U.N. Using Tech to Cut Poverty in Half by 2015 (Part 1 of 2)

Imagine having to choose between leaving everything behind or facing people ordered to rape or kill you. You escape with others with only the clothes on your back. Each day you inch towards a safer place, struggling to find food and water while avoiding more violence.

In the confusion, you lose contact with your family members. You don’t know if you will ever see them again. When you finally reach safety, you can post identifying information to an anonymous database with your mobile phone, sharing information only your family will recognize. It wasn’t an NGO that offered this brilliant solution to refugees, but the European mobile firm Ericcson.

Technology plays a crucial role in global affairs because it affects all of humanity. That’s why the Brookings Institution has a tech tank. Scholars focus their expertise policy and writing on tech to understand and talk about the world’s complexities while people like me dream of working there.

It’s almost 2015, so in honor of the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDG), here are some contributions of tech to creating a better world.

MDG # 1: Eradicate Extreme Hunger and Poverty
People without access to clean water or bank accounts have a mobile phone. In Africa, it has become a popular and efficient way to send money. Many people either don’t have enough income or physical proximity to be profitable to banks.  This method is far from perfect, but it gets around one of the most systemic obstacles: being seen as a valued customer. Read more about this trend here.

In developing countries, many people make money from farming. In agriculture, like all other fields, information has power. Access to a mobile phone means that farmers around the world can receive daily updates about the market value of their crops and livestock.

MDG # 2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
The internet seems like the most obvious solution to assisting with MDG # 2. But that implies that physical access is the most significant obstacle to getting kids in school. It also assumes that everyone has equal access to the internet. This map shows that many countries with an education gap also have low internet penetration according to data from the World Bank.

Like in banking, mobile phones have stepped into the market where existing systems were not enough. Education now comes to people across the globe on their handheld devices. Like Ericsson, Nokia has given its expertise to address the world’s problems.

MDG # 3: Promote Gender Equality and Empower Women
This topic is especially interesting given the constant talk about need for women and diversity in tech. This isn’t the only industry that fails to include women. I’ve always believed in the need for the United Nations, but word on the street is it’s one of the worst places to be a female employee. No organization is perfect, but they have outdated procedures and an embarrassing track record. If you want to know more you can read about it here, here, here and here. Where would you rather work?

This MDG is even more complicated than the others. Even people in advanced economies can’t agree on what it means to empower women or treat men and women equally. When societies systematically exclude women and girls, it affects their health, education, access to food and has negative consequences for the entire community. I’m glad this is an MDG, but its presence does not make the other MDGs gender-neutral.

Once again, mobile industry leaders are stepping up to the plate. The GMSA represents the interests of the mobile industry and has been working to shine a light on gender equality in the mobile realm. Click here to read their report about the gender gap.

Sharon Gutowski