Delegates Exchange Views on Unleashing Private Sector Power to Solve Entrenched Inequalities at Day-long Economic and Social Council Partnership Forum

With 8 per cent of people around the world living in poverty, and 192 million unemployed, achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development would require unleashing the power of the business community to solve entrenched structural ills, delegates told the Economic and Social Council Partnership Forum today.

Held under the theme of Partnering for resilient and inclusive societies: contributions of the private sector, the Council’s day long meeting featured four panel discussions, which broadly explored business practices to promote the participation of vulnerable populations and the potential of partnerships that harnessed big data to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

In opening remarks, Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed said the private sector was an indispensable partner in collective efforts to reduce inequalities and promote the social, economic and political inclusion of all. Better engagement with companies would require an enabling policy environment and dialogue that encouraged firms to do business in a way that works for global good, and for the bottom line, she said.

For its part, the United Nations must ensure transparency and accountability in its partnerships, she said, notably through the Global Compact and at the local level. Member States should stay engaged with companies to improve their reporting and align their businesses with the priorities of national Governments.

Along those lines, Council President Marie Chatardova (Czech Republic) said sustainable business models could unlock economic opportunities worth up to $12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030. The private sector could create more inclusive value chains, establish diversity policies, include marginalized groups in decision making and spur disruptive innovations that brought marginalized groups into the mainstream of economic and social life.

In a panel titled From commitment to results: contributions of the private sector to the delivery of the sustainable development goals, Bob Wigley, Chairperson of UK Finance, described how blockchain technology could increase transparency around payments made in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals at a time when some 1.5 billion people worldwide could not prove who they were and lacked access to financial services.

On that point, Vincent Molinari, Chief Executive Officer of Liquid M Capital, speaking on a panel titled Inclusive business models for women and vulnerable groups, said blockchain approaches could be used to digitally format social impact bonds. That, in turn, could reduce corruption and give identities to underserved stakeholders, allowing them to control their own data. Capital flows must be unblocked, he said. If we can empower women and youth, we begin to change the essence of how we view the [Sustainable Development] Goals.

An afternoon panel on The role of the private sector in unleashing the potential of big data for public good explored how to unlock the power of big data to accelerate humanitarian action. Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of United Nations Global Pulse, explained that big data allowed people to see into the dynamics of hunger, conflict and disease. Users had found ways to use real time information to model the spread of disease, understand mass movements of people after disaster, what people paid for food and where people were facing discrimination. Indeed, inclusion was a tricky issue for big data: its benefits were not reaching those who needed them most and the skills to unlock its potential were in the hands of the few. Getting to a future where big data was used for the public good required improved privacy protections.

There’s an ethical obligation to work for the greater good, even though it comes with risk, he said. Getting to scale would require an evolution in how big data was regulated and in balancing the risks of use against non use in ways that were grounded in science, sensitive to context and placed rights front and centre.

In a final panel on Building momentum for the SDGs: the role of big data, Anil Arora, Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada, said the Government had made a choice not to be data rich and information poor. Highlighting its strong commitment to evidence and data in decision making, he said it was the job of science to translate significant amounts of data into consumable, high quality information. The value of data lay in what happened over time and the ability to consistently compare one region to another.

You cannot fix what you cannot see, added Andrew Zolli, Vice President of Global Impact Initiatives at Planet Inc.

Council President Chatardova delivered closing remarks alongside Elliot Harris, Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development and Chief Economist in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, speaking on behalf of the Under Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs.

In other business today, the Council decided that the theme for its 2018 humanitarian affairs segment would be Restoring humanity, respecting human dignity and leaving no one behind: working together to reduce people’s humanitarian need, risk and vulnerability, adopting a decision submitted by Vice President Jerry Matthews Matjila (South Africa) on the basis of informal consultations.

The Council also elected Luxembourg by acclamation to the Commission on Population and Development, for a term beginning on the date of election and expiring at the close of the Commission’s fifty fourth session in 2021. It postponed the following elections of: two members from African States, for a term beginning at the first meeting of the Commission’s fifty second session and expiring at the close of its fifty fifth session in 2022; two members from the Asia Pacific States, for a term beginning on the date of election and expiring at the close of the Commission’s fifty fourth session in 2021; and one member from the Asia Pacific States, beginning at the first meeting of the fifty second session and expiring at the close of the fifty fifth session.

Opening Remarks

MARIE CHATARDOVA (Czech Republic), President of the Economic and Social Council, said that the Partnership Forum would focus on the significant role the private sector could play in promoting inclusive societies and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. Research showed that sustainable business models could unlock economic opportunities worth up to $12 trillion and increase employment by up to 380 million jobs by 2030. The private sector’s contribution could create more inclusive value chains, establish diversity policies, include marginalized groups in decision making processes and spur disruptive innovations that brought marginalized groups into the mainstream of economic and social life. The Partnership Forum would contribute important elements to the Council’s special meeting Towards sustainable, resilient and inclusive societies through participation of all, to be held in May. It would also inform the discussions of the High level Political Forum on Sustainable Development in July 2018.

