SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS & TECHNOLOGY FOR DEVELOPMENT April 22, 2016, 5:20 a.m.
Like most people in the social development sector, I had thought of ‘technology’ as Latin and Greek or rocket science - something beyond mere mortals like me. But that was till I came across the use of mobile technology for implementing and monitoring financial inclusion programmes. That was more than two decades ago. I was then hooked on to the idea of deploying mobile technology to arrest gender-based violence especially some of the more grotesque forms of it like human trafficking. But sadly in those days, there were no takers even among the hard-core international women’s rights organisations. They probably thought technology was alien and I was a bit off-track!
Decades passed by and after 35 or so years in the sector I found myself with an IT company - Mahiti Infotech Private Ltd. - that breathes, eats and sleeps technology innovations and solutions for catalysing and hastening up social impact. To me joining Mahiti was a Eureka moment. It also looked that climate has changed world-wide for the better, for a natural union of technology and development. While the Millennium Development Goals(MDGs) focused less on innovation, technology and the like and more on service delivery, the recently launched Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) generously mention the use of technology for empowering people, especially excluded groups like women, and speeding up social progress by 2030 and meeting some targets even by 2020.
To an institution like Mahiti, which is in reality a social enterprise, the SDGs and their targets provide ample scope to partner with civil society organisations(CSOs) lamenting at slow progress, and to assist them with technology that will add impetus to the latter’s struggle to bring about systemic changes in basic services like healthcare, education and habitat and in collateral elements like financial inclusion, governance and infrastructure. Out of the 17 SDGs and their 169 targets, those under SDGs 02, 03, 04, 05b and 09 either imply the importance of technology especially IT and ICT or specify their application. SDG 05b singularly insists on the utility of technology to “empower women” and one of the targets under SDG 09 is to ‘Significantly increase access to information and communications technology .....by 2020'.
The global commitment through SDGs, which all member countries have signed up to, and the shift in approach in financing for development to enable prioritisation of the poorest communities, provide ample scope for civil society organisations to deploy technology for development.
There is a saying on the futility of “preaching to the converted”. So I earnestly hope some of the ‘yet-to-be-converted’ social development practitioners will take the risk of experimenting with the use of technology in their development interventions…. and experience the magic that happens….as when a barely literate rural woman reports on domestic violence through IVRS (Interactive Voice Response System) or a child at the foot of the Himalayas receives lessons preloaded in a flash drive and delivered through a TV in his tin-roof school ....
------ Julie Marie George, Head - Partnerships, Mahiti