UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner speaks at the United Nations General Assembly side event "Digital Future for Development" Dialogue. ©UNDP/Sumaya Agha

New York — New digital technologies are emerging and converging faster all the time and offering quicker, smarter solutions to tackle the world’s toughest challenges, United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Administrator Achim Steiner said today.

“From artificial intelligence to drones, mobile money, and blockchain, digital innovations are already helping us address poverty, hunger, climate change, conflict, and disease,” Steiner said. “We need nothing less than to reinvent and reimagine what development looks like in the context of this technological revolution.”

Watch: The Digital Future of Development

“But 49 percent of the world still lacks Internet access, mostly in developing countries, mostly women, and often in countries emerging from conflict. One of our biggest challenges is getting these game-changing technologies into the hands of those who have been left farthest behind.”

Steiner spoke Wednesday to a United Nations General Assembly side event on “The Digital Future of Development,” bringing together a panel of digital innovators: Amani Abou-Zeid, Commissioner, Infrastructure and Energy for the African Union; Rob Nail, CEO and associate founder of Singularity University; Gregory Rockson, CEO and co-founder of  mPharma; Natalie Payida Jabangwe, CEO of EcoCash; and Srinivas Nidugondi, EVP and Chief Operating Officer, Mobile Financial Solutions, at Comviva.

UNDP’s new digital strategy—the first of its kind in the UN system—charts a course to leverage digital innovation both inside the organization and in service lines to countries around the world.

UNDP, with a presence in 170 countries globally, also launched a public online consultation to help identify development challenges and breakthrough digital solutions. Some 360 people from 59 countries have responded so far.

Top challenges they have identified include the pervasive digital divide, carbon emissions, electronic waste, privacy, and security. Top solutions include awareness-raising, access to quality content, citizen engagement, digital literacy, tree-planting drones, and artificial intelligence for agriculture. The online consultation will continue through 2 October 2019.

Digital solutions already under way

UNDP is already working with partners on the ground to deploy digital technologies for development—mapping Mauritius with drones, gauging Philippine citizen feedback with artificial intelligence, and monitoring Mali’s post-crisis recovery with drone photography and satellite imagery.

UNDP has also helped launch mobile payment for rural villages in Fiji and 3D printing of prostheses for disabled youth in Honduras. In Maldives, facing a grave threat from rising sea levels and coastal storms, drones are helping island communities prepare for and respond to disasters.

In Rwanda, UNDP is working with local partners on an experimental project using data and sensors to help farmers predict climate conditions that affect their crops. And in India, in partnership with the GAVI vaccine alliance, UNDP is helping the Government digitize entire vaccine stocks and track their movement.

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