AMINA MOHAMMED, Deputy Secretary General of the United Nations, said three years into the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, expectations were high and they should be. The United Nations must continue brokering new partnerships and a new narrative of how it did business at the country level. Bold action was needed to build a resilient and sustainable future. Indeed, around the world, more than 8 per cent of people lived in poverty and 192 million were unemployed. Young people were three times more likely to not have a job. Billions of people lacked the tools and access to participate in a globally connected world, while the global gender pay gap stood at 23 per cent.

She called for working together to empower people and promote social, economic and political inclusion. Governments alone could not meet such unprecedented needs. The private sector was an indispensable partner, both for pursuing common goals and aligning businesses with the 2030 Agenda. Sustainable business was good for the bottom line and it required an enabling policy environment and dialogue mechanisms. For their part, businesses must create market based solutions that promoted inclusion. A critical part of the United Nations development system reform was to create a stronger institutional response to the 2030 Agenda at the country level. The United Nations had a unique convening power to broker the partnerships needed across a universal agenda, which required transparency. She cited the work of the Global Compact at the local level, noting that Sustainable Development Goal 12.6 called on large companies to integrate sustainability information into their reporting cycle.

Panel I

The Council then opened its first round table discussion, High level conversation: from commitment to results: contributions of the private sector to the delivery of the Sustainable Development Goals. Moderated by Kathy Calvin, President and Chief Executive Officer of the United Nations Foundation, it featured presentations by: Dan Matjila, Chief Executive Officer of the Public Investment Corporation; Bob Wigley, Chairperson of UK Finance; and Kirstine Cooper, General Counsel of Aviva (representing World Benchmarking Alliance).

Ms. CALVIN said that in the three years since the adoption of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris Agreement on climate change, companies had committed as genuine leaders in a move towards a world that left no one behind. Many had found success through sustainability, and led the way to innovations that would allow for meeting the Sustainable Development Goals.

Mr. MATJILA said his company focused on environmental, social and governance within companies, noting that it had signed the United Nations Principles for Responsible Investment. The Public Investment Corporation’s philosophy was to generate sustainable returns for its clients. The Sustainable Development Goals covered environmental, social and governance as well as economic issues, which could be equated to financial returns in the space of asset management. His corporation assessed companies that were weak � those with low scores on environmental, social and governance levels and low financial returns � against those with high scores and high returns. It also worked to identify and understand problematic variables. Its engagement with companies occurred after it scored them, and there were often subsequent changes in behaviour. As an example, he cited the collapse of a company with a $50 billion market capitalization due to accounting irregularities. The Public Investment Corporation had picked up signs of potential collapse, engaged with the company, raised governance issues, but was late in acting. Our actions are watched closely, he said. We’ve become almost like a bell wether.

Mr. WIGLEY described an example of a public private partnership, held by the United Kingdom Treasury and supported by the financial services industry, with the launch of the Women in Finance Charter, which committed signatory companies to increasing female representation at senior levels. We have no problem recruiting women, he said, but promoting them had been more difficult. The Women in Finance Charter required companies to measure and report outcomes annually, insisting that a senior member of the executive take leadership of the programme. Some 200 financial services firms had committed to the Charter, representing 650,000 colleagues in the United Kingdom. The goal now was to ensure that the rest of industry signed on, and to be assiduous that they implemented recommendations. Turning to blockchain technology, which he described as a double entry ledger system, he said using such methods could increase transparency around payments made in pursuit of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. COOPER said commitments should be made by all stakeholders towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, that would not be sufficient. The collective effort, combining perspectives and expertise, would make a difference. While the Goals provided a vision, a mechanism to deliver was needed and businesses needed to lead the way. The related information must be free for everyone to view, and benchmarks must be established to track progress on all Sustainable Development Goals. She invited those who had not contributed to the benchmarks to do so online to bring parity and consistency to how corporations were performing towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Ms. CALVIN asked about how best to proceed and about examples that could act as a guide.

Mr. WIGLEY pointed out that 1.5 billion people worldwide could not prove who they were and had no access to financial services. The Blockchain Commission for Sustainable Development [launched at the United Nations in 2017 to promote the use of blockchain technology in projects including food distribution, identity authentication and climate change] had produced its first paper for anyone who wanted to know how to use blockchains for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals. For its part, the private sector must be open minded on innovations in order to make progress on the Sustainable Development Goals. Providing an example, he said 11 Governments had made mandatory a technology available today that made plastic absorbent instead of resistant, thereby lessening its environmental impact.

Mr. MATJILA, elaborating on that point, said legislation could be useful to help to guide private companies in the right direction because voluntary commitments could occasionally be problematic.

