The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals Are Not Out of Reach
Prospects for achieving the SDGs by 2030 look dim. But innovation, technology, and creativity can turn the tide.
While progress on the Sustainable Development Goals has been slow thus far, digital technologies can be a game changer. Initial BCG analysis shows 70% of the 169 SDG targets have already been impacted by digital solutions. And the impact of digital goes beyond individual use cases: when comparing within the same income group, countries with advancements in digital infrastructure realize up to 40% faster progress on the SDGs.
To reap the greatest benefit from digital technologies, however, countries will need to move beyond pushing one SDG-related digital initiative, or even a series of them, and instead develop a comprehensive digital strategy aligned with national development goals.
Assessing digital technologies’ SDG impact is complex, and it’s made more challenging by the limited availability of data and the multifaceted nature of both digital and SDG progress. Despite these obstacles, our empirical assessment points toward the great potential of digital technologies for advancing the SDGs.
BCG’s analysis examined the relationship between SDG progress (as reflected in the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network’s SDG Index) and digital maturity. To assess digital maturity, we looked at the Telecommunications Infrastructure Index (a proxy for digital infrastructure) and the data-only mobile broadband basket (a proxy for digital affordability).
Digital leaders—those countries that have made considerable progress on digital infrastructure or affordability—were found to achieve up to 40% more progress on the SDGs compared with peer countries in their income group. Digging into the two components of digital maturity, we
To better understand the relationship between digital leadership and SDG progress, we reviewed more than 300 digital solutions. The results highlighted that existing digital technologies can support SDG progress across nations by fulfilling two primary functions: empowering marginalized groups and enabling better efficiency and monitoring of the environment.
For instance, some digital technologies support financial inclusion, education access, and market entry, empowering marginalized people and advancing certain SDGs, including #1 (No Poverty), #2 (Zero Hunger), #4 (Quality Education), and #5 (Gender Equality). Others, such as algorithmic-driven water management and sensors that monitor the health of endangered ecosystems, enhance decision making, boosting SDGs #13 (Climate Action), #14 (Life Below Water), and #15 (Life on Land).
National governments should drive progress on digital maturity and underlying digital transformations, yet all stakeholders must collaborate to ensure inclusive digital transformation and SDG success. We see four major step changes that can be driven through action by all members of the international development community: