By working to pioneer new approaches and learn from both success and failure, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) can help governments, civil society, the private sector, and local communities in our partner countries to maximize the potential of the digital transformation and minimize its risks. USAID will pursue initiatives that, collectively, will enable us to achieve the Strategy’s goal.
GOAL OF THE DIGITAL STRATEGY: To achieve and sustain open, secure, and inclusive digital ecosystems that contribute to measurable development and humanitarian-assistance outcomes and increase self-reliance in our partner countries.
Achieving this goal requires a multi-faceted, systems-oriented approach.99 Two core, interrelated issues—how we use digital technology and the context in which we use it—are key to achieving this Digital Strategy’s two objectives:
- Strategic Objective 1: Improve measurable development and humanitarian assistance outcomes through the responsible use of digital technology in USAID programming
- Strategic Objective 2: Strengthen openness, security, and inclusiveness of country digital ecosystems
USAID will achieve these Strategic Objectives through a set of mutually reinforcing Intermediate Results (IRs); because the Digital Strategy employs a systems-oriented approach to digital-related programming, many activities will lead to gains under multiple IRs. The following are the IRs proposed under the Strategic Framework for the USAID Digital Strategy:
Intermediate Result 1: Secure and appropriate use of digital technology across USAID’s programming improves measurable development and humanitarian-assistance outcomes
- Sub-IR 1.1: Insights from assessments of digital ecosystems and advanced data analysis used across USAID’s Program Cycle (to inform strategic planning and design).
- Sub-IR 1.2: Established digital best practices integrated into Missions’ strategies, programming, monitoring, and evaluation.
- Sub-IR 1.3: Missions make cross-sectoral investments in components of the digital ecosystem, such as infrastructure, services, policies, organizational commitment, etc.
- Sub-IR 1.4: Agency staff demonstrate awareness of, and competence and capabilities in, digital development.
USAID’s staff and partners need to be able to identify and take advantage of opportunities to integrate digital tools and systems into development programming. This will require increased capacity; knowledge of, and commitment to, the Principles for Digital Development and established digital best practices; and understanding the sustainability of our digital investments. USAID will build on sectoral successes in digital programming while focusing new attention on cross-sectoral investments.
Development and humanitarian-assistance programming will improve as USAID’s Missions and other Operating Units (OUs) recognize the value of integrating digital technology into their projects and activities and responsibly adopt digital technologies and approaches. In turn, our Missions and OUs will have increased access to data they can use to make more timely and better-informed decisions about managing their programs.100 Simultaneously addressing the emerging risks and potential for the misuse of digital technology will be critical.
Sub-IR 1.1: Insights from assessments of digital ecosystems and advanced data analysis used across USAID’s Program Cycle (to inform strategic planning and design)
The development implications of digital ecosystems can be positive or negative, and often unique to specific sectors or communities. Assessments of digital ecosystems enable the sound consideration of digital issues in USAID’s programming. In some cases, assessments might reveal reasons to limit the use of digital technology. In others, they can reveal unrecognized opportunities to harness the digital ecosystem to further development gains. OUs should weave the results of assessments and analyses, in addition to consideration of USAID’s Country Roadmaps and the relevant Self-Reliance Metrics, into each phase of programming, coordinated with the U.S. Government interagency. This includes the development of sector- or issue-specific strategies, the design of projects and activities, procurements and solicitations, and monitoring and evaluation. Advanced methods of analyzing data (e.g., geospatial analysis, data-visualization, early warning, and futures analysis) can equip USAID’s staff with insights that can inform our programmatic decisions.
DIGITAL BEST PRACTICE
In the context of digital ecosystems, what constitutes good or best practice will vary based on context and technology. For example, the Principles of Digital Development reflect lessons learned from using digital technology in the context of development programming. For issues like interoperability, cybersecurity, or payments (among other areas), organizations such as the International Standards Organization (ISO) and the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST) within the U.S. Department of Commerce, as well as other industry- or civil society- affiliated bodies have developed or defined various widely recognized or adopted standards or practices. USAID’s definition of “industry best practice” is a technique or methodology that, through experience and research, has proven to lead to a desired result.102 For the purposes of this Strategy, “established best practices” are best practices (e.g., principles, guidelines, frameworks, white papers, etc.) that USAID has formally endorsed.
