Alexandre Deprez Opening Remarks at the Digital Development Forum

Thank you all so much for joining us at the Forum – we are extremely proud to co-host the first West Africa Digital Development Forum in Accra.

“The power of technology to transform development” – this is a bit of an old adage. Information and Communication Technologies have been around for decades. BUT….what hasn’t always been clear is how cutting edge technology could benefit the poor. Even for us seasoned development professionals, it seemed like a choice between giving someone a laptop versus access to education, health services or clean water.

But we are at a unique time today, where this calculation is no longer a zero sum game. The use of mobile and digital technologies can accelerate someone’s ability to access education, clean water or health services. These tools to enable and empower the poor are now at the point where they are accessible to many, many more – even if not to all.

We at USAID recognize the power of technology to transform development and the role we must play in its future.  And, therefore, USAID is fundamentally changing how we approach development: prioritizing science, technology, innovation and partnerships across all our efforts because we believe that with the right breakthroughs and game-changing innovations we can help bring an end to extreme poverty within the next two decades.

Many of you here today are similarly leveraging ICT for greater development impact and more efficient, cost-effective, and transparent programs. And your progress in just the last few years defy the imagination and have made optimists out of skeptics…and also quite a few entrepreneurs wealthy.

Particularly in light of this tremendous progress and the role many of you have played in it, I am humbled to be speaking to you all today. And I am energized by the fact that we are in Ghana for this event. Ghana has become a hub for many things, and now is becoming a hub for innovation, especially in the science and technology space.

We at USAID believe we are only at the beginning of a fundamental shift in how technology can restructure how we all work.

Opportunities that were once unimaginable are now well within our grasp and made possible by extraordinary technological advances and a realization that access to mobile phones and the Internet are not luxuries to be enjoyed by the few, but rather are central to economic and social development.

At USAID West Africa we are demonstrating innovation and partnerships with the just-announced alliance between USAID and the global telecommunications operator Orange, focusing on developing innovations in mobile health (mHealth) that will help treat and care for individuals in developing countries across Africa.

The goal of the USAID/Orange alliance is to create a regional platform with a menu of mobile applications that Health Ministries, donors, health service providers and NGOs could use for consumer education, health worker tools, mobile money, and data collection.

With the increasing use and decreasing cost of mobile phones, leveraging mobile phone technology to accelerate access to health information and services is a game changer, and USAID’s partnerships with private companies, such as Orange, enable all of us to have a larger impact in a cost-effective manner.

You’ll be able to learn more about this later today at a lightning talk by Dr. Mbayi Kangudie, one of USAID/West Africa’s Senior Health Advisors.

As another example, USAID is working in collaboration with AGRHYMET (of CILSS) and the U.S. Geological Survey to apply remote sensing and Geographic Information Systems that generate valuable land use and land cover maps.  These maps contribute to broader efforts to strengthen the ability of vulnerable populations to predict, adapt to and recover from their changing environment.  They allow decision makers to identify and monitor drought risk areas and vulnerable populations, and take actions to mitigate their climate risks.

The US Embassy in Ghana is also spearheading a public private partnership which will gather 100 social and private entrepreneurs from  Benin, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, and Togo for TechCamp  February 6- 8.  Partners like Google, PwC, Vodafone, IBM and KPMG understand that entrepreneurs need mentoring, support and encouragement to learn and grow and we are delighted that this initiative is coming to fruition.  I encourage you to watch the livestream and engage online with #TechCampWA.

As a regional mission, USAID West Africa is in a unique position in terms of programming scope, technical ability, flexibility and willingness to scale innovations.  Identifying, testing, sharing and scaling promising development innovations, or applying proven approaches from elsewhere in the world to the West African context – these are all an integral part of our regional programs.

In partnership with the U.S. Global Development Lab, we seek to scale new models of development that promote new and deepen our existing partnerships, spur innovation, and harness the scientific and technological advances that will enable us to leapfrog the development challenges of today.

Through our new Africa Center of Excellence, which we just inaugurated in October, we will bring together partners from corporations, finance, NGOs, governments, universities, and science and research institutions in an “Open Development” approach to address major development challenges – and then advance the most promising approaches on a timeline and at scale that will maximize impact and cost effectiveness.

Today’s event is designed to celebrate the progress made in critical areas of innovation in West Africa, and give us the opportunity to drive the conversation on technology-enabled development in the region.  Through an engaging mix of panel discussions and lightning talks, the forum will highlight innovative programs, business models, and partnerships from across the region. The forum is also an exciting opportunity to meet and interact with over 100 people from the digital technology and international development communities, including local technology firms, USAID implementing partners, donors, and others who are using digital technologies to transform development in West Africa.

I’m particularly excited about hearing the lightning talks around innovations in West Africa, and I hope that each of you will come way inspired to do more and to do better.

The future requires that we design and fund our programs differently and in ways that leverage emerging technologies.  We must ensure that the poor and underserved have access to these technologies in affordable ways that are useful to them

To get there, USAID has come out with new procurement language mandating the use of digital, mobile and electronic payments – in order to better reach the poor, decrease costs and enable us to work more effectively.  We are working to make sure women and underserved populations have access to mobile technology and broadband internet through not only partnerships, but deep engagement with our implementing partners and government colleagues across West Africa.

We have confidence in the ingenuity and capacity of the youth in the region to be the innovators and economic backbone as they are in our own country and throughout the world.  President Obama’s commitment to the Young African Leaders Initiative, YALI, brought 500 young leaders from SubSaharan Africa to the United States in 2014 and will do so again in 2015.  If you’re not now a member of the Young African Leaders Network, I encourage you to become one now.  There are continuous learning opportunities through this network, and soon Accra will host the Regional Leadership Center.

I believe the future is bright, but we as a community must ensure that the treasures that can come from science, technology and innovation truly do accelerate our development objectives to eradicate poverty and hunger in the region.

I wish you all the best and pledge my support in getting to that goal.

Thank you.