Tech for the SDGs
New innovation helping people and the planet
Rapid advancements in Internet, mobile, AI, data management and other technologies hold enormous potential to offer solutions to some of the most complex social and environmental problems.
In emerging economies, when applied strategically, the scaling of new technologies has the potential to lift more people out of poverty, improve health and education outcomes and edge countries closer to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.
AI, blockchain, solar panels and battery technology have already laid the foundation for decentralized renewable energy to connect 290 million people without power to low-cost green energy. Fifth generation (5G) mobile networks are expected to be the next big leap in mobile broadband — enabling smart agriculture solutions and increased engagement in both regional and global commerce. However, without increased investment in technology infrastructure and appropriate governance mechanisms, the promise of these and many other technologies will go unrealized for a majority of the world’s poorest people.
Business has an opportunity to increase the scale of the financing and application of technologies to advance the SDGs in 2020 and beyond. This includes partnering with the public sector, NGOs and multilaterals to find creative solutions to financing clean energy and 5G infrastructure, and working with governments to ensure adequate policy and governance mechanisms are in place. Opportunities exist outside of the technology sector, with the benefits of increased technology infrastructure flowing to a broad variety of industries with operations, supply chains and consumer markets in developing regions in Africa, Latin America and Asia.
Signals to Watch
Increasing internet penetration to 75% of the population in all developing countries (from the current level of approximately 35%) would add as much as $2 trillion to their collective GDP and create more than 140 million jobs, according to the World Bank.
A recent study found that existing AI applications across agriculture, energy, transport and water could boost global GDP by 4% by 2030, while at the same time reducing global GHG emissions by 4%.
Lack of quality education is one of the biggest obstacles to upward social mobility, according to UNESCO. Due to higher speed connectivity 5G technology offers the potential for remote learning with lower energy consumption.
A 2019 report found the price of basic renewable energy products, such as solar lanterns and solar water pumps, remains out of reach for millions of the poorest people living in sub-Saharan Africa.
Drone operations are being used and scaled across mining, agriculture and healthcare in more than 23 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. They were first used to deliver blood supplies in Rwanda just three years ago.
“While many analyses point to the world falling short on the SDGs, and we need those crucial alarm bells, we take the glass-half-full view: immense market opportunity remains in every industry and sector. Technology can enable so much of the progress we need. We know where we need to get to, by 2030 and beyond. We expect to see stronger signals of investment in the tools that will get us closer to that future.”
Advice for Business
Technology companies must work with governments to ensure that essential infrastructure, such as 5G and low-cost renewable energy, is prioritized in poor regions.
Non-technology companies need to consider how technology can help widen access to their products and services in underserved markets, as well as the partnerships that are needed to increase access.
Companies should work with governments to ensure that disruptive and innovative technologies are fully utilized, whilst ensuring that societal risks are properly identified and managed.