Photo: UnSplash/Mufid Majnun

We usually associate flashy tech wizardry with Silicon Valley and the venture capital-funded startups turning dorm-room developers into multi-billionaires. 

But cutting edge tech is doing more than just creating wealth in California. Development organizations like UNDP have been incorporating avante-garde tech into its programs to deliver impact to beneficiaries all over the world, translating new energy and ideas into something everyone can benefit from. 

In 2019, UNDP developed a Digital Strategy that guides the organization both in harnessing future-facing tech to deliver impact, but also in transitioning to a digital-first organization, according to a whole-of-society approach. We believe that the digital approach outlined in the Digital Strategy outlines a clear path for UNDP and the development community as a whole to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030. 

Here are three exciting ways UNDP is putting cutting-edge technology to work for good.


Analytics for vaccine equity

It’s clear that data is critically important to the success of any project. But data analysis is typically a significant time and resource-suck for any company, requiring a lot of effort to do properly. What’s more, datasets analyzed by people are subject to their own biases and qualitative analyses. 

Advanced analytics changed all that. Rather than scouring a dataset in-person, advanced analytics allows organizations to program technology to do it for them. Advanced analytics methodology allows aggregated data sets in a variety of formats to be quickly scoured by machine learning algorithms for patterns, networks, sentiments, and more. Advanced analyses result in deeper insights and ultimately more informed decision-making. 

UNDP has harnessed the power of advanced analytics to support COVID-19 vaccine equity. Along with the World Health Organization and the University of Oxford, UNDP has developed the Global Dashboard for Vaccine Equity, measuring aggregated data on COVID-19 vaccine equity, access, and affordability alongside socio-economic information. UNDP believes that vaccines should be allocated equally across all countries regardless of development or economic status. By providing accurate and up-to-date information about vaccine distribution, the dashboard is critical to developing a more nuanced understanding of vaccine equity, and where we need to do better. 

The dashboard sets certain truths in stark clarity. For instance, the rollout in lower income countries began an average of two months after that of high income countries. Further, as of 13 October 2021, 62% of people in high income countries have received the first dose of a vaccine, compared to a paltry 3% of people in low income countries. 

When governments and policy makers have access to this type of bird’s-eye data and trends, it empowers them to make decisions that actively address blind spots in global vaccine equity.


Machine learning to combat election disinformation

 Photo: © UNDP Zambia

Disinformation, misinformation, and hate speech are more prevalent than ever before. This type of content breeds doubt and uncertainty, which too often boils over into violence in volatile periods like elections. 

To combat the type of content that can interfere with the electoral process, UNDP has developed iVerify, a fact checking initiative that combines the best of in-person fact checking with the latest in technology. This hybrid approach exponentially increases the impact of both tech and human analysis. 

Here’s how it works. First, iVerify collects articles of questionable veracity in two ways. People can submit articles they suspect might contain untrue information via WhatsApp, SMS, or directly via the platform. iVerify also employs the CrowdTangle public insights tool to review content across social media platforms and flag the ones likely to contain ‘fake news’ or hate speech. Then, questionable articles or posts are run through Detoxify, an open-source algorithm which uses machine learning to detect hate speech, to further narrow down content that is likely to be offensive. 

Machine learning tools like Detoxify refine their algorithms automatically based on experience. 

iVerify was initially tested with the August elections in Zambia. In November, UNDP will use iVerify to support the electoral process in Honduras; the team is also planning to support upcoming elections in Liberia and Mali. Based on these experiences, the iVerify team is continually refining its offer, providing better and better support to citizens all over the world looking for trusted information online.  


Blockchain for supply chain transparency

Photo:  © UNDP Ecuador/Diego Malakias

At its simplest, blockchain is a type of decentralized database that stores information in blocks that are digitally linked – or ‘chained’ – together. As new data comes in, it’s stored in a new block. When that block is full, it’s chained onto the last one. This makes it possible to view data in chronological order. Once on the blockchain, records of exchange cannot be altered without alteration of all subsequently recorded transactions. This allows participants in the transactions to verify records of past transactions. Sometimes, as in the case of Bitcoin, control of the data blockchain is decentralized, meaning no one party has control over it. Rather, all users or participants retain collective control. 

We’ve seen how blockchain technology has revolutionized the financial industry. Cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin use blockchain to record transactions, making it technically possible to view every transaction a Bitcoin or other unit of cryptocurrency has been used for. But UNDP is also employing blockchain to create increased transparency along supply chains, meaning consumers and producers have more control over their products and livelihoods.   

Working with the FairChain Foundation, UNDP developed The Other Bar, a chocolate bar which uses blockchain to help ensure that cocoa farmers in Ecuador are paid a living wage. Consumers scan a blockchain-powered token on the chocolate bar’s packaging to see exactly how much the farmer was paid for the cocoa in their bar. Plus, for every four scans of a token, The Other Bar provided a farmer in Ecuador with a new cocoa tree to bolster their income. 

In Mongolia, UNDP launched a blockchain program to support sustainable producers of cashmere. In recent decades, the skyrocketing global demand for cashmere has led to environmental degradation of the Central Asian steppes where cashmere goats graze. To combat overgrazing, UNDP launched an Android app where herders entered their grazing locations. Those who grazed their goats in areas not already subject to overgrazing were able to sell their cashmere at a premium to brands, which could then market their cashmere products as sustainably produced. Herders received not only a higher price for their cashmere, but training in sustainable production practices.


Technology for Future Good

Using solutions like blockchain, AI and advanced analytics in UNDP’s Digital Strategy has improved the way we are innovating and solving real-world problems, especially in the face of a global pandemic that seemed set on further isolating many individuals and industries. 

We are excited to continue in the pursuit of advanced tech solutions and increased digitalization. We look forward to future partnerships to improve the good we can all achieve in the world.