The Digital Ecosystem Country Assessment (DECA), a flagship initiative of the Digital Strategy, informs the development, design, and implementation of USAID’s strategies, projects, and activities. The DECA looks at three pillars of a nation’s digital ecosystem, using USAID’s Digital Ecosystem Framework: (1) digital infrastructure and adoption; (2) digital society, rights, and governance; and (3) digital economy. The DECA aims to inform how USAID/Serbia programming can understand, work with, and strengthen the country’s digital ecosystem. The DECA does not evaluate or suggest modifications to existing programs, but rather assesses a country’s digital ecosystem and identifies how a USAID Mission’s future programming can build upon or strengthen that ecosystem.
The Serbian government prioritizes digitalization. Serbia’s digital transformation accelerated in 2017 with the government’s focus on building a digital government, or “digitalization” as defined by Serbians, and Serbia’s participation in the Digital Agenda for the Western Balkans. As one Serbian official described it, digitalization refers to the “fundamental changes reflected in the emergence of an efficient, economical, and transparent public administration.” Although there is no comprehensive national policy for Information and Communications Technology (ICT), Serbia’s digital agenda includes initiatives ranging from expanding connectivity to developing the ICT industry. Prime Minister Brnabić has been a champion for digitalization, and digital transformation will continue to be a key priority in the coming years.
Digital connectivity infrastructure in the country is strong and growing. Fourth-generation (4G) mobile broadband covers more than 90 percent of the population. The government and top mobile network operators (MNOs) plan to deploy 5G networks in the near future. Donors such as the European Union (EU) support the expansion of fiber-optic connectivity to connect rural schools. China’s Digital Silk Road Initiative has had a substantial role in building Serbia’s digital infrastructure, ranging from Safe City infrastructure to providing cloud infrastructure and developing an artificial intelligence (AI) platform for the government. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the government swiftly embraced online schooling and expanded digital government services.
Fragmentation and uneven levels of buy-in across the executive branch hinders Serbian digital government efforts. Serbia’s approach to multi-stakeholder internet governance has also been uneven, with industry and civil society stakeholders lamenting a lack of public engagement.
Serbian civil society is working to protect digital rights and freedoms. A growing network of organizations in Serbia and across Southeast Europe is working to protect free expression online, promote information security, and publicize digital rights violations.
Digital technology is strengthening Serbia’s business environment. Serbia boasts the fastest-growing ICT industry in the Western Balkans region and a strong ICT talent pool. Belgrade’s startup community has a bright future if entrepreneurs get the support they need. The general business environment has been slow to transform digitally. The onset of COVID-19 has illustrated the benefits of digitalization and improved the outlook among regulators, entrepreneurs, and consumers. Barriers remain for digital trade and e-commerce, including a lack of trust in digital financial tools and uncertainty about Serbia’s accession to the World Trade Organization.
USAID/Serbia should continue to engage and strengthen Serbia’s digital ecosystem. This effort includes a digital COVID-19 response to strengthen online education and e-health. USAID can support the government’s digital transformation and advocate for a secure, inclusive, and open future. There is untapped potential in Serbia’s digital economy, and USAID/Serbia can help by building on existing work and fostering new opportunities for growth.
Roadmap for the report:
Section 1 provides background on the DECA framework and goals. It includes a summary of USAID/Serbia’s priorities, connecting them with digital solutions.
Section 2 presents the key findings about Serbia’s digital ecosystem. This section is organized into three subsections by DECA pillar: digital infrastructure and adoption; digital society, rights, and governance; and digital economy