Technology Ecosystems and the SDGs

 
Hari Srinivas
Policy Analysis Series E-193. April 2023.


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dopted at the United Nation Sustainable Development Summit in September 2015, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a UN initiative of 17 goals and 169 targets to end poverty, fight inequality and injustice, and tackle climate change by 2030.

Also known as "Transforming Our World: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development", this international agreement among UN members focuses on a broad range of interconnected economic, social and environmental objectives. These objectives address the world's biggest challenges, and the plan is to achieve them through multi-sectoral global partnerships.

Technology management will play a critical role in achieving the SDGs set by the United Nations. Technology can be used to address a wide range of issues related to the SDGs, such as poverty, hunger, health, education, and the environment.

For example, technology can be used to improve access to education and healthcare in remote and underserved areas, to increase agricultural productivity and food security, and to promote sustainable energy and transportation systems. Effective technology management is essential for identifying and developing appropriate technologies, as well as for ensuring that they are adopted and used effectively to achieve the SDGs.

The SDG Context

The UN has identified technology, science and capacity building as major elements of the "Means of Implementation of the Post-2015 Agenda" and of the "Rio+20 follow-up" processes. Of particular proiority for the UN is environmentally sound technologes (ESTs) and their effective research, development, deployment, and widespread diffusion.

Technology is also a priority policy target in the context of a green economy, along with innovation, business opportunities and development, trade of environmental goods and services, finance and investment, and institutional capabilities.

In 2012, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development ("Rio+20") called for identifying a technology facilitation mechanism, and the Addis Ababa Action Agenda, in its paragraph 123 [See Appendix 1], decided to establish a technology facilitation mechanism. These trends highlight the critical importance being accorded to technology issues within the larger processes of implementing the SDGs.

Understanding a "Technology Ecosystem"

An ecosystem is a community of complex networks of interconnected organisms or systems. In living organisms' case, it entails how they interact to form relationships in communities that provide security, food, shelter, emotional and physical support.

Taking a leaf from nature, a "technology ecosystem" is a network of interconnected and interdependent technology-based products, services, and organizations (including businesses) that work together to create a cohesive and mutually beneficial environment for their users and customers. It often includes hardware, software, and services providers, as well as companies that support and complement the ecosystem with related products and services.

Technology ecosystems support economic growth through pooling resources and sharing technologies and applications developed to boost each stakeholder's productivity and contribution to the SDGs. Such ecosystems helps make existing systems easier to maintain, and provides opportunities in unexpected areas and use cases that may not have been originally anticipated.


The GET Dimentions of Technology Ecosystems
GDRC advocates the GET framework to understand the components of a technology ecosystem, as illustrated in the figure above. It brings together three management systems - governance, education and technology itself to create a technology ecosystem. Such a management framework, with its constitutent stakeholders and policy dimensions, can help in streamlining technology action for the SDGs.

A technology ecosystem is therefore a collection of technology solutions (and how these interact with each other) that a community or city can use to manage its sustainability challenges. Creating such an ecosystem for technologies to contribute to SDGs can be an effective approach to accelerate meeting the SDGs& targets.

Setting up a technology ecosystem

A technology ecosystem can be created through a variety of means, including:

  • Developing a core technology or platform: This can be a hardware or software product that serves as the foundation of the ecosystem. Such a platform will enable data and data systems to be integrated (for example the status of various environmental sensors and the data that they are collecting).

  • Building a network of partners: This can include companies that provide complementary products and services, such as hardware manufacturers, software developers, and service providers: community groups and NGOs, Universities, and government agencies and other public institutions. This will enable various different actions (governance, education and technology actions) to be taken by differet actors to be interlinked and coordinated/monitored within the technology ecosystem

  • Encouraging developer and user communities: This can include creating developer tools, documentation, and resources to support the ecosystem, as well as building a user community to provide feedback and help shape the ecosystem's development. Such user communities can also help in coordinating and monitoring the local environment and the relative roles that SDGs can play in finding technology solutions to enhance its quality.

  • Offering incentives for participation: This can include inputs such as financial incentives, exclusive access to new features and technologies, or marketing and promotional support. Ensuring active participation of a wide variety of stakeholders using the technology ecosystem can bring in different resources and skills into play for implementing the various requirements for SDGs implementation.

  • Creating a governance structure: This can help ensure that the ecosystem is healthy and sustainable, by creating a framework for decision-making, resolving disputes, and managing intellectual property. Appropriate laws, rules and regulations also form an important part of the governance component to guide action - both encourage positive actions and curb negative behaviours and choices.

  • Continuously innovating and improving: A technology ecosystem must be open to change and adapt to the evolving needs of its users and partners - particularly depending on how the local environment changes and .
It's worth noting that creating a technology ecosystem is a complex process that requires significant resources, commitment and time. It's often done by large tech companies but also by smaller companies with a specific focus.

ICTs and the SDGs One sector that will play a crucial role is the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector. ICT infrastructure is a cross-cutting 'means of implementation,' underpinning the achievement of every goal. ICT serves as a support structure for all of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), helping bring about their advancement, especially in relation to the universal coverage of basic services. Thus, national policies should realize that the universal roll-out of ICT infrastructure and services within the public and private sector will better serve the SDGs.

