Strategic Framework: Fostering an Inclusive Digital Future

Digital Strategy

Speeches Shim

By working to pioneer new approaches and learn from both success and failure, USAID can help governments, civil society, the private sector, and local communities in our partner countries maximize the potential of the digital transformation and minimize its risks. USAID itself will continue to pursue similar transformation by leveraging digital technology to further programmatic gains. We will continue to advance the use of digital technology to address the operational needs of the Agency, as governed by our Information Technology Strategic Plan (ITSP). Collectively, these activities 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.

USAID is but one actor among many that influence the global digital ecosystem; achieving this goal requires a multi-faceted, systems-oriented approach.94 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’s programming; and
  • Strategic Objective 2: Strengthen the openness, security, and inclusiveness of country digital ecosystems

We recognize that how USAID works with stakeholders across the ecosystem can shape the evolution of a stronger, more open, and more inclusive digital future. Because of this, our strategic framework not only rests on the work USAID will carry out with our implementing partners, but also highlights the critical need for USAID to work in partnership with civil society, governments, the private sector, and other development actors as we aim for inclusive, sustainable growth of the global digital ecosystem.

In keeping with a systems-oriented approach, the Agency will achieve the Strategic Objectives of this Strategy through a set of mutually reinforcing Intermediate Results (IRs) that align with unique stakeholder roles, detailed both below and in Annex I. Many activities will lead to gains under multiple IRs. Illustrative targets appear following the Results Framework.


STRATEGIC OBJECTIVE 1: Improve measurable development and humanitarian-assistance outcomes through the responsible use of digital technology in USAID’s programming


The rapid evolution of digital ecosystems presents USAID with opportunities to leverage digital technology, and the data this technology produces, in our programming. The effective and responsible use of digital technology requires strategic planning, analysis of the implications that the digital age poses for key development challenges, and sustained engagement with a broad cross-section of stakeholders. USAID will position itself to make responsible programming decisions that, in turn, promote the sustainable, healthy growth of national digital ecosystems.

USAID has already begun to systematize digital approaches within Agency-funded projects and activities. These include guidance for electronic payments under USAID’s awards,95 updates to operational policy that promote a systematic method for collecting geolocation data,96 a Self-Reliance metric for the Adoption of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and other secondary data and analyses, and USAID’s leadership in the co-creation of the Principles for Digital Development. To maximize the impact of taxpayer dollars, USAID will strive to further optimize our policies and procurement processes for the digital age, so that USAID-funded programming uses systems designed for interoperability, reusability, and sustainability across sectors.

MEASURING DIGITAL DIMENSIONS OF THE JOURNEY TO SELF-RELIANCE As the Agency charts countries’ economic capacities through relevant metrics of self-reliance, the ICT Adoption metric will help USAID’s OUs recognize strengths, weaknesses, challenges, and opportunities related to the penetration of ICT in their host countries. The ICT Adoption indicator is a key measure of economic capacity and, when combined with secondary data and Mission-level analyses, can serve as an entry point to understand the adoption and integration of ICT.

USAID also has built the capacity of our staff to use digital technology in USAID’s programming effectively. Since 2010, the U.S. Global Development Lab (Lab) has trained more than 2,300 USAID staff and partners, and has conducted more than 705 engagements with 80 USAID Operating Units (e.g., direct technical assistance, strategic consultations, and advanced data and geographic analysis). The Lab also supports a network of Mission-based Digital Development Advisors and Specialists in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Similarly, the USAID Data-Services team in the Office of the Chief Information Officer in the Bureau for Management (M/CIO) provides leadership on Agency-wide data policy, standards, and usage across the full data lifecycle. The team offers a broad portfolio of data analytics, curation, visualization, risk analysis and mitigation, machine-learning, and data-literacy services designed to promote the usage of evidence in support of USAID’s mission. Digital expertise, technical assistance, and trainings like those offered by the Lab and M/CIO, as well as the U.S. Government interagency, will extend to the whole Agency; we must continue to equip our staff with modern digital tools for development and enable them to cultivate the necessary project-management skills to design and oversee programming in a digital age.


STRATEGIC OBJECTIVE 2: Strengthen the openness, inclusiveness, and security of country digital ecosystems


USAID remains committed to investing in programming that strengthens the critical components that enable an open, inclusive, and secure digital ecosystem to flourish: sound enabling environment and policy commitment; robust and resilient digital infrastructure; capable digital service-providers and workforce (e.g., both public and private institutions); and empowered end-users of digitally enabled services. This programming will enable the digital ecosystem to be a more equitable, participatory, and effective conduit for achieving measurable, sustainable development outcomes. USAID will likewise work to clarify how we can support ecosystem-oriented programming through the appropriate use of legislatively directed or sector-specific funding.


“Global goods” are generally described as any tool that is non-rivalrous, meaning use by one actor does not reduce the utility of the tool for use by another actor, and that is available for use by any actor. In the context of digital development, global goods are adaptable to different contexts, funded by multiple sources, and implemented by a large number of parties, and, in the case of software, interoperable across commonly used systems. They are often, but not always, open-source; however, “open-source” does not always mean “free of cost” or “free of intellectual-property rights.”

USAID has extensive experience with programming that strengthens the key components of digital ecosystems, including improvements to sector-specific digital systems, investments in digital global goods, legal frameworks, national strategies, and in-country capacities. Through the implementation of this Digital Strategy, USAID will continue to invest in these components and coordinate with the U.S. Government interagency, while recognizing that our approach must depend on a rigorous understanding of the gaps, dynamics, and opportunities presented by each national context. Country-level digital ecosystem assessments will complement our understanding of how a country’s technological readiness can inform strategies, programming, and partnerships to help foster self-reliance.

Digital ecosystems are strongest when all players are free to exercise choice and agency in a balanced way.97 Governments and civil society rely on private companies to build and operate complex digital infrastructure. Government then plays a critical role in regulating the delivery of digital services; protecting the interests of consumers; ensuring local higher-education institutions can strengthen digital skill-building and literacy; and addressing market failures to promote equitable opportunity for innovation and access to, and the use of, digital technology. Citizens rely on the public and private sectors to offer fair access to digital technology, the Internet, and digital information. Donors such as USAID can help foster robust digital ecosystems by strengthening local capacity, promoting policy reform, catalyzing the market, investing in digital global goods, and mitigating risks that hinder sustainable investment.


30 USAID MISSIONS will have implemented at least one activity designed to address one or more gaps in the national digital ecosystems in their countries;

50 IMPLEMENTING PARTNERS consistently havei demonstrated alignment with the Principles for Digital Development in their programming;

75 NEW MISSION-FUNDED PROGRAMMATIC ACTIVITIES use digital technology to achieve measurable development outcomes;

AVERAGE 30 PERCENT increase in Internet inclusionj in target countries;

20 PERCENT increase in private-sector digital investment leveraged in underserved markets; and

60 PERCENT of local digital innovators financed and/or supported by USAID will receive follow-on funding from other sources.

The Tanzania Land Tenure Assistance activity uses USAID’s Mobile Applications to Secure Tenure (MAST) program to capture locally gathered GPS data, which is then mapped and registered by the District Land Office to provide official certification of village residents’ rights to occupy land parcels. / Riaz Jahanpour, USAID

h. The full set of targets for the five-year period covered by the Digital Strategy will be detailed in the forthcoming MEL Plan.
i. Here, consistent means three or more activities over a five-year time period.
j. Internet inclusion is a proxy for digital inclusion, which can be measured through an index score comprising four dimensions: availability, affordability, relevance, and readiness.