USAID Administrator Samantha Power Highlights U.S.-Ukraine Digital Innovation Partnership at First-Ever Diia in DC Event

May 25, 2023

Administrator Samantha Power at Diia in DC
Washington, DC | May 23, 2023

ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Good morning, everybody! I am absolutely thrilled to be here. I want to thank you Kara Swisher, President Zelenskyy, and all of you for joining us.

As you all know, government events are famous for being cool. That’s just what they’re known for, they’re known for their laser lights, and their selfie walls, and their cool merch. Right? So, this falls within a long tradition of cool government events, even government meetings. But today is really the coolest of the cool because we get to be here with Deputy Prime Minister Fedorov, who has made such remarkable innovations as Diia happen. Sharing the stage with him is a personal privilege for me and I’m really looking forward to the discussion that Kara will lead us in a little bit later.

We are celebrating today something remarkable that is happening in Ukraine as we speak. Something truly, truly remarkable. And I’m not referring to the inspiring stories that we’ve heard over the past year about Ukraine’s defense efforts. I’m not talking about the doctors leaving their day jobs to train troops in combat medicine; or the engineers who are creating portable stoves to help the army stay warm; the everyday citizens who are rising up on behalf of democracies everywhere to protect freedom and the rule of law.

Instead, what I’m talking about is something else—something that hasn’t gotten anywhere near the attention it deserves. Because while the Ukrainian people have been fighting to defend democracy’s future, they have also been working—steadily, behind the scenes, for years—to bring democracy into the future. And you are about to see the astounding results of that work.

But first, I want to give a few words of context about how Diia became the transformational platform that it is today, and where it can go from here.

Imagine, and for the Americans in this room, this will unfortunately sound like a fantasy: imagine that nearly everything that you need from your government, you can get with simple taps on your phone or browser. Want to access your passport to cross the border? You want to apply for a construction permit? You want to register a new baby, or a new business? You can do all of that on Diia.

Imagine eliminating the infinite lines under fluorescent lights in government offices, the stacks of paperwork that ask you the same questions that you have answered hundreds of times before. The endless waiting for documents to move through the bureaucratic machinery. The more we reduce these headaches, the more we build that foundational trust: that democratic governments are capable of meeting the needs of their people.

Platforms like Diia also reduce opportunities for corruption because having standardized processes and a visible, transparent record of fines that you pay as a citizen, fees that you have to pay, payments you get—all of that takes away opportunities for officials to skim off the top.

And digital governance platforms also help governments respond quickly to emerging crises as the people of Ukraine have seen firsthand during the war. Over this past year, Diia has been a lifeline for the Ukrainian people, providing everything from cash payments for internally displaced people to an easy way for people to report damage from Putin’s missile strikes. So, Diia has actually shown us what’s possible in e-governance—shown all of us, all around the world. But it’s also shown what it takes to get to this place. Because the fact is, when you’re dealing with technology that is so fundamental to peoples’ lives, the old Silicon Valley credo to, “move fast and break things,” just doesn’t work. You can’t accept security breaches when the data at risk is your passport; you can’t accept bugs in the system when you’re trying to register your newborn child.

So, a platform like Diia relies on robust and secure digital public infrastructure—which we have been working with the Ukrainian government, UK Aid, and Eurasia Foundation to build since the year 2016.

We started this work on digitizing government back then, as part of an anti-corruption push. We worked with Ukraine’s government ministries to build databases that could easily communicate with one another, digital identification systems, and cybersecurity protections to keep data safe, even in a worst case scenario like an invasion—all of the underlying infrastructure that makes a platform like Diia possible in the first place.

Then, in 2019, President Zelenskyy and then Minister Fedorov laid out a vision to do something far more ambitious—to create the State in a Smartphone that you are about to see.

I know I speak for myself and for so many of us at USAID when I say that it has been a true life privilege to have a role in supporting Ukraine in this effort. And to see the stunning impact of the platform, especially now when it matters most.

I want to thank those on our USAID teams, at UK Aid, at Eurasia Foundation, and in the Ukrainian government, who had the foresight to invest in Ukraine’s digital transformation beginning eight years ago.

I want to thank the companies that made it possible for Diia to keep expanding its services—companies like Google and Visa, the fantastic cosponsors of this event.

And I want to thank the teams in Ukraine who have kept Diia running and made it an invaluable service during the war. Their bravery, their resilience, their determination, has been something to behold. When Putin’s attacks cut the power, the e-governance expert at USAID’s Ukraine Mission huddled on his laptop using a gas station’s generator in the freezing cold, drawing up contracts to get the Ministry the resources they need to keep developing the app.

When air strikes kept forcing the Eurasia Foundation team in Kyiv into the bomb shelter, the human resources manager simply ordered a set of folding chairs so that they could sit on those chairs with their laptops, working from the basement as the air raid sirens blared above.

When the Russian army cut off the internet in occupied territories, the Ministry of Digital Transformation organized telecom teams and traveled with them through wreckage in bulletproof vests and helmets to repair damaged base stations and fiber optic cables and to restore internet access.

These teams are building something incredible during unimaginable circumstances. And now, we want to share what they’ve built with the world, and help bring other democracies into the future, too.

Ukraine, as many of you know, has long been famous as the breadbasket of the world, exporting its wheat and corn, near and far. Well now, Ukraine is becoming famous for something else, a new product. The Ministry of Digital Transformation is working to make Diia an open source digital public good that it will give to other countries so that they can build digital public infrastructure that serves their citizens.

And other nations, including leaders in e-governance like Estonia, are already learning from Ukraine’s experience and adopting their own versions of Diia. In January of this year, I announced that USAID would support partner countries that are inspired by Diia and want to accelerate their own digital transformation by developing and expanding their own e-government capabilities.

What this looks like is naturally going to differ from country to country. But we are committed to helping our partners find ways to make progress on digital public infrastructure. I am thrilled that USAID will be working with Colombia, with Kosovo, and with Zambia, for starters, to explore collaborations on everything from improving their current systems, to developing new digital citizen services, to building innovative and easy-to-use platforms with features like the ones you are about to see.

And we will continue our close partnership with Ukraine—both by continuing to support Diia’s development, and by facilitating partnerships with other nations, so that Ukraine’s leadership can inspire more digital transformations globally.

Together, we are sending the world a clear message. When democracies are challenged—when we are tested—we work together, we share great ideas, we invest in each other’s futures. We unleash the incredible innovation and insight of our citizens to solve tough problems and make people’s lives better. And in so doing, we emerge stronger than ever.

And now, I am thrilled to introduce a brilliant, relentless, and staggeringly effective advocate for the people of Ukraine, my friend, Ambassador Oksana Markarova, Ukraine’s Ambassador to the United States.