The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an ambitious plan to achieve progress on some of the world’s grandest challenges by 2030.
But innovative approaches are needed to accelerate progress on the goals, and new information and communication technologies (ICTs) can help advance this progress at a pace and scale previously unimaginable.
Mobile applications, better known as apps, are one innovative way to connect people to issues they care about. Whether addressing hunger, education or inequality, apps are some of the newest ways that public can help learn about and contribute to the success of the SDGs.
ITU News talked to the developers and innovators behind three apps that are making big impacts and proving that technology can be a powerful force for global good.
The SDGs in Action App is a mobile app helping to mobilize public knowledge and actions for the SDGs.
“The app quite literally put the SDGs into peoples’ hands. It’s essentially been built to be available to anyone with a smartphone,” said Mark Evans, the Senior Marketing Director for Advocacy at the GSMA.
“With more than two-thirds of the world’s population subscribing to mobile, this presents a significant opportunity to educate and raise awareness about the SDGs.” — Mark Evans.
Developed in 2016, GSMA partnered with Project Everyone and United Nations Department of Public Information to bring the innovative app to life.
“We worked with our partners to develop a user-centric concept and function that can improve our impact and open new avenues for a wider audience to take action. You have to keep pace with the constantly changing landscape of apps to keep your content fresh and relevant. One way we’ve tackled this is building in new functionality that resonates with our audiences – for instance, we’ve done a ‘Catch the SDGs’ game at GSMA events such as Mobile World Congress and Mobile World Congress Shanghai, and an augmented reality experience at UNGA.”
Evans noted that the app has provided some interesting insights into the SDGs and their popularity. The most liked and and shared Goal on the app is ‘SDG 1: No Poverty’. And the most shared action, is ‘The A, B, C and 1,2,3 of the SDGs,’ which encourages achievable actions.
To date, the app has been downloaded over 58,000 times and currently has more than 30,000 active users and is the top-rated SDG app on Android. How does it stand out from other apps?
“It also largely comes down to the content – the app acts as a source of information with local relevance, but also as an approachable and easy way for people in the community to get involved too by creating their ‘SDG Action Items’. The Action Items can then be shared through social media via the app to target local, regional or international communities of like-minded users,” believes Evans.
“Importantly, we have translated the app to ensure local relevance and empower local initiatives and support. As part of our commitment to the UN, we road-mapped release of the app in all of the official working languages of the UN (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian and Spanish). As each language release rolled out… we saw an inspiring increase in engagement, which just goes to show how valuable it is to have locally relevant content.”
And what is his hope for what’s achievable with this app? “If we can help build a community of people who are motivated to take action, we can make a real difference.”
WFP was recently named as one of the most innovative companies by Fast Company, and is using innovative approaches to solve hunger including apps, cash-based transfers and start-up accelerators.
“WFP is inspiring and supporting new ideas, tools and solutions that make sure no one goes hungry. As the world changes, innovation is critical to enable WFP to meet global needs and to deliver on its mandate to end hunger,” said Massimiliano Costa, Head of ShareTheMeal to ITU News.
“As ShareTheMeal’s goal is to ensure that every child has regular access to food and to achieve a world with zero hunger, we believe that this can be accomplished via technology.” — Massimiliano Costa
He noted that smartphone users outnumber hungry children 20:1. Meaning that, “it is easy for people around the world to fight global hunger with a tap on their smartphone,” said Costa.
In 2016, the WFP Innovation Accelerator was launched to “identify, support and scale high potential solutions to hunger worldwide,” says Costa.
ShareTheMeal is an innovation project within WFP. Launched globally in November 2015, users have shared over 17 million meals with thousands of hungry children in countries including Yemen, Syria and South Sudan. The app has been awarded the Social Impact Award at the 2017 Google Play Awards, SXSW Interactive Innovation Award 2016, and a Shorty Social Good Award amongst others.
“Gift-a-deed app hopes to bridge the gap between ‘have and have-nots’ with regards to life’s basic necessities,” said Navin Arjun Soni, the Founder and CEO of Gift-a-Deed. Using location-based technologies, users can find causes to support in their communities and contribute or donate resources to projects in their local neighbourhoods.
“The emergence of new technologies empowers mobile app users to identify, locate and propagate issues related to strife, poverty or hunger swiftly and in a timely manner.”
“Just like a car hailing app, Gift-a-Deed mobile app helps to let other users of the App know about the needs of the community and helps match donors directly with the needy.” — Arjun Soni.
While apps offer new ways of connecting people to causes, Soni noted that there are many challenges that developers face. “With the advent of so many mobile Apps, all competing for space and user attention, [the question is] how to design a user friendly app which offers superior experience, catches user’s interest and at the same time is practical for use purposes?”
So, what motivates Soni and other social entrepreneurs to use tech for social good?
“For centuries, the greatest thinkers have suggested the same thing: Happiness is found in helping others,” he said.
By Theadora Mills, @Theadoramills
© Featured photo courtesy of ShareTheMeal