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Three ways tech can help deliver the SDGs

WGS001B66 Three ways tech can help deliver the SDGs Shutterstock 427841137

The forces driving the Fourth Industrial Revolution – mobile devices, artificial intelligence, data analysis and young people’s love of tech – can also help deliver the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.


Her Excellency Reem al-Hashimy, the UAE’s Minister of State for International Cooperation, told the 2018 World Government Summit in Dubai that better use of technology was crucial to cross-fertilizing ideas across countries and delivering the SDGs.


These were unanimously adopted by the 193 countries in the UN General Assembly in 2015. This ambitious set of targets aims to redress global social inequalities, including those related to poverty, hunger, health, climate change, gender equality and social justice.


Cross-pollination of ideas across nations and communities was vital to achieving the SDGs, HE al-Hashimy said.


It is also very important to use technology to find better ways of measuring the impact of SDGs, according to Angel Gurría, Secretary-General at the Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development.

He told the Dubai audience that research had found that, of the 169 targets contained in the SDGs, only 57% were measurable. Gurría said: “We need to develop a GPS to know where we are, but in the GPS you can also say, OK, I am here, but we want to get there, what is the best way?”

Joining and sharing the data

There is already some progress in joining up crucial data to measure key performance indicators and inform decision-makers about what metrics are needed to deliver the goals.  

The Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data is a coalition of governments, civil society groups and businesses that advises the UN on how data can be translated into action on the ground, making sure it has the greatest possible impact. 

It runs schemes that develop data roadmaps to help countries implement multi-stakeholder data ecosystems for sustainable development. The partnership will also provide data to assist in ensuring the most deprived people in society are not left behind.

But data alone is useless unless it is readily available and can be interpreted. So a second pressing need is for platforms that provide examples of best practice. These should be easily accessible to groups working to deliver the SDGs, helping to avoid mistakes.

One example of a project working towards this is Big Data for Social Good, an initiative from the mobile industry trade body GSMA. This is a group of 19 mobile operators developing common best practices for aggregating, anonymising and analysing vast quantities of data. The group is also advising on how mobile data can be translated into action on the ground.

The power of youth

A third key element of any technical strategy for delivering the SDGs is to ensure young people are involved. As the UN’s Economic and Social Council Youth Forum said at its 2017 meeting: “Young people…. have been trailblazers in the creation of technological and media solutions to some of our most pressing developmental challenges.

“They are creative, technologically adept, and informed of their local community needs.”

But the Forum also sounded a note of caution, stressing that many young people also lack access to the reliable internet connections needed to leverage technological advances. “Ensuring the development and access to robust technological infrastructure and information, as well as education and learning, is central to ensuring technology can be utilized appropriately in the implementation of the SDGs.”

Schemes that are addressing these issues include the UN’s Institute for Youth Engagement in Sustainable Development. This uses social media networks to engage and record discussions with young people in Africa, aiming to inform the debate and develop solutions that will help to meet the SDG goals.

Unconventional partnerships

The 2020 Expo in Dubai is a forthcoming opportunity for governments and organizations to develop technological ways to better link nations, communities and civil society groups so they are able to deliver the SDGs, according to HE al-Hashimy.

“These linkages do not happen casually. We could make it an impetus of Expo 2020 to draw on the linkages that could happen between nations and create unconventional forms of partnership,” she told the audience in Dubai.

Kenya can become more aware of what Iceland is doing, Switzerland can become more aware of what is happening in Swaziland, thanks to the power of the smartphone.


“If Expo can bring them on board, not only to be part of a conversation, but part of creating tangible, measurable, deliverable results, then I think we would have done something pretty miraculous.”

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