Bridging
the digital divide

The role of ICT in the UN Sustainable Development Goals

From September 25th through the 27th, leaders from all over the world gathered in New York to agree on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that will replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and shape the next 15 years of international development.

SDGs impact (high res)

 

The goals were created through a collaboration of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and the UN Development Group (UNDG), which commenced an unprecedented global conversation among a diverse group of stakeholders over the last three years. The 17 goals are very ambitious, aiming to end poverty, extreme hunger, ensure quality education for everyone, improve healthcare, end gender inequality, protect, restore and promote sustainable use of ecosystems, etc. to improve social and economic development and end inequality.

Why are these goals so important? The Millennium Development Goals have already been a great success. The MDGs have put focus on improving lives for everyone and highlighted the importance of monitoring and evaluation (M&E) exercises to see the progress countries made and where they were coming short. On many measures, the lives of people have greatly improved over the past 15 years. 70% of developing countries have cut extreme poverty in half, child mortality has been reduced by 50% and less people are dying from infectious diseases like HIV/AIDS and Malaria.

But there still is a lot to do. Maternal death might be near zero in high-income countries, but still 1,500 out of 100,000 women in developing countries die while giving birth, showing that there remains an enormous disparity between emerging and developed countries. School enrolment rates continue to be low in developing countries, over 750 million people lack access to clean water, and women all over the world continue to face discrimination in access to work, economic assets and participation in private and public decision-making

This is the reason why today, the transition from the MDGs to the SDGs is launched. Where the MDGs where quite narrow in focus, the SDGs are set out to tackle a whole range of issues and have a more universal nature, recognising that the progress made by the MDGs has been uneven between countries.

The question that arises now is: can they be achieved by 2030? A new Overseas Development Institute (ODI) flagship report, Projecting progress: reaching the SDGs by 2030, attempts to answer this question. They have graded the SDGs based on how likely they are to be achieved by 2030, ranging from A, current progress is sufficient to reach the target, to F, which implies that the world is currently heading in the wrong direction. This report shows that not a single goal will be met by 2030 if we continue as today. This is not necessarily catastrophic, since the goals are designed to be self-consciously ambitious and encourage extra efforts.

Still, it’s true that more action and awareness is needed nowadays. That’s why Close the Gap and WorldLoop want to help realise these new SDGs and battle inequality in the world. Education is one of the most powerful instruments for reducing poverty and inequality and lays a foundation for sustained economic growth. Yet, many children in developing countries lack access to quality education and knowledge. This knowledge gap is increased by their limited connection to information and communication technology (ICT), the key driver for improving the educational and economic prospects of a country in today’s modern world. At Close the Gap, we try to bridge the digital divide by offering high-quality, pre-owned computers donated by European companies to educational, medical and social projects in developing and emerging countries. Even in the most remote areas in Africa, where there is no connection to the electricity grid, Close the Gap looks for innovative solutions. Our Digitruck for example, a mobile, multi-functional IT lab fit in a 40’ container and powered by solar energy, tries to assure that nobody is left out in our quest for worldwide access to inclusive and equitable education.

The improvement of quality education for all is not the only SDG where ICT plays a major role. Luis Neves, chairman of the Global e-Sustainability Initiative (GeSI), underlined the importance of ICT in relation to climate change at the New York 2015 Climate Week, saying: “In our industry ICT can bring a quality sustainable life style to people, ICT can do everything and that is a reality”.

ICT proves to play a fundamental role in the improvement of education, the battle against climate change and even the progress on gender equality, but it’s also important to ensure sustainability by finding local solutions for the electronic waste. This is where WorldLoop steps in. By facilitating the creation of accessible, environmentally sound, socially responsible and sustainable e-waste recycling in developing countries, WorldLoop tries to eliminate the negative effects of e-waste and turn it into sustainable human and economic resources. By doing this, WorldLoop is helping to achieve several SDGs, such as ensuring sustainable production and consumption patterns, protecting and promoting the sustainable use of ecosystems, improving water quality and ensuring healthy lives for everyone.

Looking ahead, many SDGs are within reach if we’d follow the example of some top performing countries over the MDG era, like Maldives, Cambodia and Panama. However, if we ever want to realise the SDGs and strive for the future we want, change should start now. The summit in New York was a great start to raise more awareness about the SDGs, as was the Youth Entrepreneurship for Sustainable Development side event on the 29th of September. At this event, the importance of encouraging youth potential to achieve the SDGs was emphasized, as well as the ability to assist them financially and educationally. Youth is not only the future, youth is also the present, and the most powerful weapon to build a better world by 2030.