The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development puts an emphasis on reaching the poorest and most vulnerable to ensure that we leave no one behind. Although there are several organizations that are committed to working on raising awareness and addressing some of the challenges — discrimination and exclusion, poor access to health services, disaster risk that affect vulnerable groups, more can and should be done.
The 7th Multi-Stakeholder Forum on Science, Technology and Innovation for the SDGs (STI Forum) held in May this year highlighted the important role that science, technology and innovation (STI) play in our pursuit to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Since then, there has been a growing recognition that inequality in accessibility to STI, has the potential to increase vulnerabilities and fragmentation in societies. By harnessing STI we can find better approaches and solutions that can support the eradication of inequalities that affect vulnerable groups.
This was the focus of our latest SDG Learncast podcast series in the past few months. I met with innovators, and experts from different fields to unpack the role of science, technology, and innovation in reaching the most marginalized groups and ensuring that STI are adapted to specific challenges.
I share a recap of just a few episodes which I found particularly interesting.
Space satellites as a means to promote universal access to energy in Africa
The latest Energy Progress Report shows that Africa remains the least electrified continent, with 568 million people without access to electricity. Sub-Saharan Africa’s share of the global population without electricity increased during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, impeding the region’s advancement in providing affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy by 2030.
One solution presented by young researchers Camila dos Santos Gonçalves and Grace Chenxin Liu who featured as guests on an SDG Learncast podcast series podcast episode was to use space satellites to bring reliable electricity to vulnerable groups in Sub-Saharan Africa. By using satellite telecommunication payloads that monitor the weather to predict the availability of energy produced by renewable resources, countries could ensure better electricity production and storage. In the past I would view satellite imageries to determine electricity consumption in different regions. With the research presented by our guests, I now realize that satellites can also be used to address other challenges by enabling decentralized grids source information on the availability of solar energy.
Raising awareness about how disinformation and misinformation affects vulnerable groups
Research shows that there has been a lot of disinformation against migrants, and that misinformation about COVID-19 has affected refugees, among other people. In fact disinformation and misinformation are said to affect marginalized groups the most .At a time when people turn to social media when disasters or crises strike, we all must support efforts to stop the spread of disinformation and misinformation. Dr. Julian Jaursch, Project Director Stiftung Neue Verantwortung (SNV) Berlin share several valuable tips on spotting‘ fake news’ and trusted sources of information on this episode of the SDG Learncast podcast series.
Making the invisible visible through data and technology
In the “data revolution”, the most vulnerable groups are often invisible when data is gathered and analyzed. Researchers, technologists, and policymakers need to consciously consider marginalized groups in their approaches to address the challenges of vulnerable groups. In the “The data revolution and new technologies: how we can use them to reach the most vulnerable groups?” episode, Dr. Emmanuel Letouzé (Director of the Data-Pop Alliance explains how vulnerable groups are made statically invisible and affected politically because they leave the least digital crumbs.
This notion is supported by an episode by Thy-Diep Ta who unpacks how marginalized groups are also made invisible in economic activities as they often cannot access financial services due to high transaction costs or discrimination towards specific groups based on race, gender, or ethnicity. Block chain technology is making it possible for the “unpaid to get paid”. Through blockchain powered micro-transactions, women in remote areas are for example easily getting paid for providing micro-services like working as virtual assistants.
The invisibility and disconnectedness of vulnerable groups inspired Jeanne Lim, CEO of BeingAI to use artificial intelligence to develop human-like artificial beings like ZBee who can talk to hundreds of people at the same time. She hopes that her artificially intelligent beings can help address the challenge of increased loneliness and disconnection among people, reach more people and create a supportive and positive environment for all.
Contextualizing approaches and solutions
It is tempting to suggest technologies that can assist vulnerable groups. But it is far more effective to work with vulnerable groups to collectively identify the problems that affect them and then develop research, technology and innovations that can address their challenges instead of developing a technology and then finding a context where it can be used. This is where international collaboration becomes crucial. Bringing different stakeholders together to ensure that scientists and researchers work alongside countries and communities can be beneficial as Mr. Sergiy Kyslytsya, (the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Ukraine to the United Nations and Mr. Kennedy Godfrey Gastorn (the Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Tanzania to the United Nations) explain on an episode which explored how STI can be leveraged to achieve a sustainable future.
Science, technology, and innovation have a critical role to play in reducing inequalities and vulnerabilities in that they can empower vulnerable groups through the provision of access to electricity, education, health services, economic development, and information on environmental risks. It can also connect them within and outside of their communities. How can we make this possible? By remembering that we all have a role to play in shaping the new research, technologies, and innovations that can ensure STI does not cause further fragmentation and marginalization but rather accelerate action to achieve more equality for society.