USAID Announces Five New Winners

The U.S. Agency for International Development (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 – true vision of inclusive development for a digital age. In an effort to recognize colleagues and partners that are collaborating with countries and communities to work toward sustainable growth and resilience, USAID is pleased to announce the winners of the 2022 Digital Development Awards (the Digis). 

Meet the 2022 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 2022 Digis are: 

  • USAID/Colombia: Rural Finance Initiative, implemented by Chemonics, for developing a mobile phone-based system for rural smallholders and urban-based, low-income groups to conduct real-time, peer-to-peer financial transactions. 
  • USAID/Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA): Digital Asia Accelerator, implemented by DAI’s Digital Frontiers, part of the Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership for educating and training businesses and individuals, especially youth, on digital safety and cybersecurity best practices in Southeast Asia and Mongolia.
  • USAID/Zambia: U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) VectorLink, implemented by Abt Associates, for deploying a suite of digital tools to support map-based data collection, monitoring, and capacity building to improve malaria control programs at the sub-district level.
  • USAID/Georgia: Economic Security Program, implemented by DAI, for providing training on information communication technology to the country’s workforce and connecting local artisans to online markets.
  • USAID/Nepal: Building Hope Along the Karnali River Basin (BHAKARI), implemented by MercyCorps Nepal, for customizing mobile phone applications and interactive voice responses to manage, monitor, and educate remote farmers and low-income individuals about cash and voucher assistance programs during emergencies. 

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/Colombia: Rural Finance Initiative

The Challenge

Colombia enjoys a sophisticated financial sector that serves urban areas well but has historically failed to reach rural areas marginalized by decades of civil war. Digital financial services are no exception. Low use of digital financial services in rural areas is exacerbated by little to no internet connectivity, few kiosks in which to make mobile payment deposits and withdrawals, a low level of digital literacy, and a lack of trust in services overall. In addition, high transaction costs and a perceived lack of profitability have prevented investment in platforms for small value financial transactions.

The Approach

In 2018, several of Colombia’s key public and private financial institutions recognized the need to develop financial inclusion tools for the country’s most vulnerable populations. They selected ACH-Colombia, a digital payments and transfers company, to design the Transfiya platform and help drive digital financial inclusion at scale by accepting immediate low-value financial transactions. To support this effort, the USAID/Colombia Rural Finance Initiative (RFI) awarded challenge grants to ACH-Colombia to stimulate innovation in this platform’s development. 

Through the grants, ACH-Colombia conducted studies to understand major economic corridors in the country’s rural areas and in its three major metro areas: Bogotá, Cali, and Medellín. This informed the platform’s user and customer experiences. RFI then helped ACH-Colombia form design teams from participating financial service providers and hold workshops to design prototypes that both integrate into service providers’ existing technology and business models and incorporate user needs, as identified in the initial studies. 

RFI also worked with stakeholders to ensure that Transfiya was designed with the user in mind by soliciting feedback from users of lower socio-economic backgrounds to ensure the platform met their needs. RFI also provided technical assistance to ACH-Colombia, which supported several member banks in developing Transfiya’s business model, including pricing and marketing, to align incentives and encourage uptake by member banks, local service providers, and end customers.

Why It Won

With its holistic approach to stakeholder engagement, RFI scaled access to digital financial services beyond urban areas to lower income urban and rural customers working in the informal sector, including micro-entrepreneurs, women, and vulnerable populations, like the Afro-Colombian community. 

The project designed Transfiya with user preferences and scalability in mind. From its launch in September 2019 through February 2022, Transfiya processed over 10 million transactions worth over $1.2 billion Colombian pesos (approximately $316 million USD). In 2022, Transfiya processed more than 22 million transactions for a total of $3.5 billion Colombian pesos ($638 million USD). 

During the first months of the COVID pandemic, Transfiya also proved essential for the Colombian government to disburse emergency subsidies from financial institutions through the platform, which, in turn, boosted uptake of the platform by customers and financial service providers.

USAID/Regional Development Mission for Asia (RDMA): Digital Asia Accelerator

The Challenge

As one of the fastest growing regions, the Indo-Pacific provides significant opportunities for businesses and citizens to participate in the digital economy. National governments and regional bodies like the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) are even advocating for an “Industrial Revolution 4.0” as the key to unlocking Southeast Asia’s full economic potential. However, the region’s rapid digital transformation means that people and businesses without internet access or the necessary digital skills are being left behind from this new economic reality. Cyber attacks, combined with low awareness of cybersecurity issues, are a growing threat to the digital safety of citizens and businesses. On a macro-level, there are significant gaps in implementation of ASEAN’s digital economy policy standards country-by-country, especially on data protection and privacy, cybersecurity, and the flow of information across borders. 

