Business-as-usual won’t deliver the SDGs

The new Sustainable Development Goals, or (SDGs) set out a shared global agenda for human development with several bold objectives to be achieved by 2030, including poverty eradication and universal coverage in health, education and modern energy services. Meeting these global ‘stretch’ goals calls for transformation that is deep and fast—a rate of change that a Business-As-Usual (BAU) approach simply won’t deliver. As well as much greater engagement of the private sector, to meet the global goals governments will need to mobilise all the tools they can—technology, investment, policy and partnerships—as key means of implementation to deliver a step-change in trajectory.

ICT—information communication technology—is one sector that’s rising to the challenge and a new report from Ericsson and the Earth Institute at Columbia University, launched last week at WEF Africa and co-edited by One Stone, shows what can happen when an industry sector gets behind the global goals.


According to the report, the key accelerator technology that can get us off the BAU path is ICT— notably mobile broadband—which has experienced the fastest, most global technology uptake in human history. Continued rapid innovation across the Internet of Things, advanced robotics, artificial intelligence and big data will drive further gains across the entire global economy in the near future.

Projections by Ericsson Mobility Report show that by 2021 mobile broadband (3G or above) will cover more than 90 percent of the world’s population, leaping from almost one billion subscribers in 2010 to 7.7 billion subscriptions. It is this staggering ability to scale fast, the report argues, that will help to ‘connect the unconnected’ and reach the ‘last mile’ to deliver unprecedented social and economic inclusion by 2030.

The crux of the report is that ICT—especially mobile broadband—will be the essential infrastructure platform for the SDGs. Specifically, ICT has immense potential to speed up and scale—or increase the rate of diffusion of—a wide range of cutting-edge technologies, applications and platforms across the global economy, helping low-income countries to leapfrog to achieve key development milestones while contributing to growth. Significantly, it can also dramatically reduce the costs of service delivery.

To achieve the SDGs ICT needs to be combined with innovative policies, services and solutions to deliver transformation at unprecedented speed and scale. It can be a powerful means of implementation in five major ways:

  1. Accelerated upscaling of critical services in health, education, financial services, smart agriculture, and low-carbon energy systems.
  2. Reduced deployment costs.
  3. Enhanced public awareness and engagement.
  4. Innovation, connectivity, productivity and efficiency across many sectors.
  5. Faster upgrading in the quality of services and jobs.

To show the potential of ICT to drive progress on the SDGs, the report summarises lessons to date and explores the future outlook for four key areas:

  • Financial Services
  • Education
  • Health
  • Energy

The groundbreaking case studies featured in the report show that the breakthroughs needed to drive and accelerate progress beyond Business-As-Usual (BAU) to meet the SDGs are already in operation, albeit on a small scale. The exciting hallmark of ICT is that it makes rapid scale-up of today’s demos to tomorrow’s national programs both feasible and realistic. In each case ICT offers potential for widespread, accelerated uptake by:

  • Reducing the unit costs of service delivery;
  • Expanding the range of services that can be offered;
  • Economizing on scarce resources (e.g. by upskilling local workers online); and
  • Accelerating institutional learning through online communities.

The main policy conclusion of the report is that to make the leap from BAU to an SDG path and deliver on the 2030 vision, governments need to equip the entire public sector—including service delivery in finance, education, health, energy and transportation—with high-quality ICT infrastructure. What can your industry sector do to drive progress beyond Business-As-Usual on the global goals?

You can download the full report ICT & SDGs: how information technology can accelerate action on the SDGs here.