Sub-IR 1.2: Established digital best practices integrated into Missions’ strategies, programming, monitoring, and evaluation.
Over the past 20 years, the development community has learned crucial lessons about what works in digitally enabled programming. The Principles for Digital Development codify some high-level best practices [see Annex IV]. In many cases more detailed guidance and examples may be needed.101 USAID will continue to translate established best practices (see Box) into concrete guidance for Missions’ programming, strategies, and technical evaluations, and will disseminate this guidance through training, publications, and other avenues. In addition, USAID will work to expand the evidence base for digitally enabled programming by using rigorous evaluations to test the efficacy of both existing and emerging digital approaches.
Sub-IR 1.3: Missions make cross-sectoral investments in components of the digital ecosystem, such as infrastructure, services, policies, organizational commitment, etc.
Cross-sector investments can improve efficiency, enhance investment in “global good” technology, and promote interoperability. An ecosystem approach will include greater support for common digital platforms and building blocks, including those being developed at the international level. USAID should push for software developed by partners with U.S. taxpayer funds for the purposes of development and humanitarian assistance to be consistent with the goals of sustainability and re-use, to allow for interoperability and customization of these platforms in a way that reduces waste and vendor lock-in.103 This is not to say, however, that the Agency does not invest in proprietary products or those that have intellectual-property rights attached to them. USAID will encourage interdisciplinary approaches to designing projects in pursuit of cross-sectoral opportunities.
Many fundamental building blocks for open and interoperable digital ecosystems exist and serve as core components that should be replicated and built upon to advance open, inclusive, and secure country digital ecosystems. These global goods include standards, frameworks, software tools, digital systems, and conceptual approaches with broad utility across development sectors. Host-country governments and development partners should consider these digital building blocks, which are fundamental to shaping our collective path forward in achieving the Journey to Self-Reliance in a digital age.
Sub-IR 1.4: Agency staff demonstrate awareness of, and competence and capabilities in, digital development
USAID’s staff must continue to appreciate the impact of digital technology on development outcomes, regularly receive training in digital development, and be empowered to apply digital skills to their work. Improving the skills and capabilities of staff will require more than formal, classroom-based learning. It will involve better incentives for continuous, on-the-job learning about digital issues, including staff rotations and details with the private sector, technology firms, or through interagency collaborations. It will also mean rewarding and recognizing staff who demonstrate initiative and leadership on responsibly harnessing digital technology in pursuit of measurable development gains.
- Sub-IR 2.1: USAID’s partners demonstrate digital awareness and alignment with established digital best practices.
- Sub-IR 2.2: Exchanges of information between USAID and its partners expand established digital best practices.
- Sub-IR 2.3: Multi-stakeholder engagements improve alignment with, or reform, the digital strategies, policies, and systems of partner governments.
Digitally enabled implementing partners will contribute to more efficient, effective, and measurable development outcomes in several ways. They will leverage opportunities to integrate digital technology and services into their work with civil society, higher-education institutions, governments, the private sector, and others; support digital global goods; help to mitigate risks to privacy and security; and facilitate mutually beneficial information-sharing. This will occur as partners build capacity for digital expertise, regularly integrate digital technology into their programming and operations, support systems aligned with national strategies and internationally established standards or best practices, and share information and learning.
