In September 2015, 193 countries were signatories to the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – the most ambitious global agenda ever formalized for the social, economic and environmental improvement of the world. The 17 SDGs envision a world without poverty or hunger, in which high-quality healthcare and education are available to all, where gender inequalities have been abolished, where economic growth does not harm the environment and where peace and freedom reign all over the world. For the first time in the global development agenda, the SDGs are meant to be universally applicable to all countries in the world, and articulate ambitious, 100 percent eradication targets, like zero hunger by 2030.
Far from the goals, despite optimism
GeSi and Accenture’s report “How Digital Solutions Will Drive Progress Towards The Sustainable Development Goals “ reveals how substantial gaps towards meeting the goals exist in all countries.
Developed countries need to focus on finding a model for economic growth respectful of environment and sustainable both from a productive capability and consumption habits perspective. They also fall short on several “social” Sustainable Development Goals such as education and gender equality.
Expectedly, GeSI’s analysis shows that the largest advances need to be made in the least developed countries. The need for action is urgent on poverty, hunger and health but they also require major investment’s efforts in digital infrastructure and to boost their growth rates in as equitable a way as possible.
The conclusion of this crucial report is severe: “taken together, the world is so far from achieving the SDGs that making only incremental gains to “business as usual” will not be anywhere near enough to achieve the SDGs in 15 years”. Arguably the most critical piece of the puzzle is the earth’s changing climate, which, if our actions go unmitigated, threatens to dismantle the progress that’s been made toward reaching the SDGs.
COP22 A Focus on Climate
The Paris Agremeent, came only a few months after the SDGs, and was signed in France December 2015 by 195 countries. Next week (Nov 7-16), global leaders will gather in Marrakech, Morocco for the Cop22, a follow up to the COP21 held in Paris last year. The United Nations Climate Change Conferences are held yearly in the framework of the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). The goal of the meeting is to gather signatory members together to work toward reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fight climate change. Certain countries, are going to be more vulnerable to the effects of climate change, all of which are developing countries. These are also the countries that have the lowest levels of mobile connectivity.
How the Digital Divide is Impacting SDG Progress
A fact : ICT can drive Transformational Change.
GeSi’s report highlights the key to achieve SDG’s: “We need urgent, transformational change – and digital solutions will be central to delivering it”
Social progress is too slow for too many people, current unbridled growth is unsustainable, driving dangerous average global temperature rises. Humanity needs nothing less than exponential development to meet these challenges – development that puts people at its heart and protects our planet – development that is collaborative, innovative, and precisely designed to address our most pressing issues. This is where digital solutions and the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector come in.
There is a need for speed and impact if the world wants to meet the ambitious Sustainable Development Goals in 2030 as established. Be-Bound is in agreement with GeSI, convinced that digital solutions hold the key: not only can they potentially diffuse extremely quickly across all aspects of economy and society but they are enabling new business models driving innovation, quality of life improvements and growth in a wide range of sectors.
In fact, the report outlines how ICT positively contributes to achieving each of the 17 SDGs, with mobile playing a starring role. Mobile gives us the ability to swiftly and accurately improve health outcomes, prevent and respond to crisis, and improve data analysis. These outcomes are just some of many, that prove how mobile can potentially bring us closer to a world with reduced inequalities, and responsible consumption and production. Mobile gets us closer to achieving the SDGs, but in order to do so, the world needs to break through the barrier of the digital divide.
As we look at the dismal prospect of incremental gains, we must act on the knowledge that connectivity is key to enabling the achievement of the Global Goals. Developing countries, while being the regions most threatened by climate change, are also those most affected by the issues that the SDGs address. At a moment in time when developing countries are at the tipping point of rising to new levels of economic prosperity, we cannot stand by and watch their progress undone at the hands of climate change. Mobile is not THE answer, but it is clearly one of the answers, and we would be remiss to not make the jump ahead.
Adoption rate does not necessarily mean the digital divide is being bridged
Worldwide, it is still estimated that there are 4 Billion people without access to internet
As an example of the transformation speed the world needs to achieve many of the SDGs, the GeSi report uses the digital adoption rate in Sub-Saharan Africa; networks already cover 70 per cent of Sub-Saharan Africa, representing an adoption rate increase 23 times higher for mobile networks than for grid electricity.
Be-Bound believes that global adoption rate is not necessary correlated with actual digital development and GeSi figure hides inequalities. The question remains, just how connected the African continent actually is today and whether Africans are well-positioned to take advantage of the connectivity they do have.
According to findings from the 2015 Measuring the Information Society Report, the level of Africa’s connectivity is still very low and highly unequal and, while potential access through mobile-phone subscriptions are higher, as of November 2015, 71.4% of Africa’s population did not have access to the internet.
The continent featured heavily at the lower end of the rankings and a digital gap remains between it and the rest of the world. Moreover, digital divides are found within the countries too and result from differences in the quality of available networks as well as basic connectivity. In many countries, for example, there are substantial differences in telephone and Internet penetration between urban and rural areas, often exacerbated by the lack of broadband capacity in the latter. A significant digital divide persists between men and women in many countries, and there are widespread digital divides between those with more or less income, associated with ICT affordability; with higher or lower educational attainment, particularly associated with the capabilities required for Internet use; and with other factors affecting the inclusion or marginalization of particular social groups, for example persons with disabilities.
If we go back to digital mobile internet, prices of mobile-cellular services, between $5 – $20 per month in most African countries, are extremely high for an average citizen. We are talking about a price range similar to the one observed in the Arab States. As far as mobile-broadband services are concerned, Africa stands out as the most expensive region in the world. Indeed, the average corresponds to more than 15% of the income per capita for handset-based mobile broadband, and about 30% for computer-based mobile broadband.
Africa’s connectivity problems are not unique when it comes to the digital divide worldwide. For example, countries like Bangladesh, India, Brazil, Mexico, are some on a list of many countries facing insufficient infrastructure (the Global Goals are meant to be achieved by 2030, probably the same amount of time it would take to build infrastructure equivalent to what we see in developed countries), and the gender digital divide is global. Every country has an urban rural divide (in the United States the disparity has been called the civil rights issue of its time).
Recognizing these issues, in relation to SDGs, world leaders committed to strive for universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries (LDCs) by 2020. As part of their SDG action plan, the US State Department, along with the backing of the World Bank launched Global Connect, an initiative that aims to bring an additional 1.5 billlion people online by 2020 (#Onlineby2020), largely focusing on broadband access.
Sustainable Development Goals need game changing approaches
To summarize, not only we are far from SDGs but the potential of Digital as Driver and accelerator remains locked in emerging regions since the digital divide persists.
The question we can legitimately raise in Marrakech at the COP22 is whether the rush into the broadband race is actually a winning approach, whether in terms of connectivity and digital inclusion or as a sustainable and environmentally friendly approach. It is legitimate to start thinking about complementary options, based on optimisation of existing infrastructures to unlock the ICT opportunities for the many.
This is the approach Be-Bound has taken. We believe constant and affordable connectivity are key to connect emerging countries to the networks that power modern economy and reinforce democracy and social justice. We believe as well the global digital ecosystem needs to ensure that the digital revolution will be environmentally sustainable.
We have found our way through Frugal Innovation as described by Navi Radjou. Our compression technology enables constant internet connectivity to any smartphone or device regardless of the network available (from 4G and 3G down even to 2G and SMS) and its quality (weak or saturated). We believe our technology combined with local developers talent, can create opportunities of growth and development and speed up a sustainable digitalization in emerging countries.