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

In Part 1, I wrote about the role of technology in addressing the first three UN Millennium Development Goals: eradicating hunger and poverty, achieving universal primary education and empowering women. In part 2, I’ll share the role of technology is reaching MDGs four to eight.

MDG # 4: Reduce Child Mortality
NovoEd, a Stanford University start-up is a massive open online course program with an emphasis on social sharing. Rather than focusing primarily on free lectures, NovoEd encourages students to join with other students to address bigger problems. One result is this ambitious design for a mobile app to address child malnutrition. The proposal for the First 1,000 days is an excellent resource for research into the problems of malnutrition and the many factors that affect it.

Real time information has an enormous impact on preventing child deaths. Check out this video about mobile messaging in Uganda. This system allows health clinics to avoid running out of medication and connect with field workers before an outbreak becomes unmanageable.

MDG # 5: Improve Maternal Health
In many poor countries, electricity is a precious commodity, rationed and limited even in the hospital and maternity ward. These portable solar power suitcases offer a compact solution and show that technology relevant to one MDG, like the environment, can be useful in addressing another.

In Bangladesh, 2 out of 3 people use SMS messaging, but few women receive adequate prenatal care and three quarters give birth in their homes. A new program delivers pregnancy related SMS updates. It’s easy to register and it incorporates voicemails to address illiteracy. TV and radio ads, as well as field workers and partner organizations work to make sure women know about this resource. The government covers the SMS cost for the approximately 20 percent of women who can’t afford it. Read more about this initiative here.

MDG # 6: Combat HIV/AIDS, Malaria and Other Diseases
This is another MDG that disproportionately affects women. In some parts of the world, being a married woman is one of the highest indicators of being HIV positive. Even in marriage, women in some parts of the world do not have the authority to demand use of a condom. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, another place on my hope-to-work-for list, has decided to make condoms more appealing to men. This approach makes a lot of sense. Click here to read about their research and development efforts to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and promote family planning with better condoms.

MDG # 7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
“Green” is one of the most overused and least defined words. Does it mean organic produce? LEED certified buildings? Reduced use of electricity? LEED certification has become popular in the US, but for developing countries, it’s still a luxury. The International Finance Corporation of the World Bank is testing a similar program in India, China, Brazil and South Africa. Because climate change is expected to hit poor countries hardest, this is an especially important challenge to address.

UNICEF engaged the general public in the developed world with a mobile campaign, tap project. This project highlights major consequences of poor environmental regulation and infrastructure – disease form contaminated water and poor sanitation.

MDG # 8: Develop a Global Partnership for Development
No one example jumps out at me for the eighth MDG. Looking over the examples, it’s clear that the private sector is taking an interest in the well-being of populations around the world. As all of our systems become more interconnected, it makes sense. The stability of a sea port in Asia will directly affect an entire supply chain. And as the general public becomes more aware of issues like human trafficking, MBA programs have responded with programs that emphasize corporate social responsibility. The landscape is more nuanced than the brand-shaming atmosphere of the 1990s.

After 2015 – the Way Forward
In solutions to the MDGs, mobile technology dominates. Quick access to information lifts an enormous burden off people both in their work, health and family life. But technology alone isn’t enough. It takes an understanding of poverty and disease to truly leverage tools against them. Without understanding that women do not get to choose safe sex, making condoms more appealing to men wouldn’t stand out as a possible solution.

Production of technology also contributes to global problems. Phones and computers require rare earth minerals, not good for human rights or the environment. Intel has taken steps to address this issue. Let’s hope others follow. In the years to come, the strategic use of technology will only increase, as will the ways global leaders can lean on it for problems like the MDGs.

Sharon Gutowski