Sub-IR 2.1: USAID’s partners demonstrate digital awareness and alignment with established digital best practices
USAID’s partners’ alignment with globally recognized standards or best practices, such as the Principles for Digital Development, the NIST Cybersecurity Framework, and National Spatial Data Infrastructure, for example, can foster the growth of digital ecosystems that offer more value to local communities. USAID can support this by creating better feedback loops with our partners on the effective use of digital tools, including through USAID-sponsored training on digital development; incentivizing the sharing of data and digital content; and using language in procurements and solicitation that creates incentives for the application of the Principles for Digital Development. While building the capacity of our international partners is important, strengthening the capacity of local implementers and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is especially crucial. Digitally aware local partners can help increase digital literacy more broadly, and will yield long-term benefits as people and ideas diffuse through the public and private sectors.
Sub-IR 2.2: Knowledge-sharing between USAID and our partners expands established digital best practices
As technology evolves, so will the benefits and risks associated with its use. While we work to leverage technological innovation for development gains, we cannot afford to cement best practices or adhere to static guidelines. Our approaches, workforce, and procurement and management practices should constantly adapt. No single actor can have complete insight into all the development implications of this rapidly changing landscape. USAID will use tools like partnerships with local higher-education institutions and global alliances with the private sector to engage with stakeholders across the development community to identify and refine best practices in digital development. Higher-education institutions can play a key role in both building the evidence base for digital best practices and disseminating them to the next generation of public- and private-sector leaders to foster digital literacy and skills. USAID will prioritize the generation and exchange of insights with both global and local partners around how an ever-evolving digital ecosystem can, and should, augment development.
Sub-IR 2.3: Multi-stakeholder engagements improve alignment with, or reform, the digital strategies, policies, and systems of partner governments
By collaborating with the broader development community, USAID will encourage partners to align with host-country government digital priorities and systems where doing so is in accordance with globally recognized standards and best practices, or to reform them when they do not. Local partners are particularly well-positioned to understand and engage with their governments’ digital priorities. By broadening the coordinated, responsible use of digital technology and platforms across the development community, USAID will reinforce similar efforts pursued by host-country governments to improve public accountability, transparency, and efficiency.
Intermediate Result 3: Communities in partner countries adopt, and have the capacity to securely use, and contribute to, digital ecosystems for improved services, economic opportunities, and civic engagement
- Sub-IR 3.1: Vulnerable or underserved groups are capable of using, contributing to, and benefiting from digital ecosystems.
- Sub-IR 3.2: The secure and responsible use of digital ecosystems increases the effectiveness of civil society and the media, including organizations led by women, youth, people from religious and ethnic minorities, and Indigenous Peoples.
- Sub-IR 3.3: Individuals and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) engage with the digital ecosystem to gain access to markets, information, and finance.
The dividends of an open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystem manifest in how communities derive benefits from engagement in it—not merely as the users of digitally enabled services, but as the creators and developers of those services as well. USAID’s programming can support a digital ecosystem that reflects these characteristics to provide a source of household resilience, improve citizen-responsive governance, deliver critical services efficiently, protect natural resources, and foster inclusive economic growth and trade.
Sub-IR 3.1: Vulnerable or underserved groups are capable of using, contributing to, and benefiting from digital ecosystems
Programming designed to strengthen household resilience, improve educational outcomes for girls,104 or find employment opportunities for at-risk youth can use digital technology to deliver useful information and improve financial well-being. Across all communities with which we work, USAID will adapt our programming to increase equitable participation in the digital ecosystem. Achieving equitable participation requires a multi-pronged approach that includes recognizing and addressing cultural, language, and behavioral barriers to the participation of vulnerable or underserved groups in the digital ecosystem; working with these groups to build digital familiarity or enhance the delivery and uptake of services; and equipping them to prepare for, and respond to, dynamic cycles of mis/disinformation, hate speech, and violent extremism.
