Administrator Samantha Power at the Launch of the New Digital Invest Program

Speeches Shim

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you so much, Linda. Thank you for kicking us off. Thank you for your leadership every day on core issues to development, like this one.

Today is a big and long-awaited day, and I'm delighted to be joined by the Director of the U.S. Trade and Development Agency, Enoh Ebong, and Jose Fernandez, our Under Secretary of State for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment.

I'd also like to thank our private sector partners, who are joining us today to usher in this launch, representatives from Connectivity Capital, E3 Capital, Integra Partners, Lendable, and Accion Venture Lab.

We are now at a point where 60 percent of the world has access to the internet, a threshold that the United States reached 20 years ago. That means around 40 percent of people throughout the world, nearly 2.9 billion, have never browsed a single webpage. That means billions of people are locked out of global marketplaces, unable to buy or sell goods and services online that could generate trillions of dollars. Billions of people can't work or learn remotely, and we all know the stakes of being unable to learn remotely are off the charts. And billions of people can't access the nearly infinite amount of public information that all of us take for granted.

That puts them on the other side of a yawning digital divide. For all of the downsides of the digital world that we grapple with -- disinformation, economic disruption, surveillance, and polarization -- there is no question that it has become an essential part of our modern lives and an essential part of the global economy.

We got a taste during the pandemic of just how devastating disparities in internet access can be. When schools shut down, students with a high-speed connection were able to get some semblance of classroom instruction through virtual lessons. But nearly two-thirds of students around the world lacked the necessary internet connection to attend classes online. These learners were robbed of formative years. And many of them, primarily young girls and low-income students, may never return to a classroom.

So, closing the digital divide is crucial, not just to expand growth, but to create more resilient societies. For years, this is the kind of work USAID has been pursuing, hand-in-hand with the private sector. When the Liberian government wanted to strengthen its health information systems following the 2014 Ebola outbreak, we helped develop and co-fund a partnership alongside private tech companies, global investors, and international financial institutions. Our coalition led to the creation of an Africa-based company called CSquared, one that has laid over 100 miles, now, of fiber optic cables in Monrovia. Those cables provide high-speed services to mobile network operators and rural internet service providers, boosting internet access by 19 percent in just six years.

With greater connectivity, the world's unbanked, the majority of whom are women, can also begin to harness digital financial tools to increase their participation in the economy and take control over their own finances. Expanding access to digital financial services can transform emerging economies by adding an estimated $3.7 trillion to the global GDP over the next decade. That is why we are so excited to launch the Digital Invest program today, as part of President Biden's global infrastructure initiative. Digital Invest will build on years of work we've done with the private sector to expand internet access to underserved communities around the world.

Together with the State Department, USAID will provide nearly $3.5 million in grants that will unlock nearly 10 times that amount. That's $335 million of capital to invest in internet service provision and digital financial services for women, low-income households, rural communities, and other populations traditionally overlooked by the digital economy. By priming the pump, the U.S. government will give private sector partners the confidence to invest in earlier-stage, high-potential startups and projects that operate in more challenging market environments. And all of this will happen just in the first year.

Now that Digital Invest is open for business, we are looking for more private sector partners and financiers to work with us. We've got a global call for partners open until May 13th. Though we've already attracted an excellent group of partners, whom I've mentioned, we want to build an even larger and more diverse coalition so that we can build even more connectivity and financially inclusive products, services, and platforms.

No country can bridge the digital divide on its own, but the digital era has shown us the power of a network. And the network we are building of government institutions, private sector partners, fund managers, and organizations dedicated to digital and financial inclusion can together do what no nation alone can do. I am thrilled about the potential of what this model -- public-private, wholly inclusive -- can mean for underserved populations throughout the world. I hope more of you will join the movement that we are building.

Thank you so very much.

Last updated: August 16, 2022

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