The international community will usher in a new era of global development when it meets to finalize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in September this year. The United Nations Financing for Development conference held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, this week, discussed the financial and policy investments necessary to support the ambitious post-2015 agenda which, in its current draft, includes targets such as global gender equality, universal access to child education and ending global poverty by 2030.
Information and communication technologies (ICTs) are cross-cutting and catalytic enablers for all three pillars of sustainable development, and intrinsic to sustainable financial development; their ubiquity in today’s society makes them powerful drivers of economic growth and development.
The potential for innovative mechanisms and processes that harness ICTs as a means of implementing financing and sustainable development solutions is infinite. This is illustrated by the ICT innovations in mobile banking developed in Africa – by Africans for Africans, but as an example to be shared with the world. Excluded from finance opportunities under traditional systems, digital financial inclusion driven by mobile money initiatives has the capacity to support full employment, poverty eradication, price stability and sustainable fiscal balances to ensure that the benefits of growth reach all people, especially the poor. At the same time, microfinance and credit is crucial for micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises, especially in rural areas and particularly for women. Further support by multilateral financial institutions could provide further assistance for all of these purposes.
However, uneven access to and affordability of ICTs has resulted in a ‘digital divide’ between developed and developing countries, and remains a key barrier to global development. Though Internet access is increasing year-on-year around the world, 75 per cent of the population from developing countries (4 billion people) remain offline, compared to 15 per cent (0.2 billion) in developed countries. Additionally, we face a pervasive gender gap; 200 million fewer women have access to the internet than men and this is forecast to grow to more than 350 million next year. Altogether, these ‘gaps’ have negative ramifications for society and the economy as a whole.
Recent studies have indicated that by connecting everyone in the developing countries at the same levels as in developed countries, we could create 140 million jobs and lift 160 million people out of poverty. For every 10 per cent increase in broadband network penetration in the country, the World Bank estimates GDP growth of approximately 1.8 per cent. And this doesn’t include the benefits of increased social inclusion and environmental sustainability that these networks enable. In order for ICTs to fulfil this transformational role, we must continue to support infrastructure and capacity building initiatives that bring greater Internet access so that the benefits of ICTs can be extended worldwide and contribute to sustainable development efforts.
Making ICT universally available can deliver important interweaving synergies across different sectors: supporting and encouraging participation in STEM programmes, and ensuring equal access for women and girls in technology training can dramatically boost gender equality (Goal 5); technology development in the agricultural sector can increase productivity and thereby enhance food security (Goal 2); and ICTs can support digital birth registration promoting universal birth registration by 2030 (Target 16.9). Therefore, ICTs can and must be used as a means of implementation for all 17 proposed SDGs and the majority of the targets.
As we move towards September, we face a unique opportunity to bring together all three pillars of sustainable development and strengthen the people-centered Information Society that we are so dependent upon. We must not let this chance pass us by.
In an interview for ITU from the Third International Conference on Financing for Development in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Gary Fowlie talks about financing for development and why ICTs are essential to achieve the post-2015 Sustainable Development agenda. Alternatively, you can listen to the podcast here.