If you’re asked to name the most digitally advanced countries in the world, war-torn Ukraine may not immediately spring to mind. But just two years before Russia invaded in 2022, the Eastern European nation launched an e-government mobile app that continues to evolve and surpass the digital service capabilities of most other nations. At Rakuten Optimism 2023, Rakuten Chairman and CEO Mickey Mikitani connected with Mykhailo Fedorov, Deputy Prime Minister for Innovation, Education, Science and Technology and Minister for Digital Transformation for Ukraine to discuss the challenges and opportunities being tackled by the young government of this brave nation.
Think like a startup
Fedorov, 32, has made a name for himself as a young innovator bent on transforming a legacy government bureaucracy. He has helped President Volodymyr Zelenskyy speak directly to his people and the world through social media and helped keep Ukraine online by convincing Space X CEO Elon Musk to open access to Starlink satellite communications for Ukraine.
In 2020, Fedorov introduced Diia, an amazing multi-functional app that gives Ukrainians access to nearly all government services, from voting and renewing driver’s licenses to filing taxes and official identification. Now installed in 70% of all smartphones in the country, Diia can store digital passports that are legally equivalent to physical ones, making Ukraine the world’s first country where they are interchangeable.
“Our idea was to build the most user-friendly country in the world in terms of access to government services,” Fedorov told Mikitani in an online chat. “On the first day, 2 million citizens signed up for our Diia application, and people finally understood what e-government is all about. Before that, there was not a single electronic service offered to citizens.”
Diia, which means “action,” was rolled out just one year after development began in 2019. The government approached the task like a nimble startup, moving with agility and efficiency. Fedorov attributed its successful rollout to the government’s clear statement of its aims, its backing by state leaders, its development speed and the fact that it incorporates scalable architecture that can easily accommodate new functions.
“Under the new format, it’s not your usual government,” said Fedorov. “It’s more agile and it’s able to introduce changes very fast. It’s based on IT culture. I believe the future of all the governments in the world will be to become IT companies because the world is changing fast and you need to react fast.”
In a remarkable illustration of that, Diia has evolved quickly during wartime, adding new functions including the ability to report enemy troop movements, report war-related damages, listen to radio broadcasts during blackouts and transfer government funds to users both displaced by and fighting the invasion. The award-winning application has basically helped keep Ukraine’s government functions running and uniquely showcased the country’s resilience.
Innovation and transformation for Ukraine’s future
Mikitani and Fedorov also talked about bilateral ties and Ukraine’s future. Earlier this year, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida met with President Zelenskyy in Kyiv and then hosted the Ukrainian president in Hiroshima during the G7 summit. Mikitani, meanwhile, has shown his support for Ukraine by donating one billion yen to the Ukrainian government for humanitarian assistance, while the Rakuten Clutch Special Charity Fund has also raised over 1 billion yen toward humanitarian assistance in Ukraine.
The Rakuten chairman and CEO expressed his admiration for Ukraine’s digital transformation in the face of conflict, adding, “I think Ukraine is probably going to be one of the most digitized and advanced societies in the world.”
Fedorov, recently given the mandate to digitalize Ukrainian education, said his country wants to develop an education app that will use AI to provide custom learning plans for users of all ages. He also underlined the need for Ukraine to harness the power of digital innovation, in areas ranging from military technology to cybersecurity, as part of the drive to grow the economy.
That drive for growth will include upgrading Ukraine’s wireless communication network for 5G, something that Mikitani is well positioned to cooperate on given Rakuten’s launch of a cloud-native cellular network in Japan with broadband speeds of up to 16 Gbps, followed by the launch of Rakuten Symphony to share those learnings with global telco operators.
Fedorov thanked Mikitani for helping disseminate valuable information through Rakuten’s Viber app, adding that the war is being fought not only on the frontlines but on the internet. He expressed confidence about the future of Ukraine, saying that its partners are helping it overcome the invasion and evolve as a society and economy.
“We’re a young and fast country,” said Fedorov. “We pass fast decisions. We are charged as a nation to become the most user-friendly nation in the world. I believe all those components, after our victory, will make Ukraine a successful country to live in.”
To view the full session, click here.
See more about the Rakuten Clutch Special Charity Fund for Ukraine.