Wired for Good: Digital Connectivity for a Sustainable Future
25 October 2023
Game-Changers’ is a new editorial series from the UN Development Coordination Office (DCO) on key transitions that the UN Secretary-General has called for, to advance progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), catalyzing a more sustainable and equitable future. This series explores the progress achieved since the adoption of the SDGs in 2015 in key areas and how the UN in supporting this progress. The world needs renewed ambition and action to deliver these Goals at scale.
For millions of people around the world, a life without digital connectivity is unthinkable. From receiving wages and welfare checks to making payments, getting medical help, verifying identity, and much more, with a click of a button, people of all ages engage every single day with digital infrastructure.
With the right technology, deployed in an open, transparent, secure way and governed by the right principles, digital infrastructure and connectivity can shape a future that is not just technologically advanced but also socially and environmentally responsible. It can play a key role in driving trade and commerce, creating new jobs, and increasing access to healthcare, education, and justice among others.
Where was the world in 2015?
When the SDGs were adopted in 2015, the world was already in the midst of a fast-paced digital revolution:
By the end of 2015, there were more than 7 billion mobile phone subscriptions in circulation.
The first instances of a digital divide were already taking root. While 80 per cent of households in developed countries had internet access, only 34 per cent of households in developing countries had so, in comparison. Least developed countries lagged further behind with only 7 per cent of households having Internet access.
Where are we in 2023 at half-time?
Today, digital divides and inequalities are starker than ever:
5.3 billion people, over two-thirds of the planet, use the internet.
As of 2022, 8.63 billion mobile phone subscriptions are currently in use.
There was a massive jump in the number of people in least developed countries with access to the internet- 36 per cent of the population (compared to 7 per cent in 2015). In comparison, 92 per cent of the population in high-income countries and 79 per cent of the population upper-middle-income countries are connected to the internet.
On a global scale, less women use the internet than men: 63 per cent of women compared to 69 per cent of men.
How can digital connectivity be leveraged for people and planet?
The pace at which technology is growing is faster than our current governance systems can cope. New technologies, turbo-charged by risks posed by the increased and unchecked use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) can easily drive loss of data privacy and escalate risks of online harm, spreading online violence and hate speech along with mis and disinformation.
This is why we need targeted policies and investments to ensure digital services are accessible to everyone. Encouraging new and local innovations, building capacities and ensuring proper regulation and accountability mechanisms both for users and digital platforms, will be paramount.
To harness the opportunities of the digital realm and bring partners together to also address its perils, UN Teams around the world, under the leadership of the Resident Coordinators, are bringing together public, private and civil society stakeholders to build capacity and boost policies and investments for inclusive digital transformation.
Country Spotlight: Kenya creates online spaces safe from harm and misinformation
In Kenya, digital platforms are shaping public discourse in profound, and sometimes negative ways. Ahead of the 2022 Presidential Elections, the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office joined hands with the Government to curb and prevent mis/disinformation and counter hate speech targeting communities and candidates.
Working with the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the Media Council of Kenya, the UN helped create an innovative, high-tech consortium with public and private sector partners to track and counter the source of hate speech in real-time. The consortium brought together AI start-ups, youth media platforms and online influencers to build a state-of-the-art online early warning platform. Tracking sources and spreaders in real-time in English, Kiswahili and Sheng (the street language of Kenyan youth), the platform flagged about 890 cases of hate speech, misinformation and incitement to national authorities and global technology companies. Working closely with partners, factual inaccuracies were redressed, harmful content was removed, and serious cases were referred to relevant authorities.
In order to counter this stream of misinformation, a counter-campaign engaging over 60 social media influencers and 35 public and private organizations at the national, regional and local levels helped pre-bunk (stay ahead of the curve) and debunk fake news and spread messages of peace, encouraging Kenyan citizens to participate peacefully in the due democratic process. Hear from the UN Resident Coordinator about how this initiative was planned and executed, here.
Learn more about other examples on what the UN is doing to support this transition: