Women leaders driving digital transformation in government: Inspiring stories of innovation and impact during the war in Ukraine
October 11, 2023
Author: Kateryna Onyiliogwu, UNDP Ukraine expert
Blog for Stem4All
Just a few years ago in Ukraine, the vision of building the most convenient digital state in the world began to blossom into tangible solutions for citizens' daily needs. Even with the outbreak of war in February 2022, the Ukrainian Government’s digitalisation efforts have not faltered. Quite the opposite – they have intensified. As diverse challenges have grown, the effectiveness of digital solutions has become increasingly clear. For example, Diia, an award-winning digital ecosystem, which provides the world's first digital passport and access to 14 other digital documents, expanded during the war to provide assistance services for displaced people. It has also given Ukrainians the ability to apply online for compensation for damaged property, or for financial assistance for entrepreneurs and employees from the regions where hostilities occurred, among numerous other services.
Behind the extraordinary achievements in the digital transformation of Ukraine’s government lies the immense work done by the civil servants of Ukraine’s Ministry of Digital Transformation. And while digital transformation in most governments worldwide is still led predominantly by men, Ukraine stands out, as it is women who are actively shaping the digital transformation of government, bringing e-services to Ukrainian citizens, and closing the gender gap in leadership.
Resilience amidst crises: Creating digital solutions for business
Valeriia Tkach, the Head of the e-Services Development Expert Group, oversees the development of the Diia portal. Valeriia has been integral to making the Diia platform an efficient and transparent financial support system during this time of crisis, prioritising speed and accuracy in delivering government services.
“Small and medium-sized businesses are vulnerable during crises, hence, we create digital solutions when it matters the most,’’ says Valeria, as she speaks of her passion for developing e-services.
Before the full-scale war, at the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Diia application was already a fast and convenient tool, providing financial assistance for employees and solo entrepreneurs impacted by the heightened quarantine measures. Something that would have required a pile of paperwork before could now be accomplished in just five minutes using the Diia mobile application. Once introduced, public demand for these online services skyrocketed.
This successful experience prompted the Ukrainian government to continue scaling Diia to provide financial support during the war, which has seen many businesses pushed to the brink of survival, and employment rates plummeting. As one invaluable service to Ukrainians, Valeriia highlights the E-Robota programme, which offers grants for starting businesses, fosters entrepreneurship, and shares training opportunities - including for Ukrainian veterans. The simplicity of the application procedure through the Diia portal has already enabled 4,600 entrepreneurs to receive grants to start or develop their businesses in just one year.
Transforming paper chaos into efficient digital solutions
Zoriana Stetsiuk, the head of the Directorate of Reengineering Public Services, has the ambitious mission of transforming existing public services into digital formats. While citizens might wonder why all government services cannot be digitalised all at once, the Ministry of Digital Transformation is conscious of the need to transition with careful intention. The digitalisation of a service requires a radical re-design of its existing process, always keeping efficiency in mind.
“It’s never-ending work when improving the effectiveness and convenience of providing digital services to citizens – from reducing the number of documents needed when submitting a request to receiving a public service, to implementing fully automated services without human involvement,” Zoriana says of her core responsibilities.
For example, the online service for registering as an entrepreneur has undergone a remarkably rapid transformation, evolving from a registration process on the Diia portal that required subsequent status confirmation by the state registrar in 2020, to a fully automated digital service in 2021. The ministry, driven by its commitment to excellence, continuously pushes the boundaries of digital possibilities, relentlessly striving for more effective digital solutions. Registering to become an entrepreneur is one of the most widely used e-services on the Diia portal. Despite the war, over 114,000 people have been able to start businesses by registering online.
Zoriana has further developed other digital services together with UNDP and the Government of Sweden’s support, including a streamlined process for updating status and location for internally displaced persons. More than 300,000 displaced Ukrainians have been able to easily and safely access state services by using the Diia mobile application.
Ensuring that nobody is left behind in the future of work
Ruslana Korenchuk, the head of the Digital Skills Development Department, leads the development of the Diia.Education platform. Ruslana joined the Ministry of Digital Transformation to address the digital literacy gap in Ukraine. Currently, 53 percent of Ukrainians are reported to have sub-optimal digital literacy skills. Over just three years, Ruslana and the Diia.Education platform have helped almost 2 million Ukrainians acquire digital skills and improve their digital literacy. Due to the war, nearly 50 percent of internally displaced people are looking for jobs. The platform provides digital skills training that match the demands of the labor market.
One of the latest courses on the portal, developed with support from UNDP and Sweden, was designed to help the elderly master basic digital skills, such as using a smartphone and searching the Internet.
Ensuring uniform standards of quality: A vision for services in every corner of Ukraine
Maryna Bobranitska, the head of the Administrative Services Provision Development Office, manages the development and expansion of the modern offline administrative service centres, which serve as the first point of contact for citizens across Ukraine.
“I believe that all Ukrainians should receive the same standard of services – convenient, fast, simple and humane, and hence my primary role is to develop and ensure the implementation of uniform standards of quality,” Maryna says, underlining her priorities.
To support the training of civil servants in monitoring and evaluating the provision of public services in administrative services centres, she developed an online course together with UNDP and Sweden.
While Ukraine is on the path to becoming the most convenient digital state in the world, offline administrative service centres are becoming the ambassadors of the digital world and the Diia ecosystem. Many citizens face obstacles, such as a lack of skills or even fear of using digital services. Administrative service centres help people feel comfortable with Diia, fostering positive experiences and inclusivity, and mitigating their concerns.
While several administrative service centres have been destroyed or damaged during the war, others have become hubs of humanitarian and social support for their communities.
The stories of these remarkable women leaders in Ukraine’s digital transformation highlight the critical importance of gender diversity, as they break barriers and drive innovation to positively impact society. With financial support from the government of Sweden, UNDP Ukraine has united these women, and others, through a leadership programme that provides skill-building and networking opportunities, empowering women to develop their expertise, confidence, and leadership abilities; and fostering the creation of more inclusive digital transformation within an environment that nurtures women leaders.
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