not Chance™ (GOC), aimed at empowering young people to become active decision-makers in their own lives through discovery and gaming. 

Game of Choice, Not Chance’s first game, Go Nisha Go™, was designed with, and for, Indian girls to experience the power of their decisions, access vital information and real-world resources, and become more confident and better equipped to shape their futures. In the game, girls roleplay with an avatar called Nisha—making decisions about her sexual and reproductive health, relationships, marriage and spousal expectations, as well as life goals and aspirations. Go Nisha Go has five levels that cover negotiating decisions with parents and partners, menstruation, consent, contraception, and delaying early marriage. The game also features links to sexual and reproductive health resources—ranging from menstrual hygiene products to helplines—and an AI-powered chatbot that can answer questions directly and without judgment. 

In compliance with India’s data privacy and protection act, Go Nisha Go collects no personally identifiable data and is designed to ensure player confidentiality and safety. The gaming app mandates that players be 15 years of age or older and offers warnings before sharing content that may be inappropriate for ages 15-17. Go Nisha Go is free to download on Google Play with audio and text in the Hindi/Hinglish language. Once downloaded, most features work without the internet to support access in low-bandwidth settings. 

Why It Won

The GOC initiative is a collaborative effort between adolescent girls, private sector design and game development firms, research organizations, and over 26 product and service companies, including women entrepreneurs and NGOs. It serves as a powerful demonstration of the incredible impact that is possible when technologies are developed in collaboration with the user and are attentive to privacy, continuously improved, and built for sustainability. The GOC human-centered design model engaged over 300 girls in an iterative design process over two years to not only ensure authenticity in characters and storyline, but also to create compelling engagement and relatability with its target audience. 

As a result of performance marketing, social media, partner cross-promotion, and word-of-mouth, over 400,000 players downloaded Go Nisha Go in its first year and a half. Results from an early 2024 randomized control trial revealed significant knowledge gains among girls who played the game. These players are at least twice as likely to have a comprehensive knowledge of modern contraceptives compared to those who did not play the game and their understanding of the menstrual cycle and fertility window went up by 100 percent from baseline to endline. 

Go Nisha Go also aligns with the Indian government’s health priorities for marginalized and at-risk youth communities, especially adolescent girls. The game’s database allows the GOC team to track in-game shifts in knowledge, attitude, and self-efficacy without infringing on the privacy of individual players. Because of Go Nisha Go, more women and girls in India can directly access critical information, products, and services related to their sexual and reproductive health and practice making informed choices in a safe space.

USAID/Moldova: Future Technologies Activity (FTA)

The Challenge

In Moldova, a lack of access to finance stifles the emergence of new businesses and reduces opportunities for job creation, which ultimately hampers the country’s economic progress. Regional conflict, inflation, and skyrocketing gas prices, among other factors, have made it challenging for businesses in Moldova to access traditional financing, as banks prefer established enterprises with proven records and collateral. These financial constraints perpetuate high unemployment and low-income levels, particularly in rural areas. It also leads skilled entrepreneurs to seek better prospects abroad, causing a brain drain that continues to adversely affect Moldova’s economic growth. As a consequence, more than one-third of Moldovan small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) remain inactive or are shutting down.

The Approach

Since 2022, USAID/Moldova’s Future Technologies Activity (FTA), implemented by Chemonics International Inc., has supported a Moldovan-founded community digital bank called Fagura, enabling it to expand its services beyond individual borrowers to include businesses. Fagura first went to market in 2019 with support from a USAID startup grant and soon after  launched the first version of its mobile applications, helping Fagura earn recognition as  one of Moldova’s “Startups with the Greatest Impact.” 

FTA has enhanced and promoted Fagura’s digital crowdfunding platform and helped them institute an SME Cashback Program. FTA’s expertise on the technical and technological aspects of crowdfunding platforms ensured that Fagura built a design to global standards, with improvements such as an upgraded loan application page, automated fields drawing from public registries, and the incorporation of multiple data sources to comprehensively analyze businesses in a matter of seconds. The SME Cashback Program allows microenterprises to receive 20% cashback from their original loan value if repaid within two years.

Why It Won

With FTA’s support, Fagura continues to have a far-reaching, positive impact for SMEs, allowing them greater access to microcredit by accelerating access to and adoption of non-traditional banking services and loans. Their crowdfunding platform improvements and SME Cashback Program leveraged a user-centric design, with insights from a diverse range of potential investors, startups, ecosystem builders, and international experts. The FTA-supported platform improvements and promotional campaign have bolstered Fagura’s collaboration with state institutions like Moldova's Entrepreneurship Development Organization and Infodebit Moldova, the national credit history bureau, as well as the Ministry of Economy and Digitalization and the National Bank of Moldova. 

