A young woman smiles while typing on a mobile phone.
The same technology that allows us to stay in touch with family and friends can also be a powerful tool for sustainable development. Photo: iHub


When I started working and living abroad, staying connected to family and friends back home in Kenya was important. The mobile phone has been instrumental in facilitating this communication, and more recently mobile money has greatly enhanced the ability to stay connected and give back to my community. This experience has contributed to the confidence I have on the vital role, potential and power of mobile technology for sustainable development.

UNDP’s new Strategic Plan calls for bolder innovation to respond to the new and emerging needs of Member States. One way we’re doing that is by exploring the possibilities of new technologies as well as new ways of using existing technology to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

Advances in digital and mobile technologies have expanded financial inclusion. Mobile money provides easy and convenient means to transfer cash within and across nations, enabling direct cash transfer to the intended recipient, at any time of the day or night, without requiring a bank account or even the ability to read or write. For many in the diaspora, a ready means to conveniently give back to family and friends back home is priceless.

Mobile phone technology has already transformed societies around the globe, reaching across geographies, income levels and cultures - helping to empower women, create jobs, spur financial independence, improve education, boost agriculture production, and promote better health. Mobile phones have enabled communities to monitor elections, hold governments accountable, and save lives in natural disasters – all of which contributes toward progress on the SDGs.

Achieving the SDGs demands new technologies, innovations, and data collection that can integrate and complement traditional statistics. A driving force behind this data revolution is mobile technology. To tap into this potential, UNDP is partnering with GSMA Foundation, with support from the British Government and the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA), to promote business solutions for the SDGs, by working with the mobile industry.
 

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UNDP is working with the Government of Ghana, GSMA and other partners to support digital transformation. Photo: UNDP Ghana


This partnership is pioneering multi-stakeholder collaboration for sustainability through ‘national dialogues for digital transformation’ that convene government and mobile industry leadership to jointly identify solutions for national development priorities and leverage resources and innovation for sustainable development.

So far, the national dialogues have been initiated in Ghana and Bangladesh.

The Ghana  mobile-enabled digital transformation dialogue was held in October 2017. A communiqué was signed between industry leaders, the Government of Ghana, UNDP and DFID, agreeing to, among other things:

  • Coordinate and support efforts from the Government of Ghana, mobile operators and the GSMA, to facilitate the development of an enabling social, business and policy environment for digital transformation in Ghana.
  • Continue to explore the potential of mobile usage and social impact across sectors such as inclusive financial services, agriculture, gender equity, energy, water and digital identity, dependent on strategic priorities.

A joint UNDP/UNCDF digital transformation programme on access to finance with a focus on youth and women is under development.

In Bangladesh, the digital transformation dialogue was held in January 2018, and follow-up action is ongoing to define a joint action plan that identifies affordable commercially viable mobile solutions that use innovative technologies such as, drones for field monitoring, sensors for soil monitoring and water management to end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture. .

This year, GSMA has committed continued support to agreed actions from the Ghana and Bangladesh dialogues as well as to expand to new markets in Uganda and one country in Asia. This initiative is enhancing collaboration between government, the mobile industry, UNDP and other development partners to co-design mobile solutions with positive impact on the SDGs.

In my personal life, I have witnessed how mobile technology can help avail opportunities for women, young people and vulnerable groups.  It is a pleasure to be working with UNDP and our partners to harness this power in support of sustainable development on a global scale.

About the author
Lucy Wanjiru is a partnerships Specialist with the Strategy and Innovation Unit, Bureau of External Relations and Advocacy, UNDP. Follow her on Twitter: @wanjirua
 

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