Digital technologies – from mobile phones, to more emerging innovations leveraging artificial intelligence and other technologies – are having exciting and important impact around the world. They are improving financial inclusion, increasing the effectiveness of government and public service delivery, and providing people with platforms and channels to ensure that their voices are heard. Digital is transforming countries, communities, economies, and societies, and could be a crucial catalyst for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The SDGs, adopted in 2015, are a global call-to-action for people, the planet, prosperity, and for global peace. Despite important progress, an era of polycrisis – including the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and conflict – have pushed many of the SDGs off-track. Progress has slowed, stopped, and even reversed in some areas and contexts. At the mid-point toward the 2030 SDG deadline, focused and urgent efforts are needed to ensure the global community can achieve these essential targets. In this context, digital can play three crucial roles: as a core channel, and platform, for the delivery of vital services; as a tool to deliver data and insights to achieve each of the SDGs, and as a catalyst for wider progress. This includes driving new ways of working, thinking, and financing to deliver the Global Goals.
However, these functions are not guaranteed – and digital technologies are not a panacea. They are also not neutral and need to be applied in an inclusive and considered way. Digital technologies have a powerful multiplier effect, both positive and negative, and so it is vital to ensure that their use minimizes any increase, entrenchment, or exacerbation of inequality, especially as very real gender, location, and broader digital and data divides exist. Intentionally-inclusive approaches to digital development — which place people and the protection of human rights at the centre — are vital in ensuring that the risks of digital transformation are proactively addressed, and that no one is left behind. This includes building and embedding protections to maximize the benefits of digital technologies, whilst also tackling and mitigating associated risks.