See Appendix 2 below for a list of SDGs and the ways in which ICTs can help in their contribution.

Also see:
"Technologies for the SDGs: Focus on Environmentally Sound Technologies (ESTs)". GDRC Reseaarch Output: Policy Analysis Series E-132.


Appendix 1:
Addis Ababa Action Agenda, paragraph 123

123. We decide to establish a Technology Facilitation Mechanism. The Mechanism will be launched at the United Nations summit for the adoption of the post-2015 development agenda in order to support the sustainable development goals.

  • We decide that the Technology Facilitation Mechanism will be based on a multi-stakeholder collaboration between Member States, civil society, the private sector, the scientific community, United Nations entities and other stakeholders and will be composed of a United Nations inter-agency task team on science, technology and innovation for the sustainable development goals, a collaborative multi-stakeholder forum on science, technology and innovation for the sustainable development goals and an online platform.

  • The United Nations inter-agency task team on science, technology and innovation for the sustainable development goals will promote coordination, coherence and cooperation within the United Nations system on science, technology and innovation related matters, enhancing synergy and efficiency, in particular to enhance capacity-building initiatives. The task team will draw on existing resources and will work with 10 representatives from civil society, the private sector and the scientific community to prepare the meetings of the multi-stakeholder forum on science, technology and innovation for the sustainable development goals, as well as in the development and operationalization of the online platform, including preparing proposals for the modalities for the forum and the online platform. The 10 representatives will be appointed by the Secretary-General, for periods of two years. The task team will be open to the participation of all United Nations agencies, funds and programmes and the functional commissions of the Economic and Social Council and it will initially be composed of the entities that currently integrate the informal working group on technology facilitation, namely, the Department of Economic and Social Affairs of the Secretariat, the United Nations Environment Programme, UNIDO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, UNCTAD, the International Telecommunication Union, WIPO and the World Bank.

  • The online platform will be used to establish a comprehensive mapping of, and serve as a gateway for, information on existing science, technology and innovation initiatives, mechanisms and programmes, within and beyond the United Nations. The online platform will facilitate access to information, knowledge and experience, as well as best practices and lessons learned, on science, technology and innovation facilitation initiatives and policies. The online platform will also facilitate the dissemination of relevant open access scientific publications generated worldwide. The online platform will be developed on the basis of an independent technical assessment which will take into account best practices and lessons learned from other initiatives, within and beyond the United Nations, in order to ensure that it will complement, facilitate access to and provide adequate information on existing science, technology and innovation platforms, avoiding duplications and enhancing synergies.

  • The multi-stakeholder forum on science, technology and innovation for the sustainable development goals will be convened once a year, for a period of two days, to discuss science, technology and innovation cooperation around thematic areas for the implementation of the sustainable development goals, congregating all relevant stakeholders to actively contribute in their area of expertise. The forum will provide a venue for facilitating interaction, matchmaking and the establishment of networks between relevant stakeholders and multi-stakeholder partnerships in order to identify and examine technology needs and gaps, including on scientific cooperation, innovation and capacity-building, and also in order to help to facilitate development, transfer and dissemination of relevant technologies for the sustainable development goals. The meetings of the forum will be convened by the President of the Economic and Social Council before the meetings of the high-level political forum on sustainable development, under the auspices of the Council or, alternatively, in conjunction with other forums or conferences, as appropriate, taking into account the theme to be considered and on the basis of a collaboration with the organizers of the other forums or conferences. The meetings of the forum will be co-chaired by two Member States and will result in a summary of discussions elaborated by the two co-Chairs, as an input to the meetings of the high-level political forum, in the context of the follow-up and review of the implementation of the post-2015 development agenda.

  • The meetings of the high-level political forum will be informed by the summary of the multi-stakeholder forum. The themes for the subsequent multi-stakeholder forum on science, technology and innovation for the sustainable development goals will be considered by the high-level political forum on sustainable development, taking into account expert inputs from the task team.
Appendix 2: ICTs and SDGs

  • SDG 1: No poverty. More than 2 billion people in the world don't have bank accounts, while access to digital financial services has been proven to help lift people out of poverty. The Financial Inclusion Global Initiative (FIGI), begun in 2017 by ITU, the World Bank and the Committee on Payments and Market Infrastructures (CPMI), with support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, expands digital financial inclusion in developing countries.

  • SDG 2: Zero hunger. By making agricultural practices more data-driven and efficient, ICT-enabled solutions can help farmers increase crop yields while reducing their use of energy. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has worked closely with ITU since 2017 to bolster ICT innovation in agriculture.

  • SDG 3: Good health and well-being. Direct patient interaction, health informatics and telemedicine can be improved through better connectivity. The "Digital Health for Africa" partnership launched by ITU and the World Health Organization in 2017, has delivered digital health leadership capacity development for more than 15 countries in Africa. Be He@lthy, Be Mobile, another ITU-WHO collaboration, is carrying out projects in several countries on mHealth, in addition to maintaining the mHealth Knowledge and Innovation Hub in Europe (mhealth-hub.org). Current and forthcoming ITU standards for multimedia systems, developed in collaboration with other organizations, will support the widespread deployment of digital health applications, including telemedicine and remote medical imaging.

