At a time of exponential pace of digital transformation across our planet, persistent digital divides among and within countries stand in the way of widespread SDG progress. Managing digital risks and digital harms and leveraging the potential of technologies requires investing in inclusive and accessible digital infrastructure to ensure meaningful connectivity for all. The lack of financial resources constitutes a tremendous barrier for countries in the developing world to invest in digitalisation efforts, hindering their ability to build relevant capacity, services and infrastructures. Our Common Agenda proposes a Global Digital Compact to be agreed at the Summit of the Future in September 2024 that would set out principles, objectives, and actions to advance an open, free, secure and human-centred digital future, one that is anchored in universal human rights and enables the attainment of the SDGs.
The integration of digital in economies and societies has the potential to accelerate progress towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. From service delivery to finance, human-centric digital transformations are key to building more inclusive, effective, and transparent solutions across sectors. The digital economy can enable structural transformations toward gender-equal, greener, inclusive, and resilient socio-economic growth. Digital connectivity and strong digital public infrastructure have increased countries’ resilience to shocks and crises—especially for the COVID-19 response and recovery.
While much remains to be done to improve their carbon footprint, digital solutions are also closing the energy access gap, which affects some 759 million people—the vast majority of whom live in Sub-Saharan Africa, such as by bringing together satellite imagery and other mapping datasets to help investors and Governments invest where energy needs are the greatest.
As digitalisation facilitates economic and social activities from a distance, e-commerce also surges with them, with potentially long-lasting effects. Wide gaps in digital readiness are emerging. These gaps sometimes exacerbate existing inequalities for the most vulnerable. In low-income countries, 70 per cent of households are not yet covered by fixed broadband networks, 33 per cent are out of reach of mobile internet (4G), and 234 million fewer women than men use mobile internet. New challenges related to cybercrime, misinformation, discrimination and biases in algorithms, violations of data privacy and digital rights, and data misuse, to name just a few, continue to be worrying issues. At the same time, digital transformation is introducing new challenges to sovereignty, privacy, and other human rights.
The Fund recognises the potential for UN joint action in enhancing digital cooperation and catalysing digital transformations, especially in regions that have been left behind to address the digital divide. The offerings of the Fund centre on government systems transformation, digital finance and payment systems, e-commerce, market access, trade enablement, and digital for the planet. All are rooted in cross-cutting drivers to ensure equitable global connectivity and digital inclusion in underserved areas, the upholding and defence of human rights in the digital space, and the availability of digital public goods.
Steered by the UN Resident Coordinator in Chile, together with FAO, ILO, and UNDP, the largest and most comprehensive digital ecosystem for the elderly was adopted by national legislation and includes a community app to connect persons aged 60+ with public services; a digital national community for caregivers which is a support network for training and selfcare of caregivers of children and persons with disability; and free online courses and tools to train workers of public and private institutions that work with and assist older persons.
Most joint programmes of the Fund include an element of digitalisation of processes that allow for more efficient and less-error-prone delivery of public services. In Ecuador, the UN Country Team, led by the UN Resident Coordinator, created a national digital platform to collect information on young people in informal labour and offer services to promote decent work and the extension of social protection. The platform’s creation relied on the participation of young people partnered with academic institutions to implement training and vocational programs on soft, digital and entrepreneurship skills, as well as on STEM, care services and the Start Your Business Idea programme.
Digitalisation of traditional cash transfer mechanisms in Nigeria is improving the confidentiality for those receiving benefits while facilitating social officers’ tasks in handling complaints through a digitised Complaints Feedback Mechanism tool which drastically reduces paper to collect and process data.
Samoa, Niue, Cook Islands & Tokelau
In Samoa, the UN supported Digital Data System Training for people living with disabilities to access and understand digital data systems. Such knowledge transfer has been instrumental in providing better-targeted support to vulnerable populations in Niue, Cook Islands, and Tokelau.
In Costa Rica, tech solutions designed and implemented for women artisans and entrepreneurs living in poverty and socioeconomic vulnerability enabled a new e-commerce platform. While developing personal, business, and digital literacy skills, the platform enabled women to sell directly to consumers throughout the COVID-19 pandemic contributing directly to the empowerment and economic autonomy of women in vulnerable conditions.
The Joint SDG Fund's joint programmes are under the prestige leadership of the Resident Coordinator Office and implementing United Nations Agencies. With sincere appreciation for the contributions from the European Union and Governments of Denmark, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and our private sector funding partners, for a transformative movement towards achieving the SDGs by 2030.