One of the clearest benefits of leveraging information and communication technologies (ICTs) to accelerate the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) is the ability to achieve results at a scale not imaginable before.
Why aim to impact thousands of lives when you can impact millions? Or in the case of India, one billion!
As the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum 2017 gathers steam, India’s Telecommunications and IT Secretary, Aruna Sundararajan sat down for an interview to discuss the many ways India is leveraging ICTs to speed progress on the SDGs.
“Digital technologies are vital for us, because they provide us the most scalable way of providing [healthcare, educational and other] services at optimal cost,” said Ms Sundararajan.
“[ICTs have] been the growth engine that has driven India’s growth for the last 15 years.”
What type of progress has India made recently?
“In the last three years, ever since we launched the Digital India programme … which involves both the federal government and regional governments, I’d say that we’ve had a fair measure of success in terms of access,” said Sundararajan. “We today have one billion people who have access to the mobile phone, which is large. Second, we have one billion people who have digital identities, called Aadhaar. So that enables everyone to join the digital economy. Third, we now have one billion people on digital payment systems.”
“India has already seen the benefit of digital technologies,” says Sundararajan. “It’s been the No. 1 job creator in the economy. It’s been the growth engine that has driven India’s growth for the last 15 years.”
But the benefits go way beyond jobs and macro-economic growth.
“ICTs have been a great leveler — a tool of empowerment,” says Sundararajan, “because, for the first time, there’s a promise that we can deliver quality healthcare, quality education, quality governance — and we can give voices to people who have never been able to be heard.”
“Before we had Aadhaar, the digital identity, fully 500 million Indians were denied access either to financial services or other government services,” she says. “For the first time, all of them are now able to transact, so I think that is probably the best indicator that we have that ICTs indeed hold the promise of a fairer and more equitable society for us.”
In the last 3 years, 280 million people have become financially included, says Sundararajan. She also mentioned a direct benefit transfer program that allows 340 million people to have entitlement benefits transferred directly to their bank accounts, cutting out layers of government bureaucracy that previously hindered their access.
For an inside look at how India’s Aadhaar system is improving people’s lives on the ground, watch the recent ITU News video below.