5 ways digital public goods are powering the Global Goals

September 20, 2022

From delivering health and education services to connecting displaced persons with humanitarian aid, digital public goods are critical to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

The COVID-19 pandemic and other global crises have set back progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). And for two years in a row, the world has lost ground on human development, according to the latest Human Development Report.

To make up this lost ground and supercharge progress towards achieving the SDGs by the target date of 2030 – a mere eight years from now – the world needs powerful tools and strategies for transformation. And as nations strive towards the SDGs, attention now coalesces on digital public infrastructure (DPI). With digital public goods (DPG) as its foundation, DPI can deliver a generational leap in societal development.

In 2021, UNDP became a co-host of the Digital Public Goods Alliance, stewarding the global community towards forming the digital infrastructure that delivers whole-of-society benefits. Building inclusive digital public infrastructure can boost progress on multiple SDGs, including reducing poverty, improving governance and building climate resilience.

Here are five ways digital public goods are powering progress on the Global Goals.

1. Winning against COVID (Goal 3)

The COVID-19 Vaccine Intelligence Network (CoWIN) is the digital backbone of India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive – one of the world’s largest. The open and inclusive platform aims for universal vaccination and enables monitoring of vaccine utilization, coverage and wastage throughout the system. CoWIN has achieved great results, facilitating the delivery of 1.3 billion vaccinations in under a year across 327,000 centres serviced by over 1 million healthcare workers. Plans are underway for CoWIN to become an accredited DPG

On the opposite side of the globe, Jamaica has  implemented a pair of digital public goods in its COVID-19 recovery programme: CommCare facilitates real-time monitoring of vaccine delivery and distribution, while DIVOC provides digitally accessible vaccine certificates. The success of these DPGs in other countries provided experiential learnings that facilitated their effective adoption.


2. Delivering services to people on the move (Goal 16)

Ukraine’s ability to continue providing social protection and other critical services despite the ongoing war demonstrates the power of safe, inclusive and secure DPI. A comprehensive system of online services developed before the war is now providing Ukrainians a lifeline in times of crisis. Known as Diia (meaning “Action”), the fully automated service allows citizens to use digital documents in their smartphones and access more than 80 governmental services.

The Diia platform was also developed to enable the Government to reach its citizens in the most remote areas of the country, and those with disabilities, helping to ensure that no one is left behind.

In addition, the internally displaced persons registry service is working to eliminate duplication of financial assistance and allow humanitarian organizations to support the greatest possible number of people in need. It uses a digital public good called OpenG2P that was created by the Government of Sierra Leone with local open source innovators and UNDP during the Ebola crisis.


3. Dismantling barriers to trade (Goal 8)

The benefits of DPI in promoting inclusion and safeguards is also evident with the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), an African Union initiative to enhance trade among its 54 member countries. Supportive digital infrastructure will be critical to the success of the endeavour in strengthening livelihoods, enabling small and medium enterprises, women and youth-led businesses to access the massive continental market of 1.3 billion people. Digital public goods also offer the potential for African countries to co-create common standards and principles to enable secure payments and data exchanges.


4. Climate-proofing agriculture (Goals 2 and 13)

Using inputs crowdsourced from hundreds of data scientists and citizen scientists, the Data in Climate Resilient Agriculture (DiCRA) platform facilitates analysis and insight sharing on climate resilience in India’s Telangana State. Powered by artificial intelligence, DiCRA uses remote sensing and pattern detection algorithms, to identify farms that are highly vulnerable to climate change as well as those that demonstrate resilience.

“The DiCRA platform will put vital data and analytics into the hands of farmers in India, enabling them to mitigate the effects of climate change on their crops and livestock – boosting the resilience of their livelihoods and wider food security,” UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner said.

By listing it on the Digital Public Goods Registry, India has made DiCRA available to people everywhere, promoting global cooperation to strengthen food systems in the face of the climate emergency.


5. Setting the record straight (Goal 16)

Information pollution is an urgent global challenge that undermines social cohesion and trust in democratic processes and institutions. UNDP’s iVerify tool was recently added to the DPG Registry of the Digital Public Goods Alliance as its first digital public good on fighting misinformation. iVerify is an automated fact-checking tool to combat the spread of false narratives during elections. Under the leadership of government and civil society partners, the tool has been used to support peaceful and fair elections in Zambia and Honduras and is now under implementation in Kenya and Liberia.


Do no harm, by design

While DPI and other digital systems can unlock immense value, they can also expose people to risks such as privacy violations, data-driven behavioural manipulation, identity theft and fraud. Without careful attention to inclusiveness, digitalization can even exacerbate inequalities by blocking vulnerable groups from accessing essential public services.

UNDP is committed to putting human rights and inclusion at the centre of digital transformation and digital cooperation. Guided by the principle of ‘do no harm’, the Digital Public Goods Alliance promotes only those digital initiatives that adhere to privacy and other applicable laws and best practices to mitigate risks, by design, and contribute to a more equitable world.


At the 77th Session of the UN General Assembly, world leaders alongside members of the private sector and civil society will convene on 21 September for a side-event titled: ‘The Future of Digital Cooperation: Building Resilience through Safe, Trusted, and Inclusive Digital Public Infrastructure’. The event will map out a bold, inclusive and innovative digital cooperation agenda to put the rights of people at the centre of digital public infrastructure, and garner the technological and financial contributions needed to move it forward. Join the event online.