Pivoting from Slow Start to Strong Finish

By John Sargent & Ernest Darkoh
Mar 29 2017

How Data-Driven Solutions Can Transform the SDGs

“Slow Start Towards Sustainable Development Goals” – that’s hardly the headline conclusion the global development community was hoping to read in the recent survey of 500 professionals across six sectors and seventy-four countries, titled “Evaluating Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals,” conducted by GlobalScan and SustainAbility.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are only about two years young. Of course, we should expect achievements towards the fifteen-year goals to be incomplete. Nonetheless, the survey reveals that sustainability experts are alarmed about the lack of progress. The authors make that point loud and clear, writing, “While we’re still in the early days of the journey toward achieving the SDGs, the spirit of the SDGs is nothing new, and the global community’s thirty-year velocity toward what they seek to achieve has been slow.  It is time for a step change before 2030 comes and goes.”

We believe that embracing a data-driven underpinning to all development work is the critical “step change” needed for all development work, including for the two imperatives the GlobalScan and SustainAbility authors outline in the report:

  1. Clarity on where specifically we are failing, who is accountable, and where the key opportunities are
  2. New forms of leadership enabled by new systems and business models

Virtually every private and public organization in the developed world harnesses the power of big data to drive high-impact decisions; weigh risks and opportunities; shape strategies, programmes and policies; and to hold involved constituents accountable. Multi-pronged, multi-year initiatives tasked to create transformational change in emerging economies must also be driven by data insights—including historical evidence, current state and predictive analytics. Leaders working in the developing world should demand and expect no less.

Jeffrey Sachs, author and Columbia University professor, believes that the SDGs will only succeed if governments, businesses and society can harness data for decision-making, and emphasizes the importance of investing in data systems that draw on real-time data. In The Data Revolution for Sustainable Development, he writes, “Through more effective use of smart data – collected during service delivery, economic transactions, and remote sensing – the fight against extreme poverty will be bolstered; the global energy system will be made much more efficient and less polluting; and vital services such as health and education will be made far more effective and accessible.”

Over the past two years, we at BroadReach have strengthened our commitment to innovate and champion data-driven solutions. We introduced the BroadReach Vantage data-driven platform that integrates flexible modules: dashboards to track key metrics, advanced analytics to direct resources for optimal gain, workflow and collaboration tools to support best-practice service delivery and automated reporting.

BroadReach Vantage has powered our success with a range of development partners, including:

  • USAID Africa Bureau to improve healthcare decision-making across East and West Africa
  • PEPFAR & CDC to integrate health information systems and improve HIV/AIDS/TB treatment services with the Zambian Ministry of Health
  • ACCESS SMC & UNITAID for production planning, forecasting and collaboration
  • Medicines for Malaria Venture for global supply chain and clinical trial management

Our experience confirms—a data-driven platform shared by public and private partners working towards a common goal is an unassailable enabler of SDG success. When leaders have data at their fingertips to share a collective view of the current state, they can agree how to move forward most expeditiously. When they have data-driven insights about risks and opportunities, they can focus time and money for optimal return. When they have mobile access to best-practice operational solutions, they can replicate reliable service delivery across geographies. When they have consolidated data in one place, they can fulfill reporting requirements efficiently. And, when they have a platform to communicate in real-time, they can they collaborate for the common good.

As social entrepreneurs ourselves, we were encouraged to read in the report that surveyed experts believe non-governmental organizations (NGO) and social entrepreneurs are doing the most of any global development constituent group to advance the SDGs. At the same time, we are discouraged, but not surprised, to learn that  “National governments are seen as performing particularly poorly on contributing to progress on the SDGs.”

Without the support of a data-driven solution tailored to the needs of developing economies, how can government leaders advance initiatives that further the SDGs? The absence of evidence-based data creates barriers that make it extremely difficult to provide citizens with access to quality health care and education, decent work and compensation, and the policies and infrastructure to live peacefully and equitably in society. We wouldn’t expect government leaders in the developed world to operate without a data-driven foundation, so why would we expect otherwise for leaders in developing economies?

The time is now to commit fully to the power of data-driven solutions to achieve the SDG targets by 2030.