Administrator Samantha Power at the 2023 Open Government Partnership Global Summit Event

Administrator Samantha Power at the 2023 Open Government Partnership Global Summit Event: State in a Smartphone – The Future of Digital Government

Thursday, September 7, 2023
Tallinn, Estonia

ADMINISTRATOR SAMANTHA POWER: Hello, everyone. It is great to be here, just off a plane. And I know I’ve missed some really rich discussions the last few days but we’ve had USAID, and U.S. government officials, and civil society colleagues giving us live rolling updates and it sounds like it’s been an incredible time together.

Aidan [Eyakuze], thank you for everything you do. You know as events come and go, as progress ebbs and flows in Tanzania, in sub-Saharan Africa and beyond – your leadership has been absolutely indispensable on the ground, and thanks also for your tireless work on the OGP Steering Committee.

So we’re here 12 years, I guess, almost to the month after eight heads of state and one stalwart civil society representative met on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly to create this partnership. Those of us who were there at the time remember the enormous hope we felt back then for cutting edge technologies that would help advance open government and open society, that would give people unprecedented access to their government, platforms to raise their voices, and new tools to affect change.

Of course, that hope for this era of technological progress turned for many into fear, as autocrats in the intervening years have used technology to spread disinformation, invade citizens’ privacy, and attack other countries without even having to use conventional arms. But every now and then, you come across people who have not only held on to that early hope, but who have turned hope into extraordinary action. Many of you in this room saw new technologies right from the start for what they were – not inherent boons or banes for democracy. But tools that could be used to empower citizens just as they could be used to repress them. So many of you have found ways to fight the misuse of technology and expand its use for goods – to demand better social services, to keep an eye on government expenditures, to organize civic action.

Some of the leading visionaries in this effort are our hosts today. The Estonian government has given citizens the power to access public services and communicate with their government digitally, showing the world, quite long ago now actually, how citizens can do everything from renewing IDs and passports to suggesting parliamentary bills completely online.

And doing this has contributed to Estonia’s rapid economic growth as well as its global standing as a country. In the last ten years alone, Estonia jumped 18 spots in Transparency International’s Corruption Perception Index from 32nd to 14th – higher than the United States. Estonia is progress inspired e-governance innovation across the world, including in Ukraine. In 2016, well before my time at USAID, Ukraine approached our agency and asked if we could help utilize digital tools to support its anti-corruption efforts.

We began by working with the Eurasia Foundation and other partners to help Ukraine’s government build e-procurement services. And at the very same time and this is important, establish cybersecurity protections. But by 2019, President Zelenskyy and Minister Fedorov were laying out a vision to do something far more ambitious – to create, yes, a state in a smartphone.

A platform that would allow citizens to interact with their government completely online. To do everything from start a new business to register a new baby. That vision became Diia, a platform that has had a stunning impact on the lives of Ukrainians. When Diia launched in February of 2020, offering digitized identity cards, the ability to sign official documents, to register a new car with one click – the app quickly became the most downloaded in Ukraine.

And since Putin’s full-scale invasion in 2022, Diia has become a critical part of the war effort. It has enabled Ukrainians across the country to report war crimes, track enemy troop movements, and get compensated for damaged property – all through their smartphones.

But as I wind down here, I want to come back to the founding purpose of OGP. The idea was not only to improve citizens’ social and economic well being, it was to enhance their ability to hold their governments accountable, and to fight corruption. And this is where Diia has been truly transformative. By digitizing construction permits, tax payments, and fee collections, Diia prevents corrupt officials from skimming funds or soliciting bribes in person. Now every process that goes through Diia has an auditable trail of every transaction – steps that helped prevent an estimated $441 million dollars of leakage in Ukraine’s economy in 2020. These are absolutely critical protections.

It is also essential that the Ukrainian government has prioritized – and we’ll hear more from our Ukrainian colleagues about this – cybersecurity and privacy protection, right alongside citizen convenience and simplification. Ukraine has withstood over 2,700 Kremlin cyber attacks aimed at state information sources and critical infrastructure. Earlier this year, I had the privilege of announcing that USAID will support Colombia, Kosovo, and Zambia to pursue their own similar e-government capabilities.

Today I’m excited to announce that Estonia will be supporting this effort, partnering with USAID and Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation. With Estonia’s expertise in making new technologies adaptable to a range of different systems – so called interoperability – we will work together to model Diia and the underlying digital public infrastructure in more countries.

Now I would like to introduce Luukas Ilves, Estonia’s Chief Information Officer and a true pioneer in the field of e-governance. Lucas over to you, thank you so much.