The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), otherwise known as the global goals, are universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. The 2030 Agenda requires that all governments take ownership and establish national frameworks for the implementation and achievement of the 17 Goals.
Our networked society is changing the way we live. The impact of digital revolution are becoming more evident with each passing day. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development recognizes the great potential of global connectivity to spur human progress and development. It presents a challenge for us to ensure universal and affordable internet access for all.
This article offers insight into the opportunities in using information and communication technologies to achieve sustainable development goals. It outlines how the future is dawning before us in the use of big data to improve policy and decision making. It outlines the difference mobile phones can make in the lives of human across the globe. We occasionally see how for instance farmers can monitor prices, refugees can let their relatives know they are safe and how governments respond to emergences
SDG1 sets out to eradicate extreme poverty and cut in half the numbers of people living in all dimensions of poverty. It seeks to ensure that all people have equal rights to economic resources and are covered by social protection schemes. Information and communication technologies (ICTs) have the potential to enable new poverty solutions and amplify the positive results of the existing intervention to end poverty.
ICTs are contributing to sustainable development by powering economies, improving disaster preparedness, advancing health, education and strengthening civil participation and accountability. Mobile phones and internet services are enabling people from all parts of the world to benefit from development.
However, about 1 billion people worldwide lack the digital literacy and skills necessary to fully enjoy the benefits of ICTs and about less than half of the world’s population use the internet. As if that is not bad enough, globally there are about 200 million fewer women online than men; and the gender digital gap is the highest in developing countries including Uganda. The cost of internet access is higher than in developed countries.
Thus the potential of ICTs will only be maximized when all women and men have equitable, reliable and affordable access to the technologies available. However, access alone is not enough, there is need for policies and interventions put in place to ensure that those left behind are also empowered to benefit from ICTs.
How ICTs Are Enabling Poverty Reduction
Making needs visible and actionable: The SDGs make equity and explicit, cross-cutting objective, with a clear commitment to “leave no one behind”. New data mined from social media and geospatial data sensors is likely to plug SDG data gaps and deliver timely targeted and more effective poverty- reduction interventions. For instance in Uganda, the UN Global Pulse found that mobile phones credit purchases (I.e. Sim cards) correspond closely to household consumption.
However, many disparities that divide people remain hidden due to lack of data which in turn complicates efforts to target those at risk of being left behind. Thus big data solutions can enable countries to take aim at gender gaps in health, education, labour market etc. Hence, improving the well-being and prospects of women is a proven driver of poverty reduction. In Uganda, people frequently raise concerns and express their perspectiveness through talk shows on community radio stations.
Expanding voice and empowerment: ICTs can strengthen the core capacities of governments to extend and improve public service delivery and information in hard-to-reach, poor and marginalized communities. Women of Uganda Network (WOUGNET), for example is implementing a project focusing on the use of ICT in promoting accountability and transparency and women socio-economic empowerment in Eastern and Northern Uganda. The project is conceived on the understanding that, institutional inconsistencies in government characterized by; limited citizenry participation, unchecked bureaucratic, corruption, and information gaps has resulted to inappropriate implementation of national development plans resulting into poor service delivery to the citizens.
ICTs are more powerful where there are investments in peoples’ capacities to use and understand data and information, and where governments make data freely accessible. The online system builds evidence about what works and what does not work and enables citizens, civil society to see results and holds governments accountable.
Economic Empowerment and inclusive Growth: ICTs are transforming economies at every level, overcoming infrastructure bottlenecks; lifting productivity and enabling innovation that boosts incomes. In Uganda, farmers are using mobile phones to check on food prices in market. Across sub-Saharan Africa, UNDP helps farmers and small and medium enterprises use ICTs for training, expert advice and agricultural inputs with the aim of raising agricultural productivity and enable small producers build agricultural value chains and meet quality standards.
Accelerating and sustaining progress: ICTs help overcome bottlenecks to progress so as to promote and sustain development gains. ICTs are increasingly facilitating efforts to prevent and recover from setbacks that disproportionately affect the marginalized and poor communities. For example, during disease outbreak, mobile phones help track the movement of people, helping to prevent and contain the spread of deadly diseases as was the case of Ebola in Uganda and West Africa. Finally, mobile phones have the potential to enable real time tracking and guide recovery measures in crisis-affected countries, to ensure crisis-response interventions are more effective.
Conclusion and way forward
To harness ICTs for poverty eradication, governments, civil society, the private sector and development partners will need to work together to create an enabling environment and invest in ICTs to expand the infrastructure that enables access. In the developing countries, a growing number of educated young people are seeking new technology solutions to solve problems. ICTs are enabling them start new businesses and link to global value chains.
Therefore, to generate inclusive growth and achieve SDG1, initiatives that work in practice need to be scaled up. World over, policy makers need to work together to identify technologies vital to SDG achievement and take steps to remove obstacles to their adoption. More work is needed, including in research and development to unleash the potential of big data.
SDGs will not be met without significantly expanding access to the benefits of ICTs and overcoming a digital divide that sends the already deprived further behind within and across countries. Countries must take full advantage of ICTs to strengthen partnerships and connect the networks and groups with greatest potential for impact. Without action, the digital divide will continue to drive the inequalities that separate people, groups, and countries drawing new form of exclusion; designed by varying access to broadband, computers and smart phones.
In Africa we have a saying that, “if you close your eyes to facts, you will learn through accidents” and “the ears that do not listen to advice, accompany the head when it is chopped off”. I rest my case