The Approach

To reap the benefits of digital tools and protect themselves online, citizens across Southeast Asia need access to easy-to-use information, best practices, and digital skills. To respond to this need, USAID/RDMA developed the Digital Asia Accelerator (DAA). Implemented by DAI’s Digital Frontiers and part of the Digital Connectivity and Cybersecurity Partnership (DCCP), DAA used three main approaches to reach key audiences in Southeast Asia and Mongolia: 

  • First, DAA worked with partners like Microsoft and WhatsApp for Business to provide targeted digital upskilling and cybersecurity support through training and coaching. The Accelerator worked with micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to design and deliver digital upskilling interventions tailored to meet their needs applying their curricula to the most relevant platforms for target audiences. For example, DAA worked with disability services organization Agile Development Group to design and test Cambodia’s first digital skills training program for women entrepreneurs with disabilities. The initial needs assessment showed they needed to run three different training programs based on digital literacy levels, and that they should focus on the most in-demand platforms for this target group, which included Zoom, Facebook, and Google Workspace. Following this training, 84 percent of participants surveyed reported increased digital skills and increased confidence using digital tools. 
  • Second, DAA created opportunities for the MSME community to learn about digital policies that would affect their businesses so they can effectively engage policymakers on these issues. These opportunities included collaborations to promote open, interoperable, reliable, and secure information communication technology structures in developing countries, in line with USAID’s Digital Strategy. 
  • Third, the program partnered with artists, local media, and companies like Meta to develop creative communication campaigns to raise awareness and build capacity among citizens to employ key cybersecurity practices and hygiene.

Why It Won

The DAA has had a far-reaching influence—reaching key audiences both online and in person, including youth and women, as well as those in the public and private sectors. The Accelerator’s ability to convene large-scale policy forums with leaders from participating countries, combined with an emphasis on youth engagement through informative educational content hosted on Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram, allowed the project to reach an expansive and diverse set of stakeholders. After running three cybersecurity awareness campaigns in Cambodia, Mongolia, and Thailand in partnership with key local opinion leaders on social media, the DAA reached over 2.4 million people with messages related to digital safety issues and best practices. 

Engagement with private sector partners like Meta and Amazon Web Services allowed the Accelerator to provide MSMEs and citizens with credible campaign and training content that promotes a well-rounded understanding of cybersecurity issues and market applications for digital technologies. The DAA also partnered with local banks and technology firms like Microsoft and WhatsApp to reuse, improve, and adapt knowledge products to address the specific needs of local audiences, thus making the maximum amount of content relevant to them.

USAID/Zambia: U.S. President's Malaria Initiative (PMI) VectorLink

The Challenge

In 2020, malaria killed more than 600,000 people globally—an increase over the prior year because the COVID-19 pandemic halted many malaria prevention efforts. Certain malaria control interventions are proven to reduce transmission, particularly the distribution of insecticide treated bed nets (ITN) and indoor residual spraying (IRS), where insecticide that is safe for humans is sprayed on the walls and ceilings of homes to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes. These interventions are often carried out at a very large scale, and require significant resources and months of planning at the national, district, and community levels in order to achieve their impact. Successful planning is tied closely to accurately estimating the population and number of homes in a particular area, which preferably are then used to create a map that helps inform resource allocation and monitor the intervention’s coverage post-intervention.

The Approach

The U.S. President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) VectorLink Project supports national governments in 25 countries to plan and implement proven, life-saving vector control programs—such as  distributing insecticide-treated nets and providing indoor residual spraying—with the overall goal of reducing malaria burden. In 2021-2022, PMI VectorLink Zambia, led by Abt Associates, worked with its subcontractor Akros and the Georeferenced Infrastructure and Demographic Data for Development (GRID3) project to first update maps used by local government officials and then plan IRS and ITN campaigns to the most granular level yet: the health facility catchment level. 

To start, the team engaged health facility staff across all 116 districts in Zambia to verify the boundaries of the area they serve. Satellite images of each health facility catchment area (HFCA) were then used to estimate the population. Akros further refined the population and structure count estimates in select districts using field-verified data previously captured by the Reveal tool, a geospatial data collection tool used for IRS implementation. Akros provided both digital and printed maps, and an IRS planning template, to each district and then trained the district teams on how to use them.

