Remarks by Vice President Harris in Meeting with Private Sector and Philanthropic Leaders on Digital Inclusion in Africa
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Well, good afternoon, everyone. And again, thank you all, these extraordinary global leaders, for coming together around this table for a very important discussion and for combining our resources, both intellectual, mental, and — and in terms of the work that we each do. I’m very much looking forward to the next two hours spent together and all the work we will do going forward.
As I began this week-long trip on the continent, I mentioned in a speech, at the very beginning of the trip in Ghana, that the United States is committed to strengthening our partnerships across the continent of Africa with governments, with the private sector, and civil society, including all of you at this table.
On this trip, I have worked with African partners, as well as partners in the United States and around the world, to deliver significant investments on this continent.
Yesterday, here in Lusaka, I announced more than $7 billion in private sector commitments that will support climate resilience, adaptation, and mitigation.
In Ghana, earlier this week, I announced $1 billion in public and private sector investments to support the empowerment of African women, including a new Women in the Digital Economy Fund, with four areas of main focus, which are: access, affordability, digital literacy, and gender
I met with tech entrepreneurs in Dar es Salaam and women business owners and young creatives in Ghana to understand how we can better support their ideas and innovations.
And in Zambia this morning, I met with farmers using climate-smart agriculture — agri-tech, some of us call it — in extraordinary ways.
In my meetings with the presidents of Ghana and Tanzania and here in Zambia, we have launched new initiatives to strengthen our business ties. We have also advanced our work to support democracy and good governance on the continent, which will invariably create greater stability, predictability, the type that businesses require and need to invest.
In each of these engagements, it has been clear there is a strong desire from leaders on this continent, from young entrepreneurs on this continent, to increase investments on this continent.
My visit has convinced me more than ever that we must all, around the globe, appreciate and understand the importance of investing in African ingenuity and creativity, the type I have seen during the course of this trip, the type that many of you at this table know and lead. And to do so, I am convinced we’ll continue to unlock the incredible economic growth and opportunities that we have seen thus far to the benefit of the entire world.
To help achieve these goals, I believe in the strength of public-private partnerships. And, in fact, this approach that we have taken and the occasion for this meeting, I probably more accurately would call it a private-public partnership — in the investments in the private sector, facilitated and coordinated with the public sector and what that synergy has done — we’ve seen it before — and can do to maximize the human capacity, the innovation that is occurring here and in other examples around the world.
And these partnerships in particular that are private-public, public-private combine the expertise and the experience of the private sector with the reach and capacity of the public sector. By working together, I have seen and believe, going forward, we can unleash growth and opportunity that far exceeds what either the private or the public sector would do on its own.
Throughout my career as attorney general of California, as a United States senator, and now as Vice President of the United States, I have engaged the private sector to help identify the work that we can do to the benefit of our shared interests and mutual goals.
For example, I convened CEOs in Tokyo and Singapore during the course of the last two years to discuss collaboration on U.S. manufacturing and to strengthen global supply chains.
I launched an innovative public-private partnership to help address the root causes of irregular migration from northern Central America to the United States. This initiative, with many of the partners who are at this table, has generated more than $4.2 billion in private sector commitments in the countries of Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador. It has created jobs. It has connected thus far over 4 million people to the Internet and brought more than 1 million people thus far into the formal financial system.
So we know this approach works. We know this approach works.
So now, on my final day on the continent — for now — I have convened this group of business and philanthropic leaders in Lusaka to discuss how we can continue to invest and pursue long-term economic growth together.
Many of you at this table, and the folks that you work with, have a history of doing work on this continent. And we will benefit, I strongly believe, from hearing from you and from lessons learned.
There are many areas of focus of this public-private partnership, but there are some in particular that I believe have been most effective and are the main focus of my trip this time. And one of them is the issue of digital inclusion.
