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02 Harnessing digital’s potential for development

We’re powering up UNDP’s already strong history of innovation, using the best tools in the smartest ways; building a bridge over the digital divide, fighting the ambitious battles of the future, today. For everybody.

2.1 Significant opportunities

Artificial Intelligence, blockchain, cryptocurrency, virtual reality, the Internet of Things are shaking our world at every level. The potential for change is so great, it’s being referred to as the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’.

Digital technologies can also come and go quickly. So we have to consider the potential of technological innovations and their real impact. Still, most governments now realize digital is where we need to go, particularly for tackling development challenges. We agree. These emerging technologies have potential to advance sustainability and to lead to better development work, and we’re already using some, albeit on a smaller scale.

Our organization has a history of innovation and we will continue to pioneer digital technologies if they provide real answers, but as the potential of technology has increased, so has our ambition. As the pace of digital innovation picks up and our partners’ demands evolve, it is important that UNDP use existing and emerging technologies in a pragmatic and structured manner. Over time, our experience may also be sought by our partners in their own digital transformation.

2.2 Development challenges and risks

Digital technologies will also trigger new challenges, because they can create inequality, and even make it worse. The rapidity of change and the increasing number of digital technologies available to the digital ‘haves’ further risks excluding the ‘have nots’—such as the 3.5 billion people who still don’t have the internet. Some countries face the threat of being left behind, widening the digital divide. The UN Secretary-General has defined a Strategy on New Technologies which says that the UN’s digital transformation must be anchored to the values of the Charter of the UN and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He says it’s vital to integrate new technologies into the SDGs, with equality and equity as the guiding principles. These issues matter deeply to UNDP and are the backbone of our digital strategy.