Why It Won

The PMI Zambia VectorLink Project is a model for harnessing the latest, most granular data available to inform the planning and monitoring of malaria vector control interventions. The maps updated by VectorLink, coupled with support during the planning processes, strengthened the National Malaria Elimination Program’s (NMEP) capacity to use the latest data to operationalize their strategy and ultimate goal of covering 100 percent of the population with at least one malaria prevention program. The result has led to increased coverage of malaria control campaigns in hard-to-reach areas across Zambia. For example, an estimated 100 percent of villages in the high burden, hard-to-reach district of Nchelenge, in Zambia’s Luapula Province, were reached with either insecticide-treated nets or indoor residual spraying in 2020. 

Additionally, there is significant potential for long-term sustainability. PMI Zambia has built the capacity of the current NMEP and stakeholder workforce in terms of geospatial data familiarity and use, and use of accurate, timely data for decision-making more generally—building a culture around data use and technology. With the new microplanning maps, the Zambia NMEP now has a deeper level of insight into the geographic distribution of remote communities and better population estimates down to the village level, which it did not previously possess. As part of its technology support, PMI Zambia is also supporting the Zambian Ministry of Health to integrate project files into their routine data systems for expanded, long-term use of the datasets.

USAID/Georgia: Economic Security Program

The Challenge

Georgia is transforming from a goods-based economy to one based on knowledge and innovation; however, the country lacks the regulatory framework and capital investment needed to support rapid, responsive, and equitable digitalization. The country needs a proactive approach that addresses gaps in workforce development and digital literacy, supports digitalization of small and medium enterprises (SMEs), and equips the education system to prepare students for the needs of a knowledge-based economy.

The Approach

The USAID/Georgia Economic Security Program combines small-business support with on-the-job training and skill-based certification. The program’s ICT (information and communications technology) apprenticeship program includes a six-month, on-the-job training program—a novelty in Georgia—and has already propelled over 130 young ICT specialists into lucrative careers. The Economic Security Program is expected to generate full-time employment for at least 350 more youth, many from vulnerable groups, through the end of 2023. The program partnered with Tbilisi-based Business and Technology University and private sector representatives to create an iOS & Android Development Laboratory, and with Ilia State University to establish an Advanced ICT Skills Training Center. These two university-based programs offer industry-demanded certification training courses in valuable, highly technical ICT skills. 

The program's ecosystem approach went beyond addressing workforce and skills development by strengthening market linkages for SMEs. Through efforts to bolster the creative sector, the Georgia Economic Security Program also introduced more than 120 Georgian artisans to global e-commerce on the Etsy artisan platform. To date, Georgian artisans on Etsy have earned over $150,000 in income. 

In addition, the program’s focus on innovation within the digital environment provided an opportunity for Theneo, an ICT startup, to gain more than $900,000 in initial investment and to compete in the Startup World Cup Global competition in the Silicon Valley, California—the first time a Georgian startup has ever taken the main stage at this event. In addition to the Startup World Cup Global competition, Theneo was accepted for TechCrunch and also selected as the winner of the world’s largest ICT gathering, Web Summit, in Lisbon. With the program’s assistance, Theneo now has $1.5 million in investment. 

The Economic Security Program also founded the Grace Hopper ICT Award to highlight the best and brightest in Georgia’s technology industry. Grace Hopper was an icon in technology and pioneer of computer programming; in addition to becoming a rear admiral in the U.S. Navy, she developed a computer language that later became COBAL, which is used in everything from business operations to cloud computing. The Grace Hopper Award promotes the integration of women and girls in ICT and is supported by a plethora of other program-designed and/or program-supported initiatives to ensure diversity. This year, in partnership with major supporters, the awards ceremony honored finalists in six categories, who have laid the groundwork for significant innovation in the sector. 

Why It Won

The USAID/Georgia Economic Security Program uses a variety of innovative solutions to strengthen the ICT workforce and accelerate private sector development. Private sector engagement has helped drive sustainable business growth for SMEs through the development of individually owned and operated e-commerce sites—in addition to e-sites on Etsy for artisans, which were majority female-owned and operated. 

Linking workforce development to local institutions also accelerated economic transformation by attracting the capital and technologies needed for growth and catalyzing multi-stakeholder problem-solving and co-investment. The program’s ecosystem development approach places market actors and other value chain stakeholders at the center of the change process and invites them to define problems and co-create solutions, resulting in the long-lasting, sustainable application of Georgia’s intellectual capital.

