The shelf life on the Millennium Development Goals has nearly expired, and the effort to define the next set of 15-year international development objectives is progressing apace. The new goals, officially labeled Sustainable Development Goals (or SDGs), should be adopted by the UN in September. Though the final list of goals and associated targets are still being crafted – there are currently 17 proposed SDGs covering everything from gender equality to climate change to “resilient cities” – the utility of having a common set of objectives is universally supported. The MDGs helped align agendas and provided a common vocabulary for governments, development organizations, academia, and the private sector.
The proposed SDGs are different than the MDGs in a few important ways. For one, the process of defining them has been more open and inclusive. Much has been made of the “My World 2015″ app that allowed individuals to weigh in on the issues, though it’s unclear how much influence that input had on the process. What is clear, however, is that developing countries had much greater participation in the framing of the new goals. The MDGs were sometimes criticized for their one-directional focus; they were essentially a prescription for poor countries, and developed countries were mostly asked to provide financing and support. The SDGs, with a focus on equality and sustainability, put a far heavier burden on wealthy countries to reduce their own harmful practices (over-consumption, pollution, market demand for scarce natural resources, exclusive or discriminatory economic systems).
With their global focus and expanded scope, it’s likely that the charter for most development organizations will intersect with several SDGs. Access to technology is not one of the 17 proposed goals, but digital tools and services will certainly play a critical role in achieving them. Indeed, it could be said that the rapid spread of digital technologies gave much-needed momentum to many programs during the latter half of MDGs’ 15-year term. Consider, for example, mobile financial services. The ability to transfer cash, save money, buy insurance, and pay for services positively affects many of the proposed SDGs, including sustainable agriculture, better education, gender equality, access to energy, improved social services, productive employment – the list goes on. Building a digital ecosystem is a force multiplier for all of the SDGs. For the development community, this raises the importance of being part of the conversation, and actively shaping the agenda to put technology at the forefront of the ongoing SDG deliberations.