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Now that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals have expired and in some ways, have succeeded surprisingly well, the UN has developed a new set of even more ambitious goals. These new UN Sustainable Development Goals are the de facto agenda for global philanthropy, and they have a new dimension: technology targets to enable implementation.
Governments, foundations, and charities learned a good deal from working to implement the previous UN goals. Lack of infrastructure and weak political will in various countries hampered progress. That may be why technology (for example, rapid mobile phone adoption worldwide) may be so important for realizing the new goals. I'll say more about that below.
The previous UN Millennium Development Goals addressed eradicating poverty and hunger, combatting diseases, promoting maternal and childhood health, increasing primary education, and sustaining the environment. There were eight goals. Some big achievements were
The Sustainable Development Goals follow and expand on the previous Millennium Development Goals. Six of the goals aim at eradicating extreme poverty, improving human health and sanitation, and boosting education and gender equality. The remaining 11 goals bear upon improving infrastructure, social equality, and environmental sustainability. Find the full list of new goals in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
While the UN is still developing specific metrics for the goals, The Economist has already described the goals as "ambitions on a Biblical scale." Specific metrics are expected to be finalized in March 2016.
In 2012, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon launched the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) to mobilize global scientific and technological expertise. This new agency promotes practical problem solving for sustainable development.
Technology is a vehicle for progress on goals as diverse as
In fact, by 2017, the aim is to "fully operationalize" a technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries, "in particular information and communications technology." Getting enabling technologies in place is sensibly one of the nearest term objectives of the new goals.
Carolyn Florey, senior health manager at United Nations Foundation, sees technology as a key enabler for the new sustainability goals.
"The effective utilization of technology — from mobile phones to broadband Internet to sensors — will be a key determinant in how, when, and if the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved. While technology is just one tool for implementers, government and donors agencies to use, its application across sectors — from agriculture and health to governance and education — makes it multi-purpose, thereby amplifying its impact."
She cautions, however, that technology is not one size fits all: "Of critical importance, however, is not just putting enabling technologies in place but putting the most appropriate, locally relevant types of technology in the hands of those who need it. What works in Mali may not work in Myanmar. What technology women have access to in Beijing is vastly different than what women can access in Bihar. What people can afford in Johannesburg may be too expensive for those in Jakarta. Understanding local context is the first step. Teaching people how to use and enhance their day-to-day activities through the use of technology is the next. Only then will technology be transformative and help us meet our new goals."
As we take on the new and ambitious agenda for global philanthropy, it's all about location, location, location.
Image: United Nations and Project Everyone / CC BY-SA
TechSoup has a forum branch called "Public Computing, ICT4D, and Tech4Good," and discussions are going there about how computer and handheld technologies, software, etc. are being used to address poverty, hunger, women's safety, and challenges caused by disaster, as well as contributing to access to education, achieving gender equality, and more. We tag things with #tech4good, #apps4good, and more. forums.techsoup.org/.../16.aspx