Within the first six months of launching in May 2023, Fagura’s SME Cashback Program enlisted 100 companies from industries such as information technology, e-commerce, and creative that would not have otherwise had access to business loans. They also raised $754,000 USD, demonstrating the demand and effectiveness of the platform and FTA’s promotion campaign. Fagura also facilitates a mechanism for small investors from the diaspora or abroad to invest in Moldova’s economic development, leading to mobilization of local financial resources. Fagura’s peer-to-peer lending model supports a symbiotic ecosystem of alternative funding and investments, underscored by trust and collective growth. 

The collaboration demonstrates the potential of innovative financial technology coupled with strategic support to bridge funding gaps and help startups and small enterprises prosper and grow. FTA and Fagura are helping to usher in a transformative era of accessible, agile financing for Moldova's diverse entrepreneurial landscape, thus contributing to the country’s economic resilience.

USAID/Zimbabwe: Target, Accelerate, and Sustain Quality Care for HIV Epidemic Control (TASQC) Program

The Challenge

Although the number of HIV-related deaths in the country is declining, HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe remains high. Significant investments from USAID and other partners have contributed to impressive gains in recent years—but there is still much work to be done to control the epidemic. “Expert clients” in villages present a promising approach to increase HIV care, treatment, and prevention among the most hard-to-reach population. Expert clients are individuals living with HIV who have demonstrated consistent adherence to their treatment. 

As Community Outreach Agents (COAs), these expert clients provide peer support through education and promotion of self-testing, home tracing, and client mobilization for HIV testing and treatment services. However, several barriers to providing quality, community-based HIV/AIDS services remain—namely, the lack of systems to coordinate community-based health resources, out-of-date information and data, and the inability to record and access data in areas with low internet bandwidth. Without adequate bandwidth, health facilities and key stakeholders are limited in their ability to monitor the impact of COAs in their efforts to help people know their HIV status, adhere or stay on their treatment, and provide other support to people living with HIV.

The Approach

Led by USAID/Zimbabwe and implemented by the Organization for Public Health Interventions and Development, the team from Target, Accelerate, and Sustain Quality Care for HIV Epidemic Control (TASQC) worked with Zimbabwe’s Ministry of Health and Child Care to develop and launch the TASQC Management Information System (T-MIS). The T-MIS is a location-based, real-time data system that enhances decision-making and coordination of community-based HIV/AIDS services. COAs use the T-MIS to capture data directly on a web-based, open-source platform (that also serves as the Ministry of Health and Child Care’s data collection platform) with SMS-enabled offline capabilities. The offline capabilities are vital in areas with limited network coverage. Of critical importance, the platform ensures privacy and security of user data. 

Health facility and TASQC project staff can then leverage the location-based data to track which services are being delivered and where, enabling them to strategically deploy COAs to areas with unmet needs through community gathering sites such as town halls, schools, public meeting points , and churches. The T-MIS data is also used to make performance-based payments to the COAs. Furthermore, data shared and accessed from the T-MIS helps health facilities and outreach agents to coordinate patient follow-ups and facility referrals. Integration into the district health information system allows the government, health facilities, and community health workers access to robust analytics and visualizations to help inform decision making.

Why It Won

The innovative T-MIS system enables TASQC’s inclusive approach by facilitating the delivery and documentation of HIV services to those who have had historically significant barriers to care, treatment, and prevention. The TASQC program specifically works with communities in hard-to-reach areas that have the highest HIV prevalence in Zimbabwe. Each COA supports an average of 146 clients every quarter through the T-MIS, with at least 40 percent of TASQC clients on HIV treatment being served by COAs. By 2023, COAs had mobilized more than double the number of clients for HIV testing and service provision than they had before T-MIS launched in 2021. Even more impressive: the system and its spatial analytics have helped increase the COAs' efficiency and reach, meaning fewer agents need to be deployed. With the help of the T-MIS, COAs have integrated other health interventions into their service offerings, such as screening for non-communicable diseases like cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. In 2023, COAs completed over 70,000 screenings for clients.

In addition, the T-MIS encourages local ownership and fosters a culture of accountability among local people and institutions because it helps to ensure that they use resources effectively and that they align interventions with their needs. Through training and skills development around use and maintenance of this digital system, the community is empowered to drive further innovation and improvements in healthcare service delivery. Furthermore, TASQC is exploring potential partnership with the largest cellular service provider in Zimbabwe to subsidize the SMS service, offering a valuable element of local ownership and sustainability. The T-MIS’ integration into service delivery under TASQC has been so successful that community and facility health workers are motivated to use other digital tools that support education, screening, and treatment of common health conditions in adolescents. Through  collaborating with civil society organizations and private sector partners, TASQC is able to continually refine and improve its service delivery to people living with HIV.

Past winners:

2022 Digis

2020 Digis

2018 Digis

2017 Digis