Prof Stephanie Burton
The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) brings with it great opportunities to integrate technology into the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s).
The United Nations Agenda 2030 and the SDG’s, agreed upon in September 2016, provide us with a framework of 17 goals, with 169 targets, developed in order to bring together global efforts towards ending poverty within 15 years.
Not only does the agenda intend to be fully inclusive and to “leave no one behind” but also urgent – 2030 is only just around the corner!
The Goals are strongly inter-linked and inter-dependent and they can be grouped in a number ways. For example, issues of women and gender quality are directly, and obviously, relevant to Goals 1,2,3,4,8,10, 16 and 17 as well as Goal 5, Gender Equality, Similarly, Goal 2, Zero Hunger, cannot be viewed separately from the Goals on poverty (1), health (3), education (4), clean water (6), energy (7), and decent work and economic growth (8), and so on.
To achieve the SDG’s, countries will need to bring about major changes in all areas, including health, education, urban and rural environments, use of resources, and many others, and they will need to involve support and funding from all sectors – government, business and community. Against this complex framework of pressing priorities, the era of digitalisation, often called the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR), is upon us.
The evolution of digital and cyber-technologies is leading to the rapid re-thinking of processes and new development of machines, to integration of data from widely varying sources, and creating networks where artificial intelligence and data science are enabling new ways of connecting – the Internet of things is one expression of this.
For Africa, there is an opportunity to “join the dots” between the SDG’s, the 4IR and our position – this is a key moment where the advancing wave of digital and cyber technology, with all of the anticipated intersections, and rapid progress towards greater connectedness, can converge to position Africa in a unique way.
What is needed? We need to develop the competencies that will enable us to advance our use of digital technologies. We need to continue to expand the connectivity that is at the heart of the digitalisation era – not to reinvent anything – but to customise it for our needs. In addition, we need coordination – few African countries have developed national coordination and implementation strategies to address the SDG’s, nor systems for monitoring progress. Researchers in Africa are, understandably focusing deliberately and pro-actively on the Sustainable Development Goals, as they move forward with their research agendas for the 21st century. Trans disciplinary approaches are key and can bring people together to work on sustainable development, and Africa’s continent-wide networks can provide a mechanism to support this.
The fourth thing we need is skills that will fit with the jobs that people will do in the future. As we move into a 21st century future where 25% of the world’s under-25-year-old people will be in Africa and seeking a living, the critical contribution we can make is to educate them for self-driven ways to work, and provide them with a globally connected continent.
*Prof Burton is the Vice-Principal, Research and Postgraduate Education at the University of Pretoria.