  • SDG 4: Quality education. ITU and the International Labour Organization (ILO) are leading the Digital Skills for Decent Jobs Campaign, which aims to equip 5 million young men and women with job-ready digital skills by 2030 in support of the first-ever, comprehensive UN system-wide effort for the promotion of youth employment worldwide. The Giga Initiative led founded by ITU and UNICEF monitors and promotes connectivity in schools.

  • SDG 5: Gender equality. According to ITU statistics, 250 million fewer women were online than men in 2017. Globally, 62% of men use the Internet compared with 57% of women. Although the digital gender divide has been narrowing in all world regions and virtually eliminated in the developed world, wide gaps persist in LDCs (where 31% of men are online, compared to just 19% of women) and in Landlocked Developing Countries (where 38% of men compared to 27% of women). To close the digital gender gap, ITU members organize the annual International Girls in ICT Day to encourage more women and girls to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. Gender equality initiatives where ITU is directly engaged include EQUALS, a ground-breaking global network to build an evidence base and improve women's access to technology, build relevant digital and other skills, and promote female leadership in the tech sector.

  • SDG 6: Clean water and sanitation. New and emerging digital technologies facilitate smart water and sanitation management. The ITU Focus Group on Smart Sustainable Cities follows key trends in urban smart water management, including ICTs for wastewater management.

  • SDG 7: Affordable and clean energy. Rising tech use contributes to emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. But the industry is exploring ways to use greener energy, make devices more energy efficient, and incorporate solar, wind and other renewable sources into the value chain. At the same time, cutting-edge tech will be essential to cut global emissions, build smart grids and cities, electrify transport, and build sustainable economies and societies. ITU has helped set more stringent energy efficiency and emission control standards for ICTs and has outlined how smart grids can help to build more controllable and efficient energy systems and reduce carbon emissions.

  • SDG 8: Decent work and economic growth. Technology creates new jobs, enables resilient work and commerce, and stimulates wider social and economic development. ITU's Digital Innovation Framework helps countries, cities and other communities and systems accelerate their digital transformation, stimulate ICT-centric innovative entrepreneurship, and foster vibrant small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

  • SDG 9: Improved Infrastructure: Much of ITU's work directly aims to improve the extent and quality of ICT infrastructure of radiocommunication and backbone networks and to extend networks into underserved remote and rural areas. ITU's standards are improving the energy efficiency and performance of ICT networks, in backhaul, wireline and radiocommunication networks.

  • SDG 10: Reduced inequalities. ITU works to reduce inequality within and between countries, communities, and populations by extending access to technologies and knowledge to disadvantaged segments of society.

  • SDG 11: Sustainable cities and communities. "United for Smart Sustainable Cities" (U4SSC), begun by ITU and the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in 2016, helps cities take key steps to become smart and sustainable. Fifty cities from a number of countries worldwide have now joined this project.

  • SDG 12: Responsible consumption and production. E-Waste, including waste created by ICTs, is increasing all over the world. ITU has launched a coalition to produce the Global E-waste Monitor and strengthen collaboration to address the global challenge of waste from electrical and electronic equipment. ITU is also developing global strategies, standards and policies that offer guidelines for the sustainable management of e-waste.

  • SDG 13: Climate change action. Digital tools allow increasingly sophisticated climate modelling. ITU facilities international cooperation on policies and standards to help reduce energy consumption for ICT products and services. Key ITU standards promote green data centres and green power feeding systems. ITU is carrying out a joint project to model cities using digital twin modelling.

  • SDG 14: Life below water. ICTs are being extensively used to monitor the changing marine environment (e.g. the movement of ice flows and glacial movements). Buoys can be equipped with remote monitoring to monitor changing conditions at sea (e.g. salinity levels of water via buoys). Sensor networks and RFID chips can be used to protect endangered animals (e.g. whales and dolphins) to learn about their migratory patterns and needs.

  • SDG 15: Life on Land. ICTs can be used to identify, monitor, photograph and track wildlife populations. Sensor networks and RFID chips can be used to protect endangered animals (e.g. lions, elephants and tigers) to learn more about their migratory patterns and needs for protection.

  • SDG 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions. E-government services are helping improve the relationship of citizens and state and improving the efficiency of delivery of government services. ITU helps to drive citizen empowerment through its work on smart sustainable cities and key performance indicators (KPIs) that measure social inclusion, such as voter participation or the number of government services delivered through electronic means.

  • SDG 17: The power of partnerships. Public-private partnerships are key to bringing ICTs to all nations, peoples, and communities. Partnerships are particularly needed to build the physical infrastructure required to deliver Internet services in hard-to-reach areas and to currently disadvantaged populations, as well as to facilitate the investment, inclusion and innovation required to for SDG fulfilment across the board.

    Source: International Telecommunications Union (ITU - www.itu.org)

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