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Making a strategic (alignment) difference by 2030

Evidence for optimism that collective action between large nonprofits and the tech sector could make the SDGs achievable.


By Nicholas Kerastas, Business and Research Analyst, The Center for the Digital Nonprofit

As countries plan their recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, many with the aim to build back better and greener, they also aspire to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. Adopted by world leaders at a U.N. summit in 2015, the SDGs comprise 17 goals and 169 targets that detail the critical challenges facing humanity—and how to respond. Among these is Goal 9.c, which aims to ‘significantly increase access to ICT and strive to provide universal and affordable access to the Internet in least developed countries by 2020’.

The next decade will show how the central promise of the SDGs, to leave no one behind, will be done in an increasingly digital society. The pandemic has recently demonstrated the importance of digital technologies, especially for rural and remote communities which are most underserved. Yet, as reported at the World Summit of the Information Society earlier this year “a staggering divide remains between digital ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots.’”

Will the world achieve the SDGs by 2030? This is still unknown because funds are lacking, potentially hindering delivery. According to data from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, developing countries face a shortfall of $4.2 trillion in the financing they would need in 2021 to keep progress on the SDGs on track for 2030. Clearly,more approaches and stakeholders are needed.

Developed responsibly and implemented correctly, digital technologies are powerful tools that could boost progress of the SDGs. Employed by global nonprofits, such as the Members of NetHope, they could have a transformative effect. NetHope Members already conduct program activities whose outcomes and impacts are strategically aligned with the SDGs. The hope is to do more with more digital capabilities. There is optimism that collective action between large nonprofits and the tech sector could provide a welcome boost to delivering the SDGs by 2030, particularly if philanthropic institutions provide support.

Therefore NetHope has started an important initiative to analyze the strategic alignment of its large nonprofit Members, the governments that host their programmes, and the roadmaps of technology vendors. To date, we have collected the strategies of 94% of our 60 global nonprofit Members and the digital plans of 48 countries where at least 20 of them are present. Collectively, this represents more than 50,000 pages of text, and only 58% of nonprofit strategies are available to the public. The first findings were revealed at the NetHope 20th Anniversary Summit last November along with the public announcement of our strategic alignment initiative.

A quarter of NetHope Members’ strategies have already aligned their timeframe to 2030, detailing program activities that will contribute to accomplishing the SDGs. Another 11% have set interim strategic targets for 2025. The refreshes of strategies that ended in 2020 have been delayed due to the disruption caused by the pandemic and 18% of our members are still finalizing these documents.

We found that every NetHope Member organization includes multiple digital components in their strategy. This is a marked change from 2017 when a survey of Members had revealed that 70 percent lacked a digital strategy. Likewise, every one of the 48 countries analyzed, mostly low-to-middle-income economies, have a digital strategy. This was not the case in 2015 when the World Economic Forum was giving reasons for why developing countries should go digital, quoting Günther Oettinger, EU Commissioner for the Digital Economy & Society who had just declared that “The digital economy is simply becoming THE economy”.

Indeed, the 4th industrial revolution is shaping the delivery of humanitarian, relief, and conservation programs through low-to-middle-income economies in profound ways. We are discovering the essential digital categories that nonprofits have in common that will make a strategic difference by 2030. We are also analyzing existing gaps with the roadmaps of the tech sector.

Stay tuned to learn more unique findings from NetHope’s 2030 SDG strategic alignment.

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