Harnessing the Power of AI and Data to Propel UN's Global Goals Forward

Our global community is responsible for building a more equitable, sustainable future. This responsibility drives the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), a set of ambitious objectives to address global challenges such as poverty, world hunger, and gender inequality. In 2012, the UN established a target to achieve these goals by 2030 with the agreement of 193 countries. However, as we approach the halfway mark to this deadline, the progress has been less than satisfactory, with more than 80% of the SDG targets reportedly off track.

To regain momentum and provide actionable insights, Google’s Data Commons team has joined forces with the UN Statistics Division to create the UN Data Commons for the SDGs. This innovative tool integrates SDG data and insights across the UN system into a publicly available platform with AI-powered search functionality. It allows policymakers, NGOs, and interested public members to easily access relevant insights, gain valuable perspectives on SDG progress, and facilitate data-driven strategies and decisions.

A Unified Approach to Data Collection and Analysis

The UN Data Commons for the SDGs is part of a broader initiative to modernize the UN’s data management. The project aims to provide a single entry point for official data and statistics across the UN system, making it more easily accessible and facilitating its use alongside other datasets. This data integration enables organizations like the Nigeria Network of NGOs to track their country’s progress towards the SDGs more effectively.

The UN Data Commons is also part of a more extensive Google Data Commons network, including Feeding America, Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, Resources for the Future, and TechSoup. This expanding network provides nonprofits, researchers, and multilateral organizations better access to the world’s publicly available data.

Collaborations and Partnerships in Data Collection

A new collaboration between Data Commons and ONE, a global advocacy organization Bono co-founded, demonstrates data-driven advocacy’s power. This partnership has resulted in the creation of ONE Data Commons, which integrates ONE’s data and insights from data.one.org on the economic, political, and social changes impacting Africa with the thousands of publicly available datasets in Google’s Data Commons.

As Gayle Smith, CEO of The ONE Campaign, eloquently says, data is not just about numbers. It empowers people to investigate and comprehend issues, amplify their voices, and collaborate to instigate change. The data available on this platform is expected to inspire and enable creative collaborations to build a better future.

The Role of AI in Accelerating Progress

AI holds incredible potential to catalyze progress towards the SDGs by reducing the time and resources required. Recent advances, including improved AI techniques, increased tech deployments, more funding, and data collaborations, have made utilizing AI to advance the SDGs easier. Notably, democratization across geographies due to increased access and affordability of cloud technology and the proliferation of internet-capable mobile devices has also contributed to this trend.

In the past five years, Google.org has donated more than $200 million and over 160,000 pro bono hours to organizations using AI to address significant global challenges. This includes awarding $25 million this year to 15 organizations specifically focused on projects to advance the SDGs. On average, AI helps these organizations achieve their goals in a third of the time and at half the cost.

Despite these positive strides, achieving the scale required to impact global targets remains a significant challenge. Some obstacles include fragmentation of efforts, limited access to data and talent, and a need for knowledge sharing. Initiatives like the UN Data Commons for the SDGs will help lower these barriers and advance work to meet them.

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