The United Nations has now formally adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, including the ambitious goals of ending hunger and extreme poverty in our lifetime. This consensus from the global development community is a huge feat unto itself. This, however, is just the beginning with innumerable difficult questions yet to be answered. However, the looming challenge after September 25th is more tactical. How do governments and the broader international community take 17 goals, 169 targets and potentially hundreds of indicators and translate those into action?
When it comes to ending poverty, the way forward cannot be development as usual. The stakes are too high for the same interventions by the same actors. How would one propose to end poverty without including the employers of the world and the drivers of our global economy? How do we determine the way forward without better data and analytics to scope the problem and measure progress? Without the private sector and a true data revolution, the SDGs are an admirable aspiration destined to fail.
‘Without the private sector and a true data revolution, the SDGs are an admirable aspiration destined to fail.’
But this prompts an important question– what would incentivize the private sector to take on risks for the betterment of humanity? The strongest partnerships, including those that cross public-private lines, are where mutual interests coincide. Lifting 2.2 billion people out of poverty may be a development goal, but it also means new markets of consumers and new wealth for future investments. With this in mind, development agencies must use good data and strong research to entice the private sector to take these risks. Data helps bridge the public-private divide, giving us a common language focused on results.
To see results like eliminating hunger or ending poverty, it is paramount to not only measure progress against the SDGs but also embed data-driven decision-making into daily operations. In the private sector, this is just business as usual; there needs to be a similar paradigm in the international community as well, where monitoring, learning and evaluation of data become development as usual. Making data-driven decisions must become a standard practice, not a best practice.
‘To see results like eliminating hunger or ending poverty, it is paramount to not only measure progress against the SDGs but also embed data-driven decision-making into daily operations. ‘
This persistent lack of quality data is part of the reason it has been so difficult for the United Nations to fund its development agenda. There is little confidence among investors that much has changed since the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). As the Director of our Seeing a better world Program, when scoping out five or ten year initiatives, I’d need a thorough plan of how to realize them, including what changes will actualize results. These are some of the questions the development community needs to reflect on. What is different this time around? How is our development playbook different? What are the tangible milestones that will demonstrate to existing and potential investors that progress is being made? The current funding shortfall will likely not be overcome until the development community can show results.
This initial funding should, however, allow the United Nations to prioritize their data revolution. The private sector, especially data providers, is well positioned to help drive this type of change. Success will only be realized through meaningful public-private partnerships delivering outcomes against the SDG framework. With this understanding, the United Nations has formed the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. As part of that initiative, DigitalGlobe will join a network along with Bloomberg’s Data for Good Exchange, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the One Campaign, and others to increase development effectiveness through the use of data.
‘If we make informed decisions, development is far more effective and results can be far-reaching.’
The SDGs are highly interconnected, and because of that we have two options before us. We tackle the SDGs in isolation, allowing the goals to potentially compete with each other. Or we work together, tackle the goals holistically and amplify our progress. If we make informed decisions, development is far more effective and results can be far-reaching. We don’t have 15 years to wait and see what works. We must find success now or change our tactics. The failure of the MDGs should not be forgotten or dismissed. Instead, it should instill a sense of urgency and realization that the SDGs must be different. Let’s revive confidence in this upcoming development agenda with a clear way to execute and the data to back it up.