The Social Good Summit, an initiative of the UNDP (United Nations Development Program), took place all around the world on the 27th & 28th of September 2015. This event in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Foundation and the social news platform Mashable coincided with the launch of a new development program announced in New York last week. The theme to start this new chapter of the UNDP was: How will New Media and Technology help achieve the new global development goals.
I was among the participants attending the Casablanca chapter of this global meet-up. It was personally quite inspiring as I saw digital and tech innovation intersect with human development for a better future. Actually these two very distinct elements have marked my personal development. While my background is into social sciences with a strong interest in civil society, sustainable development and democratic movements, I somewhat ended up navigating in the field of communications, digital media and tech innovation. During this journey, I was lucky enough to discover new disrupting forces that would shake the social and political communities I had been analyzing during my academic years. New trends such as crowdfunding, crowdsourcing or open data government are deeply reshaping the social, economic and political boundaries in which we were born, empowering societies and individuals in new ways and offering alternatives in finding solutions to human, economic or environmental challenges.
Philippe Poinsot, the new head of UNDP in Morocco, explained that the main difference with the new adopted development plan, as opposed to the Millennium Development Goals 15 years ago, was that for the first time an agenda was developed in collaboration with thousands of local communities and civil society groups all around the world. Namely, this can be seen as a giant crowdsourced effort, something quite revolutionary. Digital & tech innovation are enabling UN agencies to start a real collaboration with citizens all around the world. So maybe this is a new era and we could be witnessing a move from an elitist decision-making process to a crowd-sourced co-created future.
Talking about the future: How do you imagine 2030? As part of the #2030now movement, participants in Casablanca took part in an artistic hackaton in which artists answered this question by providing either gloom perspectives or positive visions of their shared future. But the main message shared later by speakers during the discussion was that a better future depends on each one of us. Technology is there. The challenge now is how can we use technology for the benefit of human development. How can it help reduce poverty, provide food security and eradicate hunger? How can it help fight climate change and solve severe environmental issues? And more importantly how can we go beyond the technology and get individuals to become social entrepreneurs, take part in this universal transformation and become part of the solution: individual engagement for a greater collective objective.
Now let’s look at the experiences and stories shared by our speakers here in Morocco and explore how technology and new media are helping in the field of development:
Data and Development Goals
UNDP Morocco Representatives explained how data is an essential tool and can help improve development programs. “New technologies enable us to better monitor and evaluate the results of development projects, thus we can shift our strategy and action plans now and not wait 10 or 15 years to realize we are heading in the wrong direction” explained UNDP representatives during the debate. It’s interesting to see how the lean approach with its test & learn process is now an integral part of the agency’s methodology.
Apps that can solve environmental issues
Mohamed Benboubker, President of the Moroccan Association of Technological Companies explains that while technology is there, we could be facing societal challenges. “Technology we master it, we need to see how society will integrate this technology to resolve social and economic issues”, he told the audience. But he highlighted an interesting example, a great app ‘Casa Mdinti Cleanness’ launched by Moroccan public institutions. What is it about? Well if you come across garbage on the streets, you can ask them to come and collect it via video messaging and geo-localization. This is a great initiative indeed but as participants pointed out this app is limited to smartphones users, which represents a bit less than a third of the population in Morocco. So while apps offers innovative tools to resolve social and environmental issues, the reality is that at this point in time not all Moroccans can afford to access them.
New Media: a platform to raise awareness about essential human rights
Leila Ghandi, media anchor, producer and influencer, believe new media can help mobilize individuals on pressing societal and political issues and raise awareness about fundamental human rights. Despite the downside of the internet, the unlimited access to information online and the power of social media have opened up possibilities and created a sense of community. Leila Ghandi has travelled the world with her monthly TV program where she explores different countries and cultures all around the world. Her key learning is that “people share differences but also so many commonalities”. She thinks TV and mass media, if used well, are great tools to pass on specific messages to society that are in dire need for change. In Morocco, she explains that the n.1 priority is to focus on reforming and rethinking the education system, as this is the only way we can elevate individuals.
Cheap renewable energies to electrify Africa and empower its farmers
Said Mouline, Director of the Moroccan agency for renewable energies and energy efficiency (ADEREE), explained that renewable energies through their technology will revolutionize our future. It represents in his view one of the most democratic means as all citizens can create renewable energy. If we improve the technology behind these clean energies, we’ll be able to lower its price and it would become more accessible to all. The positive consequences will be environmental but also economic especially for countries in the South. For instance, large parts of Africa still needs access to electrification and cheap renewable energies could solve major development obstacles related to infrastructure deficit or even agriculture for small farmers.
Technology is a mindset; it is what you do with it
Adnane Adioui, Country Leader at Enactus Morocco, believes we do not impact the world through big structuring projects, only through multiple small projects. So everyone should take responsibility and develop his or her community. He calls on all of us to take part in this global change and become social entrepreneurs. In his view, everything is possible. So let’s forget one moment about the technology and let’s concentrate on the need to change our mindset.
I also share the view that all of us at different levels need to be active change-makers locally with our communities if we want to achieve global goals. So let’s all start with one project. On my side, as my kids start school this month and we get stuck in the traffic with high level pollution and no decent parks or sidewalks when walking around, I sincerely wish to transform our city Casablanca. I invite myself as well as my friends, neighbors, colleagues and fellow citizens to rethink our city, re-imagine a new collective space and propose a sustainable urban vision followed by concrete actions.