FACILITATING THE REALISATION OF THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS BY ADOPTION OF ICTS
In September 2015, in a ceremony presided over by our President – H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the 193-Member United Nations General Assembly adopted new Global Goals which aimed at charting sustainable development for people and planet by 2030.
This framework is comprised of 17 goals and 169 targets to wipe out poverty, fight inequality and tackle climate change over the 15 years. The realisation of these though necessitated the involvement of all.
In the words of the former Secretary General of the United Nations (UN), “We must engage all actors …. We must include parliaments and local governments, and work with cities and rural areas. We must rally businesses and entrepreneurs. We must involve civil society in defining and implementing policies – and give it the space to hold us to account. We must listen to scientists and academia. We will need to embrace a data revolution. Most important, we must set to work – now”.
Information and Communications Technology (ICTs) have a significant role in the socio-economic development of our country and offer vast opportunities to enable the realisation of these goals.
What are these ICTs we are talking about?
ICTs is an umbrella term that includes any communication device (radio, television, telephones, computer hardware and software, satellite systems, etc.) as well as the various services, networks and applications that capture, transmit and display of data and information electronically whether in the form of text, imagery or voice. This is an attempt to highlight some of the ways ICTs can facilitate the realisation of the various SDGs.
Goal 1: No poverty
The first UN goal seeks to “end poverty in all its forms everywhere”. This involves targeting the most vulnerable, increasing access to basic resources and services, and supporting communities affected by conflict and climate-related disasters.
The targets that have been set under this goal are:
- By 2030, reduce at least by half the proportion of men, women and children of all ages living in poverty in all its dimensions according to national definitions
- Implement nationally appropriate social protection systems and measures for all, including floors, and by 2030 achieve substantial coverage of the poor and the vulnerable
- By 2030, ensure that all men and women, in particular, the poor and the vulnerable, have equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to basic services, ownership and control over land and other forms of property, inheritance, natural resources, appropriate new technology and financial services, including microfinance
- By 2030, build the resilience of the poor and those in vulnerable situations and reduce their exposure and vulnerability to climate-related extreme events and other economic, social and environmental shocks and disasters
- Ensure significant mobilisation of resources from a variety of sources, including through enhanced development cooperation, to provide adequate and predictable means for developing countries, in particular, least developed countries, to implement programmes and policies to end poverty in all its dimensions
- Create sound policy frameworks at the national, regional and international levels, based on pro-poor and gender-sensitive development strategies, to support accelerated investment in poverty eradication actions
Looking at the targets above, ones need information to track progress, inclusively engaging with stakeholders, and to plan timely, targeted and more effective poverty- reduction interventions.
One of the buzz words today is “big data”. In the increasingly digital world, we live in; we leave digital footprints whenever we do any digital action – using a phone or ATM, going on the internet when ‘smart’ devices communicate with each other, geospatial data sensors etc. Big data is the resultant data from this digital activity that is huge in volumes, being generated and needing to be acted on with ever higher velocity (at a fast rate) and containing greater variety (different types of data).
Data analysis is the process of extracting meaningful information from any raw data. When data analysis is done using specialised computer systems, it is referred to as data analytics. Such information used to enable governments, organisations, businesses and now machines (in artificial intelligence) to make better decisions as well as verify and disprove existing theories or models.
ICT can help in improving opportunities and facilities for the poor by enabling the mapping and monitoring of their needs to support development initiatives. In Uganda, Pulse Lab Kampala brings together data scientists, data engineers, partnership specialists, academics and technical experts to generate high impact data analysis tools used in anticipating and responding to poverty, impacts of natural disasters, epidemics and food security by leveraging new sources of digital ‘Big Data’ (such as social media, mobile data, online information) and real-time analytics.
One of the projects currently being implemented by Pulse lab in partnership with the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and private companies such as Google is the development of a toolkit to estimate trends in poverty levels. This is based on the use of the “machine counting” technique, satellite imagery from different years to establish the trends. The tool is based on counts of different types of roofs of households as a proxy indicator of poverty in Uganda. The assumption is that as the household economy improves, the thatched roof is changed to a metal one.
Improving job and income opportunities
The best routes to get out and stay out of poverty are getting a decent job or being an entrepreneur.
In Uganda, a significant proportion of the population is dependent on agriculture for income. ICT can enable access to timely information to improve agricultural produce (e.g. good farming practices, weather predictions etc.) and also to facilitate getting value from their produce by knowing market opportunities and rates. Today we have several ICT products in Uganda such as wefarm, ensibuuko, AgroDuuka, Jaguza, M-Farmer, Erignu Mobile, Farm Radio series, m-Omulimisa, EzyAgric, Kudu, that seek to facilitate farmers in Uganda. These use the various available ICTs – mobile phone, radio, internet (for those who have smartphones or can use public internet access facilities) – to avail the farmers with technical guidance, extension services, input coordination, price discovery and even financial resources.
