United Nations Sets a New Agenda for Global Philanthropy

We thought our library audience might be interested in the United Nations Millennium Development Goals and how they impact global philanthropy. The International Federation of Library Associations (IFLA) has made it a priority to “ensure that the new UN Sustainable Goals recognize the importance of access to information for development, and that libraries are able to play a key role in implementing the goals” (read the full report here).  Throughout 2014, IFLA was active in the UN Open Working Group on Sustainable Development Goals and released a call for action, the Lyon Declaration on Access to Information and Development, urging UN Member States to commit to information access. This post originally appeared on the TechSoup blog

Chart of the 17 goals. 1: No Poverty; 2: No Hunger; 3: Good Health; 4: Quality Education; 5: Gender Equality; etc.

Now that the United Nations Millennium Development Goals have expired and in some ways, have succeeded surprisingly well, the UN has developed a new set of even more ambitious goals. These new UN Sustainable Development Goals are the de facto agenda for global philanthropy, and they have a new dimension: technology targets to enable implementation.

Governments, foundations, and charities learned a good deal from working to implement the previous UN goals. Lack of infrastructure and weak political will in various countries hampered progress. That may be why technology (for example, rapid mobile phone adoption worldwide) may be so important for realizing the new goals. I'll say more about that below.

The Huge Progress We've Made So Far

The previous UN Millennium Development Goals addressed eradicating poverty and hunger, combatting diseases, promoting maternal and childhood health, increasing primary education, and sustaining the environment. There were eight goals. Some big achievements were

  • Cutting extreme poverty by more than half. In 1990, 1.9 billion people lived on less than $1.25 a day — that number dropped to 836 million in 2015.
  • Increasing primary school education rates — although the full goal wasn't reached.
  • Inspiring a huge increase in private and social sector investments in health, especially vaccines, immunization, and HIV/AIDS treatment. Malaria-related mortality has dropped by approximately 25 percent since 2000.

Setting Targets for the Next 15 Years

The Sustainable Development Goals follow and expand on the previous Millennium Development Goals. Six of the goals aim at eradicating extreme poverty, improving human health and sanitation, and boosting education and gender equality. The remaining 11 goals bear upon improving infrastructure, social equality, and environmental sustainability. Find the full list of new goals in the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

While the UN is still developing specific metrics for the goals, The Economist has already described the goals as "ambitions on a Biblical scale." Specific metrics are expected to be finalized in March 2016.

The Technology Dimension

In 2012, UN Secretary General Ban-Ki Moon launched the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) to mobilize global scientific and technological expertise. This new agency promotes practical problem solving for sustainable development.

Technology is a vehicle for progress on goals as diverse as

  • ending poverty
  • ending hunger
  • ensuring access to education
  • achieving gender equality
  • increasing renewable energy
  • meeting other infrastructure goals

In fact, by 2017, the aim is to "fully operationalize" a technology and innovation capacity-building mechanism for least developed countries, "in particular information and communications technology." Getting enabling technologies in place is sensibly one of the nearest term objectives of the new goals.

The UN Foundation View on Technology

Carolyn Florey, senior health manager at United Nations Foundation, sees technology as a key enabler for the new sustainability goals.

"The effective utilization of technology — from mobile phones to broadband Internet to sensors — will be a key determinant in how, when, and if the Sustainable Development Goals are achieved. While technology is just one tool for implementers, government and donors agencies to use, its application across sectors — from agriculture and health to governance and education — makes it multi-purpose, thereby amplifying its impact."

She cautions, however, that technology is not one size fits all: "Of critical importance, however, is not just putting enabling technologies in place but putting the most appropriate, locally relevant types of technology in the hands of those who need it. What works in Mali may not work in Myanmar. What technology women have access to in Beijing is vastly different than what women can access in Bihar. What people can afford in Johannesburg may be too expensive for those in Jakarta. Understanding local context is the first step. Teaching people how to use and enhance their day-to-day activities through the use of technology is the next. Only then will technology be transformative and help us meet our new goals."

As we take on the new and ambitious agenda for global philanthropy, it's all about location, location, location.


Image: United Nations and Project Everyone / CC BY-SA

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