Thursday, March 30, 2023

Washington, DC

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Good afternoon, everybody. Great to see you, as well as – great to know that there's so many people joining online. Great to hear the panel discussion that preceded me, and of course, the Secretary's remarks.

And I just want to start by thanking the Technology and Democracy Cohort, which is composed of more than 80 civil society organizations and co-led, critically, by the governments of the United Kingdom and Estonia and Access Now, for your efforts to address internet shutdowns and to promote privacy enhancing technologies. Thanks also, to Jeanne, for that introduction, and for helping spread awareness of the dual-use of technology to strengthen or undermine national security.

Thank you to Secretary Blinken for being such a powerful partner in the work to affirm democratic values through technology. And thank you to our panelists, who, in the face of rising digital repression, are showing us how technologies can build more democratic societies still.

Back in 2020, Volodymyr Zelenskyy launched an app, that some of you may know, called Diia. Diia was to help citizens access essential government services. This was part of his vision to create, what he called, a state-in-a-smartphone. And amazingly, notwithstanding the bombs falling and the brutal aggression happening against Ukraine as we speak, Zelenskyy has made it happen. He has helped Ukrainians electronically access more than 120 services, from passports to pensions to housing loans.

And when Putin and his forces invaded, Diia didn't just survive, it has actually become a lifeline for Ukraine's people. Ukrainians in the line of fire are now able to access emergency government funds, and report property damage through this app. Those who lost their jobs can apply for unemployment benefits, they can get connected to companies that are still operating, and Ukrainians forced from their homes now carry with them – thanks to this app – copies of identification documents, digitally, all there in a single app.

Today, more than 18 million people use Diia. And I encourage you all to Google and learn more about it. More than half of Ukraine's population is on this app – relying on this app for their day to day lives. Over 18 million people, that means, can easily access critical government services. And in a country that, of course, has had major challenges with corruption, more than 18 million people can clearly see what their government is doing, how these payments are being made, and that the government understands their needs, even as those needs rapidly evolve as they are in this war. Over 18 million people can see every day, and every hour of every day that they're on this app, that technology can help democracy deliver.

Ukraine is not alone. Estonia, which as many of you know is recognized as the so-called “Digital Republic” for being one of the world’s most tech-forward countries, recently announced the adoption of a Diia-like app for their citizens – facilitated through a partnership with Ukraine and using core parts of Diia’s code and design. An amazing Ukrainian export, this is. And as our panelists have demonstrated, nations around the world are also using technology to strengthen democracy.

As you heard from Secretary Blinken, the U.S. government is supporting similar work in partner countries, and USAID works hand in glove with other agencies, including the State Department, to help make that happen.

In the Dominican Republic, where President Luis Abinader has focused on rooting out corruption, USAID partnered with Transparency International to create Cafe Claro, a public tool which uses algorithms to identify irregularities in spending patterns that could signal corruption, and which forensic accountants can then follow up and investigate. And in Bangladesh, where false rumors about COVID-19 were running rampant, USAID worked with the international nonprofit BRAC to create a digital rumor map, based on data from across 48 districts showing which rumors were trending, which rumors were most popular and where they were taking hold.

But efforts to leverage technology have often lacked the guardrails needed to prevent the misuse of technology and data. As chair of the Freedom Online Coalition, the U.S. government is working with member states to launch a set of Donor Principles for the Digital Age, which help guide donors to support technological innovation, while also preserving human rights.

And today, we’re investing in two efforts that I want to briefly highlight, to infuse digital advances with democratic values.

Through the Pro-Info initiative, USAID will now work with Congress to commit up to $16 million, in part to help build digital and media literacy in our partner countries overseas, building resistance to information abuse. We’ll partner with the State Department to support emerging technologies that flag manipulated information, and “pre-bunking” efforts that train communities to recognize the tell-tale signs of information abuse.

Through a second initiative, the Transform initiative, USAID will invest $6 million over three years to address online abuse targeting women and girls. For example, by working to flag and prevent harassment, threats of violence, or gendered information manipulation on websites and online platforms.

And through Pro-Info, Transform, and our broader Advancing Digital Democracy initiative launched last year, we’re also bringing together partners to collaborate on similar efforts. We’re connecting tech companies with communities to design tools that are truly by and for the people. And we’re bringing together partner governments, civil society organizations, private companies, and donors to preserve human rights in the process.

Today, as you all know, our task is actually clear: to take full control of our own digital future. Whether in government, civil society, or the private sector, we must come together to design technological solutions to democracy’s greatest threats. We must infuse democratic values across our efforts to build digital democracies. And we must recognize not just the risks of new technologies, but also what we used to talk about all the time, their enormous potential to become tools for good.

Thank you.

Diia in DC


Join USAID Administrator Samantha Power, Ukraine Vice Prime Minister and Minister of Digital Transformation Mykhailo Fedorov, Ukraine Ambassador to the United States Oksana Markarova, and Editor-at-Large for New York Magazine Kara Swisher, and special guests for the first-ever Diia in DC event on Tuesday, May 23 at 10am, live from the Warner Theater in Washington, D.C.

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