Sub-IR 3.2: The secure and responsible use of digital ecosystems increases the effectiveness of civil society and the media, including organizations led by women, youth, religious and ethnic minorities, and Indigenous Peoples
Citizens must have the tools for citizenship in a digital era. This means being aware of available digital technology and tools, as well as having the skills to use them effectively. It also means citizens can advocate for access when needed, and they can understand their rights related to evolving technologies that might introduce new threats. Academic institutions and the media play a critical role in informing the public through independent, fact-based research and reporting and the creation of locally relevant content. Civil-society organizations, particularly those that represent disenfranchised groups, such as women, young people, religious and ethnic minorities, and Indigenous Peoples, can use this information to generate feedback loops to increase community engagement and collectively push back against the rise of digital authoritarianism or the exploitative use of digital technology. USAID can support this by funding educational programs; increasing the digital literacy and security of our partners; working with academic institutions and partners to create locally relevant digital content; and supporting public workshops that include women, youth, and minority groups to discuss government services or policies related to Internet freedom, human rights, and new digital technologies.
Sub-IR 3.3: Individuals and micro, small, and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) engage with the digital ecosystem to gain access to markets, information, and finance
Digital ecosystems have the potential to equip informal merchants, women entrepreneurs, smallholder farmers, and MSMEs engaged in cross-border trade with access to markets, information, and finance. These diverse users require trustworthy services that reflect their needs. The needs of rural shop owners and smallholder farmers are distinct from those of formal MSMEs that transact purely on e-commerce platforms. Similarly, digital trade that spans borders depends on free data flows, digitized customs, and innovations in trade finance made possible by new approaches to lending. Just as needs differ, so too do the barriers to using the digital ecosystem as an enabler of economic empowerment and trade. To address these barriers, USAID will build on our existing MSME programming to provide training and support to individuals, entrepreneurs, and enterprises, along with policy-level interventions within the digital ecosystem to make digital trade and finance more hospitable for MSMEs.
- Sub-IR 4.1: Internationally established digital best practices implemented by public institutions and the private sector.
- Sub-IR 4.2: Enabling environment for digital ecosystems improved through collaboration between USAID, governments, the private sector, and civil society; and malign influences in digital ecosystems countered.
- Sub-IR 4.3: Policy-makers and regulators engage with, and provide responsible oversight of, digital ecosystems.
Commitment and capacity in partner countries is essential to cultivating and sustaining open, secure, and inclusive digital ecosystems. In coordination with interagency partners, particularly the U.S. Department of State, USAID’s programming will support governments, civil society, and the private sector to make balanced and informed choices about digital infrastructure, develop national strategies and plans to guide investments, strengthen cybersecurity systems and capacity, provide effective oversight of digital ecosystems, and ensure digital services are available to everyone.
Sub-IR 4.1: Internationally established digital best practices implemented by public institutions
Public-sector institutions must be responsible in their use of digital technology. The public sector has an outsized influence on the trust citizens place in the digital ecosystem—a trust that is hard-won and easily lost. USAID will collaborate with public-sector institutions, academia, the private sector, and civil society to apply globally recognized standards and best practices related to digital technology. Whether digital technology delivers public services or public administration shifts onto digital platforms, USAID will foster greater commitment to sound system governance, respect for data privacy and inclusive practices, and investments in data security. Likewise, USAID will foster a greater commitment to the use of digital global goods and data for evidence-based decision-making.