So when we think about where we are in terms of 21st century economies, digital services are essential to 21st century economies. Digital technologies facilitate opportunities across society and, frankly, I believe can be great equalizers in terms of giving those who have access equal opportunity and availability to information, to education, to networks in a way that improves and empowers themselves, their families, their community, and all of society benefits.
And, of course, when we talk about digital access, we are talking about everything from financial inclusion to economic opportunities, all of which obviously drive growth and innovation. Africa’s digital economy is large and growing.
Within the next two years, for example, the forecast is that one in six of the world’s Internet users will be right here on this continent. One in six.
Over the last decade, Africa has continued growth in its digital infrastructure. Examples include innovative mobile phone payment systems in Kenya, fintech in Nigeria, and the delivery of health supplies by a drone in Ghana that has been replicated in the United States.
All to say, there are places on the continent of Africa that are leading the world in digital solutions. Yet, in other places on the continent, we see that there is a lag and that there are many who lag behind. And we must be clear about the challenges presented to close these gaps and then commit to take action, because solutions are within sight and within reach.
So to address this, last December, at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, President Joe Biden launched the Digital Transformation with Africa Initiative. It is a government initiative, so it has an acronym, and it is DTA. (Laughs.) So you will see it referred to often as DTA. But the President is very excited about this initiative, as am I. And it is part of a broader initiative and approach that is named the Partnership for Global Infrastructure and Investment, or PGII.
And President Biden, through these initiatives, has pledged to work with the United States Congress to invest $350 million and to facilitate nearly half a billion dollars in development financing to make sure that people across the continent can participate in the digital and global economy.
As a next step, today, I’m issuing a call to action to the private sector and the philanthropic community to support these initiatives and work alongside us to achieve the goals of DTA and PGII. More specifically, I call on the private sector to explore opportunities to make direct investments and social impact commitments in areas such as increasing access to mobile banking, financing, and insurance, especially for women; digitizing small businesses to help them become part of the formal economy; providing tools, skills, and training to promote digital literacy; and increasing the use and development of apps.
On that last point, I’d ask you to just imagine your own smartphone and the apps that it contains, and what those apps then give you in terms of access to a myriad of information and systems that help you go about your daily life.
I mentioned that, earlier today, I was visiting a sm- — a farm. And the fellow who runs the operation showed me an app on his phone that, through the camera on his phom [sic], if he — phone — if he takes a photograph of a leaf of, let’s say, the lettuce he is growing, the app will then, through AI, diagnose the condition of the leaf: Does it need more or less sun, more or less water?
So this last point is such a big one in terms of what — when people are connected to the Internet, when they are digitally connected, what it does in terms of opening up information sources and opportunities and access that are unimaginable without it.
So this is the work that we are doing together. And in each of these areas, I believe it is particularly important, again, that we focus on inclusion of women and youth. And I call on representatives of the private sector to collaborate with each other, as you do already, and with our administration so we can identify synergies and support each other’s work.
And I would like just for a moment for us to think about the enormous possibilities that exist for growth and the use of technology — if, for example, as I described, a farmer can prepare for extreme weather or find new markets for their crops; a female entrepreneur can sell her goods through an online retailer; young people can take classes online; elderly people can have access to telehealth — and all that that will do to improve the quality of their life.
By advancing digital inclusion, I believe we will be able to drive development in all of these mentioned sectors and so many more.
So, in conclusion, I believe that we are at an inflection point in the world, where the world is obviously faced with crises that we can articulate and we witness, but also where we are seeing in the world incredible innovation, particularly through technology and through, might I say on this continent where the median age is 19, through incredible innovation among young people.
So the investments that we make today have the potential to turn the challenges we face into great opportunities that will have generational and global impact. That is the moment that we are in right now, and that is the ability, then, that we have to participate in where this all goes.
And so with that, I thank you all. Obviously, I am extremely optimistic about the future of this continent and, by extension, the impact it will have on the rest of the world.
I thank you all for your leadership and for joining us today for this important discussion. Thank you all very much. And I thank the press, and we will now proceed with the rest of our meeting. (Applause.) Thank you.