Since 2000 the United Nations spearheaded a global partnership with the goal of reducing poverty and setting targets to be achieved by 2015. These targets are the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) which represent a partnership between developed and developing countries. This partnership is recognized by the contribution that developed countries make through trade, development assistance, debt relief, and technology transfer. As the deadline for the MDGs approaches, the international community has begun looking beyond 2015 and is now defining the goals and strategies that will follow the MDGs. In this blog I will attempt to show how Information and communications technology (ICT) is contributing to the achievement of the MDGs and how it is going to continue to be part of the overall strategy beyond 2015.
MDG Goal number 8, Develop a global partnership for development in its Target 8F says: In cooperation with the private sector, make available benefits of new technologies, especially information and communications. The Internet Telecommunications Union (ITU) is measuring Target 8F monitoring the 3 indicators that were identified to track this goal:
8.14: fixed-telephone subscriptions per 100 inhabitants,
8.15: mobile-cellular subscriptions per 100 inhabitants,
8.16: Internet users per 100 inhabitants.
In this way, the ITU produces the data that the United Nations uses to measure the achievement of this MDG, particularly for Goal 8 and the three points listed above. So how are these indicators doing?
Clearly the technology that is making the biggest impact is mobile technology. This is not surprising to anybody in the telecommunication industry. As technology evolves and more countries get access to it, the need for legacy networks becomes less appealing for governments and private investors. India, for example, has exceeded mobile reach in urban areas and is now expanding the network to rural zones creating more business, and at the same time, meaningful social change. In India Personal Computer (PC) penetration is low. Computers and the internet are services mostly offered and consumed in urban areas. The mobile phone offers the best form of communication for the common man especially in rural areas. A study called “Mobile Value Added Services (MVAS) – A vehicle to usher in inclusive growth and bridge the digital divide” released by Deloitte and ASSOCHAM in January 2011 presents a very detailed research of how mobile value added services (MVAS) can be utilized to deliver services that will advance social development. This study calls these services Utility MVAS and divides them into three kinds of services:
- Information based services which usually involve one-way dissemination of information such as epidemic alerts, disaster management updates, etc.
- Application based services which have a level of interactivity, and require the consumer to play an active role such as checking the status of payments, Interactive Voice Response (IVR) based language training services, etc.
- Enablement services which include services forming a close substitute of those provided by a physical infrastructure, such as banks or schools. These services usually involve transactions such as person-to-person payments, travel reservations etc.
Utility mobile applications broadly expands business opportunities while digitally m-powering citizens by providing efficient access to essential information and services and fostering inclusive growth
India is just one example. How will Information and communications technology (ICT) be present in the United Nations Development strategy Beyond 2015? Two documents published in June 2012 caught my attention. These documents are the “Realizing the future we want for all: Report to the Secretary-General” and the “The United Nations Development Strategy Beyond 2015”.
The Report to the Secretary General highlights access to knowledge as one of the challenges to which the post-2015 UN development agenda should respond. ICT has greatly contributed to the creation, transmission and dissemination of information on a global scale. Nevertheless, the technology gap remains present in many developing countries. Seventy four per cent of inhabitants of developed countries are internet users, compared with only twenty six per cent of inhabitants in developing countries. The report acknowledges that ICT is essential to bring information and therefore knowledge that will be critical to the achievement of the post MDG goals.
The second document lays out the strategy for the goals beyond 2015. These goals should be applicable universally and address problems of poverty, equity, sustainability and security in the industrialized as well as developing countries. With these more inclusive goals, the document identifies the need to design a new unified “pro-poor, pro-growth, and pro-environment” paradigm and the key issue of identifying the growth drivers at different levels of development. Investing in physical infrastructure for communications is identified as a measure for lower-middle income countries to foster industrialization.
Although the strategy for beyond 2015 seems to be looking beyond eliminating poverty and begins discussing growth, the fact is that achieving equality is, and it should continue to be, the main objective of the international consensus. It is interesting to see how public opinion has responded to the goals beyond 2015. The report from March 2013 from the My World website shows that health, education, water and food security continue to be top priorities, making the MDGs very relevant for the agenda beyond 2015. The same report shows that access to phone and Internet is not perceived as highly important compared with the other much more urgent issues in the survey. This is neither surprising nor reproachable. My position remains that communications technologies have demonstrated to be an accelerator of social and economic change and it should be considered in the development of the goals and strategies for success beyond 2015.
Do you think ICT should be a clearly defined goal beyond 2015 or should it be a cross-sectoral strategy integrated across all goals?