EXPANDING ACCESS AND USAGE THROUGH NATIONAL BROADBAND PLANS AND UNIVERSAL SERVICE FUNDS
USAID has worked with governments around the world to launch and enhance National Broadband Strategies and Universal Service Funds (USFs) to extend affordable broadband Internet services to underserved communities. For example, in 2010 USAID helped the Government of Kenya create a USF and National Broadband Strategy to expand broadband access dramatically across the country. The Government set aside $1.1 billion to implement its National Broadband Strategy through 2017, with plans to mobilize another $1.7 billion in private-sector investment.105 In 2014, USAID helped draft and launch Indonesia’s five-year National Broadband Plan, which helped unlock more than $400 million from the country’s USF and generated an estimated $23 billion in affordable, low-cost technologies to deliver access to the Internet to underserved schools, local governments, rural health clinics, and citizens at commercially viable prices.106
Sub-IR 4.2: Enabling environment for digital ecosystems improved through collaboration between USAID, governments, the private sector, and civil society; and malign influences in digital ecosystems countered
Laws, regulations, and policies play a critical role in fostering the development of an open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystem. Of particular importance are policies that foster competition and innovation; a multi-stakeholder approach to governance of the Internet; and the establishment of robust frameworks for digital trade, consumer protection, data privacy,l and cybersecurity. Certain sectors will present issues that merit a specific policy response (such as data-privacy rules for medical records or data-use rules for lending decisions). In concert with the U.S. Government interagency, USAID will encourage policy-makers to align with globally recognized standards; favor a private-sector–led modelm for digital ecosystems; and engage on policies and regulatory approaches at multiple levels, including through global alliances, multi-stakeholder partnerships, and direct technical assistance. Along with the U.S. Department of State and other Federal Departments and Agencies, USAID will expose and counter the manipulation of digital technologies and the dissemination of hate speech and misinformation by malign actors, consistent with our Clear Choice Framework and Development Framework for Countering Malign Kremlin Influence. We will help national governments, civil society, and the private sector make smart choices as they adopt digital technologies and take steps to protect their security from intrusion and subterfuge.
Sub-IR 4.3: Policy-makers and regulators engage with, and provide responsible oversight of, digital ecosystems
Governments that use digital systems and maintain digital infrastructure better can serve their citizens more effectively and strengthen the private sector. Increased digital capacity and understanding can help governments both to be better partners in digitally enabled donor programming and deploy digital tools more intelligently by taking a whole-of-government approach.107 This will not only promote more effective programming, but also spur better alignment and coordinated investments within the donor community. By working with private-sector and interagency partners, USAID will help governments understand the financial and security risks of some of the insecure, closed digital systems offered by authoritarian actors. In coordination with the U.S. Government interagency and the donor community, USAID will provide technical assistance, training, and advisory services to government actors and institutions on digitization strategies, cybersecurity best practices, and regulatory improvements.
Intermediate Result 5: Digital economies led by the private sector are competitive, innovative, responsible, and inclusive
- Sub-IR 5.1: Private-sector investments in digital infrastructure and services align with internationally established best practices.
- Sub-IR 5.2: Private-sector skills, incentives, and capabilities contribute to development and promote inclusive and responsible service-delivery in the digital economy.
- Sub-IR 5.3: Local innovators, especially women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, and Indigenous Peoples, participate in the digital economy.
The private sector is key to extending the reach and quality of the infrastructure and services that underpin the digital economy. In addition to mobile and Internet connectivity, this includes other prerequisites to information-exchange and economic activity, such as secure, interoperable, government-led data, digital-identification, and payment systems. Unequal digital access can further reinforce the strongest private- and public-sector actors, which can impair innovation, the competitive entry and exit of firms, and consumer protection. USAID will continue to work to ensure that the poor and marginalized participate in the digital economy by fostering the right market conditions and encouraging investment led by the private sector.
To help Liberians rebuild after the 2014–2016 Ebola outbreak and prepare for future emergencies, USAID launched a first-of-its-kind partnership with CSquared and Google in 2017 to bring high-speed metro fiber communications infrastructure to Monrovia. This $12 million (cash and in-kind) 50/50 co-investment between CSquared and USAID connects government offices, health clinics, and businesses to high-speed Internet service for the first time. Without USAID’s co-investment, CSquared would not have entered Liberia, which likely would leave the country without this connectivity for many years.
Sub-IR 5.1: Private-sector investments in digital infrastructure and services align with established best practices
When aligned with globally recognized standards and best practices, digital infrastructure and services can enhance trust, security, and efficiency. USAID will promote investment at various levels, such as integrating network expansion with projects that target community institutions (such as schools and hospitals); building the capacity of the local workforce to build and manage digital infrastructure responsibly; identifying and testing innovative business models for sustainably serving underserved communities; and de-risking investment through development-finance initiatives. In alignment with the agency’s Private-Sector Engagement Policy, USAID will foster the adoption of globally recognized standards; industry norms for responsible conduct, skills, and capacity-building; and the application of human-centered design to promote an open, secure, reliable, and interoperable Internet.
