Harnessing technologies for sustainable development

Digital payment systems like this prepaid meter to buy electricity in Kenya can make daily life easier.

The digital transformation is taking place at a breath-taking speed. Technological innovations are not only creating new business models and methods of production, they are also radically altering the way people live and work around the world.

For the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the political objective deriving from the German government’s digital agenda (Digitale Agenda 2014-2017) is to mainstream information and communication technologies (ICTs), embedding them in all areas of German development cooperation, with a view to boosting efficiency, transparency and sustainability.

ICTs are a driving force for sustainable development and play a crucial role in the implementation of the 2030 Agenda. The core element of the Agenda is its list of 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Information and communication technologies are explicitly mentioned in the goals for education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), infrastructure, industrialisation and innovation (SDG 9) and global partnerships (SDG 17).

Yet overall, ICTs influence all 17 goals. Their significance is reflected in the Technology Facilitation Mechanism (TFM) launched as part of the 2030 Agenda. The TFM will promote exchanges of information and experience between Member States, UN organisations, civil society, the private sector and the scientific community, with a focus on making systematic use of science, technology and innovation to achieve the 17 goals.

Concrete solutions for regional problems

Kodjo Afate Gnikou is building a 3D printer mostly from electronic waste in Lomé, Togo.

Information and communication technologies can quickly improve the links between societal actors in developing countries. ICTs provide new market-based solutions for numerous sectors and areas of life. For example, in some East African countries, mobile phone users can make direct payments or transfer money without having a conventional bank account. This is an African solution, implemented and further developed by African telecommunications companies. Many thousands of new jobs have been created as a result.

In developing countries, more and more start-ups are being launched with the aim of developing new smartphone applications (apps) and software, or producing important goods using digital technology. Their innovations range from swift on-site manufacturing of 3D-printed prosthetics to battery-powered internet access devices (routers) that work even under the toughest conditions. This is leading to new markets, jobs and novel solutions designed to resolve specific regional problems.

Opportunities for greater participation

A Massai shepherd with a mobile phone: digital technologies create new possibilities in remote areas of the world.

Digital applications are also opening up new ways to bring education to rural areas or to reform health systems. ICTs are also enabling greater participation by marginalised groups – including people with disabilities – thus facilitating the down-to-earth realisation of the overarching principle of the 2030 Agenda: "leave no one behind".

New opportunities are arising in agriculture, too, as smallholders use their mobile phones to obtain weather information and make their plans accordingly. They can have market prices texted to them, so that they are less dependent on intermediaries. Finally, ICTs are also important tools for global climate protection and for attaining the goal of providing sustainable energy for everyone.

ICTs give people the technical means with which to access information, participate in political decision-making processes and become actively engaged. However, governments have to seize these opportunities and embed them in their policies. ICTs help them to organise administrative procedures more effectively and transparently, openly communicate data and information, reduce corruption and collect taxes more efficiently. Not only can digitalisation boost government revenue, it can also improve the relationship between citizens and state. Many countries want to work on crafting such solutions as part of their development cooperation with Germany. In addition, crowdfunding platforms are providing new ways of financing development projects without having to resort to state funding. Pertinent exchanges can be promoted through development cooperation.

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