U.S. Global Development Lab
Center for Digital Development

Like railways and roads before it, the internet is unleashing waves of innovation and transforming the way in which businesses, consumers, and governments operate and interact with each other. The rapid growth in mobile phone ownership and mobile broadband usage is serving only to accelerate this digital revolution. This new found access to digital information and services is empowering individuals, opening new channels for delivering more effective and scalable services from governments and the private sector, and enabling a more adaptive, data-driven approach to decision making.

The opportunity is clear, but it is not a forgone conclusion that digital technologies will benefit those who arguably stand to gain the most. Four billion people in developing countries still don’t have access to the internet, including a staggering 93 percent of households in the least developed countries. And women are, on average, 14 percent less likely to own mobile phones than their male counterparts.

Harnessing the power of technology and the expertise of its four teams specializing in Development Informatics, Digital Finance, Digital Inclusion and Advanced Data and Geospatial Data Analysis, the U.S. Global Development Lab's Center for Digital Development works to improve the lives of millions of poor and vulnerable people throughout the world by supporting the development of an inclusive, responsible, and sustainable digital economy and the adoption of digital tools and data-driven approaches that improve development effectivenes.


News & Updates

Miss our Digital Development Forum? Watch our event video and learn more about the agenda and resources shared on the Forum page.

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Reflecting the Past, Shaping the Future: Making AI Work for International Development

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We are in the midst of an unprecedented surge of interest in machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI) technologies. These tools, which allow computers to make data-derived predictions and automate decisions, have become part of daily life for billions of people. While they have the potential to improve outcomes across sectors, they also pose potential risks, especially when applied in development programs and in developing countries. To avoid these risks, development professionals must understand both the risks and benefits of these emerging technologies when applied in their programs. 

This document aims to inform and empower those who may have limited technical experience as they navigate an emerging ML/AI landscape in developing countries. Donors, implementers, and other development partners should expect to come away with a basic grasp of common ML techniques and the problems ML is uniquely well-suited to solve. The document also outlines some of the ways in which ML/AI may fail or be ill-suited for deployment in developing-country contexts. Awareness of these risks, and acknowledgement of our role in perpetuating or minimizing them, will help development and technical experts work together to protect against harmful outcomes and ensure that AI and ML are contributing to a fair, equitable, and empowering future.   

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Blockchain Primer

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Blockchain is often discussed as a possible solution for development challenges, but can be difficult to discover how it can be used in development programs. This primer aims to equip international development agencies and partners to assess whether and how distributed ledger technology (DLT), such as blockchain, might apply to their work. This primer provides: a set of key questions to consider for assessing relevance of DLT to particular development challenges; a basic summary of the technical aspects of DLT; and an illustrative list of DLT applications being tested across a range of sectors.

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2017 Digital Download

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Digital tools have revolutionized the ways in which we interact with the world around us. Since its creation, the Center for Digital Development, a part of USAID's U.S. Global Development Lab, has helped the Agency adopt new approaches to incorporating these digital tools into development projects and programs. The 2017 Digital Download provides an overview of the Center's recent accomplishments, focusing on what we believe are the critical foundations of a sustainable digital economy--digital inclusion, digital finance, digital information systems, and advanced data and geospatial analysis. 

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Better Connectivity, Better Programs: How to Implement a Demand Aggregation Program

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USAID programs are utilizing digital technology more than ever before–and the rapid expansion of mobile and internet access in the developing world holds the promise of becoming a platform for resilient economic and social growth. However, as USAID programs become more dependent upon digital technology, the availability and cost of connectivity is becoming a significant barrier to fully realizing that vision. Where connectivity is not available, or where it is priced high, USAID partners must work with USAID Missions, governments, and service providers to find market based solutions to overcome digital connectivity barriers. The Better Connectivity, Better Programs: How to Implement a Demand Aggregation Program (How-to Guide) is designed to enable USAID personnel to support Implementing Partners (IPs) in obtaining access to affordable telecommunications services including broadband.

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Identity in a Digital Age: Infrastructure for Inclusive Development

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There may be no single factor that affects a person’s ability to share in the gains of global development -- to receive services and be represented -- as much as having an official identity. Identity is tied to voting rights, financial inclusion, land ownership, education, and can even help protect against human trafficking or child marriage. Yet the complex forces behind identity systems are often overlooked or misunderstood, leading to inefficiencies and missed opportunities for inclusive and sustainable ID systems. With emerging digital technologies, the ID landscape is poised to become even more complex. This report assesses the opportunities and risks of digital ID systems in development. It particularly focuses on the role of project-driven ID investments and argues for a broader view of digital ID as essential development infrastructure.

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Gender and Information Communication Technology (ICT) Survey Toolkit

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The Gender and ICT Survey Toolkit provides a set of resources for obtaining a landscape assessment of gender and ICT, providing implementing partners currently operating and planning on-the ground programming with practical, well researched tools they can use to obtain data on women’s access and usage of mobile phones and other connected devices. This data can be used to inform project design or create a baseline to understand the efficacy of an ICT intervention. The Toolkit instructs users on how to understand the implications of landscape assessments and apply learnings to their projects and program portfolios. It is important to note that, while this is an ICT toolkit, and references several different forms of ICTs, the primary focus is on mobile.

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YouthMappers: Celebrating 100 Chapters in 100 Weeks

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YouthMappers is a consortium of student mapping chapters based at university campuses around the world. Launched by the USAID GeoCenter and three founding universities in 2015, it has quickly grown into a global network of 100 university chapters in just 100 weeks. Through the use of a web-based, open mapping platform, the program provides university students with the opportunity to learn mapping skills, develop leadership experience, and create new geospatial data for development projects in unmapped places where USAID works.

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Our Teams

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Digital Inclusion

The Digital Inclusion team helps bridge the digital divide by expanding access to the internet in countries where USAID works to accelerate the Agency’s development objectives and ensuring the most marginalized have the skills and resources to be active participants in the digital economy.

USAID/Pakistan
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Digital Finance

The Digital Finance team works to create inclusive, pro-poor financial sectors that serve the needs of governments, underserved populations, and industry, ultimately helping the world’s financially excluded and underserved populations access and use financial services that meet their needs.

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Development Informatics

The Development Informatics team seeks to make development more adaptive, efficient, and responsive to citizens and decision makers by helping transform the use of data and technology throughout development. 

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GeoCenter

The GeoCenter applies geospatial technology, creates new data and builds mapping expertise to solve international development challenges.

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Digital Development for Feed the Future

Digital Development for Feed the Future was a three-year collaboration between the U.S. Global Development Lab (Lab) and the Bureau for Food Security (BFS) aimed at integrating digital tools into the Feed the Future portfolio.

 

Photo Credit: Daljit Singh