Technology as the Key to the SDGs


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By Elaina Estrin

Sunday September 27 kicked off the Social Good Summit, a conference where international leaders come together and ask how technology and media impact the world in a positive way. This year’s conference was especially important because the United Nations had just adopted the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), also known as the Global Goals, into their agenda for the next 15 years. Three powerful initiatives that were discussed in the course of this conference are inexpensive androids helping to empower developing regions; change in your cell phone service that can help to donate to the charity of your choice; and watching or reading about causes you care about to directly help fund solutions. These are just a few ways that demonstrate how technology is instrumental in achieving the SDGs.

Android Empowerment

Jimmy Wales, the founder of Wikipedia, was one of the members of the first panel “Global Goods and Technology That Will Help.” He discussed how cheaper technology, specifically androids, would help to achieve the SDGs. Android prices are expected to fall as low as $40, which can have positive implications on developing countries. Wales mentioned that schools are planning to buy low cost androids to connect students to the internet in the classroom. This gives youth access to a limitless amount of information. Students can teach themselves anything including another language, how to play an instrument, history of their country and other countries, computer science, and many other skills. Teachers can also use it as a classroom aid to improve students’ writing skills or play educational games for math, science, history, and spelling.

This technology can actually revolutionize a developing country and empower its people to move the country forward. People will have access to medical advice and information about their government, as well as recording and camera capabilities all from their android. They can record abuse and struggles of average people in their communities, which they can then post on the internet for the rest of the world to see. This can then motivate others to take action or inspire people to find other ways to help. The communities can also use this technology to spread information about their culture; they can record music and take photos of art and other traditions in their societies. This somewhat small piece of technology will drastically empower people all over the world and make it easier for them to connect with others and share their stories.

Charitable Chatting

Earlier this year Jimmy also launched a phone network in the US called “The Peoples Operator” (TPO). This network resembles a superhero: on the outside it is just like any other cellular network provider, but it is working for a greater good. TPO takes ten percent of the customer’s bill and puts it towards the charity of their choice. This ingenuity is of no extra cost to consumers. TPO finds this ten percent in their budget from the money mobile companies usually spend on flashy commercials, making it an advertisement-free network. You can choose to support a number of charities, from helping refugees with The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to funding medical research with the National Children’s Cancer Society. With over 40 charities to choose from, anyone can find a cause they want to help out. Wales hopes that this plan will raise billions for a number of great causes and demonstrate how entrepreneurship combined with empathy can make real change in the world.

Volunteer Currency

How many times have you scrolled through Facebook and ended up watching videos of grumpy cat? What if you could create tangible social change just from watching videos? Views to Volunteers or V2V has created a system where any person, of any age, or income, can contribute to a cause they care about just from watching videos, reading articles, and sharing what they think is interesting. When people spend their time watching or reading on V2V, they earn points to give money to the charities that represent a number of causes. This initiative empowers people to donate without having to spend any of their own money. All of the videos on V2V are sponsored by advertisements which donate to non-profit organizations including Meals on Wheels America, National Recreation and Park Association, and First Book.

V2V is free to sign up and there are 4 main topics including the Environment, Education, Wellness, and Veterans. The website keeps track of how much money has been donated into each issue area. To date, V2V has earned $65,100 for Education, $16,200 for the environment, $16,200 for Veterans, and a whopping $424,000 for Wellness. The organizations representing these issue areas work to make a positive change in the world and help those in need. Members of V2V that feel especially empowered to make a change can take their volunteering a step further and actually sign up to volunteer with non-profit organizations in their local communities.

All of these initiatives show a way that technology has empowered people of all different ages and social statuses. People are no longer limited by how much money they make—if they want to volunteer, it’s as easy as watching and sharing a video or switching your phone plan to TPO. The availability of new enterprises to bring technology to developing communities is the key to achieving the SDGs and promoting an inclusive community of do-gooders. These small easy steps add up, and with enough people involved in the movement to help others, we can make big changes in the world.

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