USAID/Nepal: Building Hope Along the Karnali River Basin (BHAKARI)

The Challenge

The remote Karnali River Basin is home to some of the most vulnerable and socially excluded communities in Nepal, and when a crisis hits, reaching families with life-saving humanitarian assistance can be extremely difficult. Organizations often provide cash and vouchers as assistance so that participants can satisfy their own specific needs. However, it can be complex and costly to meet with rural participants in person to enroll them in these types of programs. For example, recipients may be forced to take off work and travel long distances to enroll, which costs them in time, travel expenses, and lost wages. In other cases, recipients may be prohibited from traveling to receive benefits due to physical disability or household obligations. On top of these challenges, remote families receiving benefits may not receive complementary information and support to aid them in making decisions on how to maximize their vouchers and benefits to ensure food security and/or livelihoods.

The Approach

The USAID/Nepal Building Hope Along the Karnali River Basin (BHAKARI) program, implemented by Mercy Corps Nepal, deploys a suite of digital solutions to address these and other challenges throughout the phases of an emergency. BHAKARI, a multi-year program, aims to improve agricultural practices and productivity, support resilient communities, increase access to water, and aid emergency response in six of the hardest-to-reach districts in the Karnali region. 

First, BHAKARI deployed Viamo, a global social enterprise connecting communities with services and information. Through Viamo, BHAKARI transmitted free, trustworthy, and accurate messages to explain cash and voucher assistance to over 3 million people in Nepal in clear, simple language. BHAKARI has used the Viamo Platform to provide training on cash and voucher assistance and spread educational, informational, and interactive messages about water sanitation, hygiene and health, disasters, and how to maximize effectiveness of cash assistance. BHAKARI delivered the messages in engaging and memorable formats, such as games, local songs, quizzes, conversations, and public service announcements using interactive voice response on mobile phones. Viamo also conducted surveys for BHAKARI to monitor the prices of the most essential commodities in the local markets and collect data in local languages about the effectiveness of cash and voucher assistance to better tailor subsequent disbursements. In 2021, Viamo was awarded USAID’s Development Innovation Ventures grant as one of 26 breakthrough solutions of the year to global development challenges. 

BHAKARI also uses cloud-based software Laligurans, developed by Nepali start-up Aria Technologies, for cash and voucher project management. The software helps BHAKARI register cash and voucher assistance participants, distribute cash and vouchers, connect farmers to markets for farm supplies like seeds and livestock, and connect local vendors to wholesalers. Aria Technology is now a finalist for the Startup ICT Award 2022, Nepal’s biggest tech award, and is a contender for the Nepal Young Entrepreneurs Forum awards for start-ups. Over the past two years, BHAKARI advanced ICT innovation as a thought and business partner to Aria Technology, helping to test and improve the Laliguran software. 

Another one of BHAKARI’s digital solutions is a mobile app to collect and analyze the data of prospective recipients to ensure that assistance reaches the most vulnerable and socially excluded households. To date, BHAKARI’s digital tools have helped 4,500 individual households receive vouchers and have connected more than 1,100 households with cash-for-work programs, securing them local short-term jobs. 

Why It Won

BHAKARI employs a human-centered approach in the design and deployment of social and behavior change communication messages, including the use of interactive voice response technology. This allows project team members, local partners, and program participants to be involved in each step of the process from issue identification to message formation. The program has intentionally designed each intervention to make cash and voucher assistance more accessible to the most marginalized and underserved groups—including poor laborers and their families, women, and people with disabilities. Interactive voice response “push messaging,” which initiates a conversation by calling participants’ mobile phones, allowed BHAKARI to reach even those with low digital literacy. 

BHAKARI has been incredibly collaborative, partnering with a national technology service provider, 101 local vendors, two transfer service providers, 22 regional and local agriculture input suppliers, and multiple departments of the Nepal Government and district governments. There is great potential for sustainability and scale in the future use of these technologies. BHAKARI’s interactive voice response messaging is already integrated into the local and national governments’ digital social and behavior change communication efforts. Additionally, private sector actors and local vendors can be mobilized quickly to respond to communities in remote geographical regions in the case of shocks or disasters.

To learn more, check out this StoryMap on the winners:

Past winners:

2020 Digis

2018 Digis

2017 Digis