Sub-IR 5.2: Private-sector skills, incentives, and capabilities contribute to development and promote inclusive and responsible service-delivery in the digital economy
To develop useful, trustworthy services for all stakeholders, the private sector must understand digital-first business models that can reach underserved users. For example, the rapidly growing global youth population combined with the rise of digital technologies provides a unique opportunity for governments, higher-education institutions, and development practitioners to support, protect, prepare, and engage young people around the world. When used responsibly and appropriately, technology promotes civic engagement, expands learning and workforce-development opportunities, and sparks innovative solutions to societal and developmental challenges. USAID will engage with the private sector to promote the adoption of established digital best practices and globally recognized standards, spur investments in digital literacy and capacity-building, and encourage the application of human-centered design to tailor products and services better to underserved users.
The global digital economy demands a workforce with ever-evolving, cutting-edge skills. In Southeast Asia, strong partnerships between academic institutions and private-sector actors play a critical role in creating a workforce equipped to participate effectively in an increasingly digital economy. To improve the engineering workforce in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, USAID/Vietnam’s Higher Engineering Education Alliance Program (HEEAP)108 activity developed dynamic training and facilitation programs to improve the capacity of faculty in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics; leveraged private-sector partnerships to obtain in-kind contributions of cutting-edge technology tools; and generated creative pathways toward regional and international accreditation at the institutional level. USAID/Philippines’ Science, Technology, Research and Innovation for Philippine Development (STRIDE) program109 worked to increase the capacity of university efforts in research and innovation and promote academic-industry collaboration by fostering the creation of offices for knowledge- and technology-transfer, career centers, innovation workshops, and novel grant mechanisms. Through adaptive and iterative processes and with a demand-driven, collaborative approach, these programs contributed to mutually beneficial capabilities in technical and research that meet the needs of a new employer marketplace while building critical skills that enable a workforce to be competitive in a digital age.
Sub-IR 5.3: Local innovators, especially women, youth, ethnic and religious minorities, and Indigenous Peoples, participate in the digital economy
Communities need a healthy environment for entrepreneurship and developing talent. Progress toward self-reliance requires investment in a pipeline of innovators with the skills, incentives, and capabilities to develop services that rely on sophisticated technologies (e.g., smartphones, artificial intelligence/machine learning, big data, the Internet of Things). This requires a multi-stakeholder approach that includes universities and vocational and trade schools, local innovation hubs and start-up networks, and industry associations. USAID will engage with country-level stakeholders across the innovation ecosystem, with particular attention to fostering the inclusion of women, youth, people with disabilities, and other traditionally marginalized groups.
Building on the Strategic Framework, the following Annex outlines the mandates, recommendations, and considerations USAID will employ to achieve the overall goal and objectives of this Strategy. A more detailed Implementation Plan will follow this Strategy, with efforts prioritized according to constraints around resourcing and urgency for each individual country context.
k. Partners include host country governments, private voluntary organizations, indigenous and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), universities, other U.S. Government agencies, the United Nations and other multilateral organizations, professional and business associations, and private businesses and individuals. For a complete definition, see the Glossary.
l. Regulations governing privacy should not be imposed in a manner that limits consumer choice or is used as a disguised trade restriction. In order to advance the growth of global e-commerce, development efforts should ensure that data can be transferred cross-border, and that limits on where data can be stored and processed are minimized when possible, thereby enhancing and protecting the global digital ecosystem.
m. In applying a “private sector-led” model to fostering digital ecosystems, policymakers might pursue a spectrum of actions, with the common characteristic being a general preference to build on the unique skills, capital, and technology that the private sector possesses, as opposed to relying on a purely state-led model of development.