The competition, called Making All Voices Count, is the result of a public-private partnership among USAID, the Swedish government, the U.K.'s Department of International Development and Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm established by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife.
The competition will start accepting proposals in spring 2013 for tech projects aimed at improving government performance and helping new governments serve their citizens. The effort is aimed primarily at nations in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
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Organizers point to the proliferation of mobile technology as making the time right for this kind of open government initiative. Three-quarters of the world's population has access to mobile phones, according to a USAID spokeswoman. Over the past two years, subscriptions to wireless services have grown from under one billion to more than six billion, with the majority of growth in developing countries, she said.
In South Africa, mobile penetration has reached 100% of the population, while in Indonesia and Kenya, it stands at 75% and growing, according to USAID. "This mobile revolution has the potential to not only deepen citizen engagement, but facilitate the government's response," she said.
Competition organizers have established a $45 million fund to support the effort. USAID is contributing $15 million, with the balance coming from the other three partners.
"The problem we are trying to solve is a lack of evidence around what works in terms of citizen-government collaboration," the USAID spokeswoman said. "Therefore, metrics for funds we provide will be specific, measurable, additive and time-bound."
The competition was inspired by the Open Government Partnership, a group of more than 50 countries that have endorsed the principles of open government and adopted individual action plans in each member country. The United States is one of eight founding members.