Transformative technology to leave no one behind

March 20, 2018


Among the most important changes facing large organizations like UNDP is the need to manage ever-increasing amounts of data to run operations, improve efficiency and decision-making.

In Mali, where I recently completed a 3-year assignment as Deputy Country Director for Operations, I saw firsthand how transformative technology can be. Mali is a vast country of 1.2 million square miles where our work is fraught with security and logistical challenges.

As necessity is the mother of invention, the Regional Bureau for Africa (RBA) developers put their minds together to design software that would facilitate the running of daily operations. A couple of years ago they started working on the Africa Productivity Software Suite, a set of innovative tools that has had a huge impact on our operational capacities.

They started with STREAM, a business intelligence that provides RBA managers information about the status of programme performance, key country office metrics and trends. A popular resource among our staff, STREAM is now available to all UNDP Regional Bureaus.

To address the risks of operating in often volatile environments with a network of remote sub-offices, they created IRIS, a web-based system that provides real time and 24/7 information on operations and staff location thanks to its GPS feature. Linked to UNDP’s human resources and procurement system, IRIS also allows for real-time physical asset inventory from mobile phone with QR code identification.

Our developers also launched One-Pay, a broadband free mobile application that ensures the seamless management of funds in areas where banking structures are non-existent, a constant among countries in post-conflict or transition situations. The app also limits the risk of fraud and facilitates the handling of cash by UNDP staff.

Teaming with up with NASA and UNDP’s Office of Information Management and Technology (OIMT), we recently started implementing One-Eye, one of our most ambitious projects yet, in 10 countries across 120 sites. One-Eye is a satellite imagery system that helps conduct remote monitoring and evaluation of project sites and can rely on drones to carry out project monitoring through georeferenced aerial mapping.

Beyond the appeal of high-tech gadgetry, these tools matter because they allow us to work in a seamless and agile way. They help ensure our accountability with donors as they help them stay informed about how, when and where their funds are spent.

The new Strategic Plan  emphasizes the need to leverage our technical know-how as data will be key to help the countries we serve realize the Sustainable Development Goals. Whether it’s in the area of governance, resource mobilization, poverty reduction, environment protection, emergency relief or post-disaster recovery, the potential fields of application are seemingly endless.

As I was returning from a recent field mission to Timbuktu, I thought about the city’s Sankore University, a major centre of learning for more 25,000 students during the 14th and 15th centuries. Back then and as now, the power of knowledge and information to improve people’s lives was a reality.

"Whether it’s inequality or whether it’s [the] ability to reach people to leave no one behind, I view science and technology as integral to expanding both the capacity and the efficacy of our work," UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said at a recent event on SDGs in Action.

I could not agree more. I see these tools as harbingers of UNDP’s transformation into a full-fledged digital platform organization that can deliver our signature solutions. Their potential is quite promising — the sky is quite literally the limit.