ICTs can also boost productivity and competitiveness among enterprises including the small and medium-sized (SMEs) by improving the efficiency of processes (e.g. marketing, ordering of inputs, inventory management, managing customer and supplier relations, bookkeeping/accounting etc.) and enabling innovation. ICTs also open up new markets through m-commerce (mobile commerce) and e-commerce (electronic commerce) which can be harnessed by all sizes of entrepreneurs. Today we see more people embrace online shopping with platforms such as Jumia, Eye Trade, Zidi, Shop 24/7, Kilimall, Take away ug, China2u, Home duuka, OLX, Meka, Kaymu, Paple Rayn, Dondolo, Supermarket, US Go Buy, Shop Easyuganda, Ugabox, 2ambale, Borderlinx and Bazebo.
ICTs have also opened up vast opportunities to all that enable and increases literacy, vocational skills and continuous personal development expanding the potential for employment among the populace that may be online (on the internet) or offline (physical jobs). ICTs also facilitate access to information on available job opportunities. Additionally, the ICT industry is itself are big employer through direct and indirect engagements into skilled and semi-skilled jobs as well as significant spin-off entrepreneurship of the various segments of the ICT value chain (from suppliers, distributors and content providers including the app developers).
Access to financial services
According to a World Bank study, a 1 per cent increase in financial inclusion corresponds to a 0.51 per cent increase in business creation, and a 15 per cent inclusion increase leads to employment growth of 1 per cent.
When e-commerce and m-commerce first started, we were disadvantaged due to low penetration of credit cards and debit cards. When mobile money was innovated in East Africa and later introduced in Uganda in March 2009, it opened up a new set of opportunities. What started as funds transfers from person-to-person has evolved to include so much more:
- Merchant Payments enabling SMEs and larger organisations like UMEME to receive payments,
- Mobile banking enabling transfers from bank account to a mobile wallet,
- Bulk Payments such as salaries,
- Group wallets, e.g. SACCOs,
- Statutory payments like taxes,
- Government payments, e.g. Senior Citizens Grants, Vulnerable Family Grants etc.
- Cross border transfer.
The ease, convenience, ubiquity of the service as well as the speed of the mobile transactions has led to a growth in popularity and uptake of the service. The ease of requirements to use this service has enabled its use by persons who do not have bank accounts.
ICTs can also facilitate the realisation of sustainable resource management systems for last-mile delivery food, medicine and disaster relief. This includes tracking systems and delivery systems. We have become familiar with the use of drones in video coverage of events. In Tanzania, however, the Commission of Science and Technology (Costech) is currently conducting a pilot project on the use of drones to supply medical supplies such as vaccines, laboratory samples and blood to not-easily-accessible areas in Mwanza’s Ukerewe and Juma islands. This is expected to alleviate the challenges of timeliness and reliability encountered when using the ferry to provide the same services.
Reduction of exposure to shocks and disasters
ICTs not only help advance weather forecasting and climate monitoring but are also essential in disseminating information to large audiences. Improvements in satellite communication have helped decrease the lag time between data collection and warning. The global spread of radio, mobile phones and telecom networks are also being harnessed to facilitate the communication of warnings and coordinate preparation activities.
ICT also facilitates the use of crowdsourcing. Crowdsourcing is the practice of obtaining information or input into a task or project by enlisting the services of a large number of people typically via communication platforms like the Internet. Crowdsourcing can be used to get local people, mapping experts and other stakeholders to communicate incidents seen or heard in an area. This information is then analysed and used to aid interventions or avert more victims.
In Uganda, the Uganda National Meteorology Authority and the Department of Water Resources Management in the Ministry of Water and Environment with support from UNDP and in partnership with other stakeholders are implementing a project on Strengthening Climate Information and Early Warning Systems for Climate Resilient Development and Adaptation to Climate Change in Uganda (SCIEWS), which includes the harnessing of some of these opportunities offered by ICTs.
What does this call for?
To realise the benefits of ICTs, we require to have in place: an enabling policy, legal and regulatory environment; the necessary infrastructure and coverage of the communication services; affordable access devices (e.g. phones); vibrancy in innovation to come up with the required use cases and solutions to the local challenges; and trust of consumers in the services.
Today, voice telephony services can be accessed by almost all persons across the country, but the span of broadband internet services is still limited about 79% of the population. Despite this though, the uptake and utilisation of the services are still limited due to persons not having the necessary access devices like a feature/simple phone for voice services and a smartphone or computer in the case of the internet. We need therefore to connect the unconnected and enhance our infrastructure to the capacity required by the new digital era.
Building consumer confidence and trust involve building their digital literacy skills, having relevant local content to encourage demand and ensuring the security of networks and the data arising from their digital footprint.
We, therefore, invite all stakeholders to participate in making this ICT dream a reality.