Digital Ecosystem Country Assessment (DECA) Report
Serbia has been on a path toward digitalization for the last decade. With the arrival of Prime Minister Ana Brnabić in 2017, digitalization became a key government priority. Serbia’s participation in the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans – a joint initiative of the six Western Balkans countries and the European Commission – further bolstered this prioritization. There have been promising advances in Serbia across several key DECA pillars. For example, digital connectivity infrastructure is well-developed and continues to improve, with plans to deploy 5G and build out fiber; digital divides (in most cases) are minor; digital government services are improving, as is digitalization among civil society organizations (CSOs) and media; and the ICT industry shows the strongest growth in the Western Balkans region. Nevertheless, there are still hurdles to clear before Serbia reaches EU standards. For example, independent media organizations and tech startups, or micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) often lack the business acumen and funding to grow. In addition, government officials, business owners, entrepreneurs, and journalists sometimes lack the awareness and skills needed to fully benefit from digital technologies.
The Serbia DECA took place between May 2020 and November 2020. It included desk research, consultations with USAID/Serbia, and about six weeks of virtual key informant interviews. It involved a total of 59 interviews with stakeholders from civil society, academia, the private and public sectors, international development organizations, and USAID/Serbia offices. The DECA was guided by USAID/Serbia’s 2020-2025 Country Development Cooperation Strategy (CDCS) which includes two strategic priorities:
- Increasing the resiliency of democratic actors
- Increasing equitable prosperity
Pillar 1: Digital Infrastructure and Adoption
- Government and industry plans to deploy fifth-generation (5G) networks have been delayed due to COVID-19. This delay creates a window for multi-stakeholder engagement to ensure adoption of secure 5G.
- Huawei’s significant role as contractor, supplier, and advisor for digital connectivity resources highlightsChina’s influence on Serbia’s critical digital infrastructure.
- The COVID-19 pandemic spurred swift adoption of distance learning, but more action is needed to ensure child safety online and the inclusion of marginalized communities.
Pillar 2: Digital Society, Rights, and Governance
- Prime Minister Ana Brnabić prioritizes digital government, but the lack of a unified, government-wide strategy impedes progress.
- Efforts for increased interoperability between government systems exist; however, digitization initiatives remain siloed and lag at the local level.
- In most cases, internet governance policies do not meet international standards.
- Civic opening in the protection of digital rights and freedoms is critical to preserving democratic space.
Pillar 3: Digital Economy
- Tech startup entrepreneurs often lack business acumen, hindering the growth of startups. The key to startup success (according to top innovation hubs in the country) is having a diverse team across educational background, skill sets, and gender.
- Funding constraints are a major issue for most tech startup entrepreneurs. There are few investment funds with varying funding limits and a general lack of government policy to incentivize investment.
- Trauma from past financial crises inhibits citizen uptake of digital finance, including digital crowdfunding.
- The e-commerce sector has progressed significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Improvements in regulation, digital literacy, supply-side logistics, and consumer awareness are needed for the sector to fully thrive.
Digital Ecosystem Evidence Map
The information below is part of the Digital Ecosystem Evidence Map (DEEM) and displays up-to-date resources on digital development interventions and the digital ecosystem for Serbia. Click here to explore the full tool.