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Building an Inclusive Digital Economy: USAID Digital Strategy Update

By Guest Writer on May 4, 2021

usaid digital strategy gddf

Please RSVP Now to learn more about USAID’s Digital Strategy at the Global Digital Development Forum on May 5. Our amazing agenda features multiple sessions focusing on USAID’s Digital Strategy over the Asian, African, and Americas work day.

Pandemic rumors have been circulating in online communities across the world, where combating this type of misinformation has been taken on by various stakeholders within their digital ecosystem.

COVID-19 digital response has changed the world to such an extent that “going digital” is no longer optional—it’s necessary. As technology adapts and new interventions sprout, actors in the digital ecosystem need to embrace this change or risk failure.

  • How can you introduce an application where there is no internet connectivity?
  • Will target users be open to trying this new technology, and are they digitally literate to use it?
  • Will this new tool be inclusive, or does it risk further excluding a group of people, causing more harm than good?

USAID launched the Digital Strategy in April 2020, charting a path for USAID to strengthen open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystems by taking a systems-level approach to understanding and responding to the opportunities and risks of digital technology.

To succeed, implementers and donors should work together to understand how a development challenge and proposed intervention fit within the digital ecosystem as a prerequisite to identifying and launching a digital solution. Understand the Existing Ecosystem, one of the nine Digital Principles, requires that you evaluate the local context to ensure that a proposed intervention is relevant and sustainable.

USAID Activity for Digital Ecosystems

In the first year of the Strategy’s implementation, USAID has created tools and resources that enable development practitioners to navigate programs in a rapidly changing field.

1. Laying a solid foundation

USAID and DAI’s Digital Frontiers project conducted four pilot Digital Ecosystem Country Assessments (DECAs) in Colombia, Kenya, Serbia, and Nepal, with two additional DECAs in Pakistan and Libya currently underway.

The DECA is designed to help Missions and partners understand, work with, and support country digital ecosystems. It assesses the digital landscape, identifies opportunities and risks, and provides specific recommendations to help decision-makers better utilize or contribute to the digital ecosystem. U

SAID/Colombia has used their DECA both strategically and practically by incorporating digital into their long-term plans and by adopting specific recommendations, such as pursuing projects that enable women entrepreneurs to harness digital tools, like the StartPath Empodera activity.

2. Supporting innovation

USAID established the Digital Ecosystem Fund (DEF), which provides catalytic funding to USAID Missions and teams to help strengthen regional and country digital ecosystems. USAID selected the DEF beta round awardees in March 2020 for their unique approaches to fostering open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystems in USAID partner countries.

For example, to combat the spread of misleading information about COVID-19, USAID/Bangladesh received funding to partner with the NGO BRAC to leverage existing networks and platforms to identify, track, and counter false, misleading, or inaccurate pandemic information through an innovative ‘Rumour Map’. The project set up a social media-based community and volunteer network to disseminate accurate information in a responsive and agile manner.

The Bangladesh Digital Ecosystem Activity (BDEA) bridges the information gap between decision makers and the public by building the capacity of community-level organizations in data management, tracking and monitoring processes, and supporting critical communications at the government level.

Implementing Partners and Stakeholder Activity

These tools help implementing partners and USAID to work together to understand and strengthen the ecosystems in which they operate. These tools and products will help you understand your Mission’s priorities and create a common operating picture.

The publicly available DECA reports are invaluable resources for partners looking to launch a project in any country that has completed a DECA. Additionally, USAID and Digital Frontiers are currently developing a DECA Toolkit: A How-To Guide for USAID Mission and Implementers that Missions can use to conduct their own DECAs with implementing partners.

The findings from a DECA signal sectoral and geographic priorities, indicating digital interventions the Mission may be interested in piloting and could help partners think through what digital applications may be the right fit for an upcoming project.

Similarly, the DEF gives Missions funding to work with partners to test digital interventions that otherwise may not have been possible. The outcomes from these pilots can inform what solutions work in certain contexts and how to best adapt them. The DEF also gives partners the opportunity to learn from one another.

For example, the Sahel Mission received DEF financing to create a digital working group that will be a forum for partners across Niger and Burkina Faso to share lessons learned and support one another with implementing digital tools.

The DECAs and the DEF are just two Digital Strategy initiatives reshaping digital development at USAID. In the coming years, USAID and DAI will continue to use the Digital Strategy as a guiding force to engage with stakeholders and partners to achieve and sustain open, secure and inclusive digital ecosystems that maximize the benefits and manage the risks of digital technology.

Please RSVP Now to join the GDDF breakout session, USAID’s Digital Strategy: What Does it Mean for You? on May 5th at 7am EDT for a discussion between implementing partners on how USAID has—and can further—support and guide digital use in development programming.

By: Erica Bustinza, Digital Strategy Project Director, DAI/Digital Frontiers, a five year (2017-2022) cooperative agreement administered by USAID.

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