The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the power of digitalization. Digital technology and innovation could provide opportunities and value to those who are furthest behind and contribute to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially addressing poverty and inequality.

At the SDGs Global Festival of Action session from Japan, which was held on 25-26 March 2021, panelists invited by UNDP and UNIDO pointed to the potential of technologies such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrency, virtual reality, and the Internet of Things to advance and accelerate the realization of the SDGs. Technological advancements may also trigger new challenges, as they can create further inequality, deepening the exclusion of the 3.5 billion people who still do not have access to the internet today.

Some innovations are trying to bridge this gap, such as the TUMIQUI Smart Kit business model in Senegal. The “smart kit”, which combines solar energy and internet functions, requires no installation and can be carried anywhere, allows anyone to easily charge their phone or computer, and to connect to the internet, explained Sucrecube Japan Inc. CEO, Koichi Sato, who is behind this innovation. Such innovation uses renewable energy and opens new opportunities for digital education, technology transfer, and women’s empowerment through increased economic access, therefore contributing to the SDGs.

“In the future we hope to promote digitalization in the agricultural and health sectors by providing people with equipment that enable them to use high-speed communication and electrical infrastructure in rural areas in Senegal. Also, many young people are unemployed, and we hope we will help create job opportunities through our partnership in Senegal,” said Sato.

Ada Osakwe, founder of Nuli and Agrolay, a Lagos-based principal investment firm that grants capital to early-stage companies with the potential to transform ecosystems noted that her first exposure to the power of digital technologies was in 2012. At the time she was working with the Ministry of Agriculture in Nigeria to ensure that 1.5 million farmers received their government subsidies for fertilizers via mobile technology. “The Nigerian government saved US$ 156 million that year thanks to the use of mobile phones. Being able to use mobile technologies to directly reach remote areas in Nigeria was critical in achieving our objective of transforming lives, specifically of those marginalised.”

Through her work Osakwe has seen the value of using data and smart technology to transform agriculture in Nigeria. For example, drones using geo-tracking to identify where specific crops should be planted, while remote censoring technology is used to ensure irrigation and fertilizers are applied correctly, can lead to higher productivity and increased crop yields.

Co-founder of TechShelta, an agricultural solutions technology company based in Ghana, Gifty Mintaa Quarshie said that climate change, unemployment, poverty and hunger have become rampant in Ghana. “In 2018, my co-founders and I identified that 70 per cent of greenhouse farmers were unable to produce expected yields due to challenges such as knowledge gaps or lack of markets and support. Greenhouses are supposed to help with food security through all-year production but unfortunately our greenhouse farmers were failing.”

TechShelta started assisting greenhouse farmers with advice and solutions to ensure greater efficiency, crop yields and profits. Their web-based application offers on-demand advisory services on automation, training and market linkages. Quarshie’s passion for solving challenges is directly linked to ensuring the sustainability of the environment, economic viability and human dignity, while empowering the youth and women in Ghana.

“Technology on its own will not solve the challenges we face,” emphasized Ryan Takeshita who was moderating the session. “However, communities, NGOs, governments and entrepreneurs, working together in using technology, could help find solutions to our problems.”

Capitalizing on the lessons shared through this event, UNDP envisages the following actions to accelerate SDGs:

  • Continue to advocate for the use of digital transformation and innovation to amplify opportunities and value of services to benefit the “furthest behind”.
  • Engage multi-sectoral stakeholders including government, NGOs, private sector, entrepreneurs, academia, and end-users to identify and discuss the best ways to apply digital technology to achieve the SDGs.
  • Continue to provide programmatic support for scaling-up innovative approaches and to partner with various development actors, financial institutions, and private sector to amplify the impact of digital transformation.
  • Utilize TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) which UNDP co-organizes with the Government of Japan to continuously place digital transformation as a central enabler for Africa beyond recovery, facilitate multi-sectoral engagement and partnership to advance it utilizing the expertise and network of UNDP.
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