Panel II

The Council’s second panel, Inclusive business models for women and vulnerable groups, was moderated by Rie Vejs Kjeldgaard, Director of Partnerships and Field Support at the International Labour Organization (ILO). It featured presentations by: Peter Rhee, Corporate Vice President of Global Public Affairs at Samsung Electronics; Vincent Molinari, Chief Executive Officer of Liquid M Capital; Katharina Latif, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at Allianz SE; Sameer Raina, Executive Vice President of Partnerships at Digital Divide Data; and Ricardo Oteros Sanchez Pozuelo, Chief Executive Officer of Supracafe. Lead discussants were Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS and Andrew Wilson, Permanent Observer of the International Chamber of Commerce.

Ms. VEJS KJELDGAARD said the vision of a world where no one was left behind required a look at an inclusive business model. The ILO annual employment outlook for 2016 2017 found that in the last 20 years, the number of youth around the world had grown by 139 million, while their labour force had shrunk by 35 million. Meanwhile, the gender gap stood at 23 per cent. Citing the ILO Global Wage Report, she said that, in Europe, women comprised 50 to 60 per cent of the lowest three deciles of salary levels in 2016 2017. Of the 10 per cent best paid, 35 per cent were women. Of the highest 1 per cent best paid, 20 per cent were women. Stressing that the private sector had always been central to economies around the world, she anticipated today’s discussion to explore best in class inclusive business models.

Mr. RHEE said Samsung had been committed to improving the human condition since its establishment. To that end, it had an active corporate citizenship programme focused on education, health care and employability. Highlighting several programmes, he described the smart school, which provided digital education to marginalized lower income and migrant groups in some 50 countries. Through the programme, Samsung also trained teachers in how to conduct education through digital formats. Samsung’s 250 technology institutes around the world meanwhile sought to transition young people aged 16 to 24 years into the workforce.

Mr. MOLINARI said his company was optimistic about creating innovations within regulatory frameworks to drive capital towards the Sustainable Development Goals. Liquid M focused on modernizing securities laws to intersect with technologies in order to bring in new mechanisms that engaged investible capital, and had examined how blockchain technology could move digital assets to regulated areas. Once capital moved freely, Liquid M studied how it could use blockchain and smart contracts to change the engagement of stakeholders. Describing its Fifth Dimension Group, he said that if silos could be dissolved, available technologies could accelerate the movement of capital to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. He also discussed the issuance of social impact bonds � in a digital format using blockchain technology � which could transcend global frameworks, help reduce corruption and give identities to underserved stakeholders that would allow them to control their own data.

Ms. LATIF, noting that Allianz SE served more than 80 million people globally, described several projects targeting youth. Among them were a joint endeavour with SOS Children’s Villages on youth employability and a programme, Encouraging Future Generations, that focused on helping children and youth at risk to transition from school to work and lead independent and fulfilled lives. Climate action was also a focus, she said, adding that Allianz SE had a long history in corporate responsibility and the Sustainable Development Goals were close to their business core. More generally, a multi partner approach worked best to address all those issues.

Mr. RAINA said his not for profit enterprise targeted disadvantaged youth all around the world. Digital Divide Data focused on technology, such as cloud computing and data analytics, and how it could impact jobs. Given the current global mismatch of demand and supply of talent, the company had created an inclusive design chain solution. Along with other companies like Intel or Amazon, it aimed at training people for the available jobs instead of moving jobs across borders. To date, the programmes had been very successful and would be scaled up to meet demands.

Mr. SA�NCHEZ-POZUELO said that over the last 20 years, Supracafe had worked with women in Colombia in the production of sustainable coffee. At the outset of the programme, those women had sent him a message: they were paying the price of war because their husbands had died in it. He asked the 203 women how he should sum up their 20 year experience today. They told him it had taken five years to launch the business. Today, they made high quality coffee. He described a project through which Supracafe provided a local company with technology, and ensured it had the licenses needed to provide coffee to different markets. Thus far, some 300 hectares of land in Colombia were being cultivated for that purpose. This is a long term business, he said, and you have to work on it consistently, and patiently. Central to its work was the creation of partnerships and alliances, often with cooperative coffee suppliers. He also described a sustainable agriculture programme.

Ms. CALVIN posed several questions, asking for details on some of the issues under discussion.

Mr. SA�NCHEZ-POZUELO said that as the supply of quality coffee was fundamental, Supracafe ensured its coffee was differentiated by quality and in organic, sustainable forms, through operating its own farms to thereby achieve economies of scale. Without innovation, there could be no progress. Thus, Supracafe provided financial and technical support to its employees and ensured they were included in all innovation programmes it rolled out. As the poorest farmers could face difficulties in trying to join the Supracafe group, efforts were being made to address that. The company must also work on its innovation programme, focus on funding and address labour standards with local authorities.

Mr. RAINA, describing a wealth of opportunities, said there were more of them available today than in the past. Given the imbalance between talent and demand, there was limitless potential for the future.

Ms. LATIF said the youth camp programme helped young people to access the right capacities and training to help them succeed. In designing a programme to increase their employability, the company had had to engage youth from the start, as it was a long term endeavour. Youth required mentors throughout their young adult years to help them to find a good job, settle into a new role and lead productive lives.

Mr. MOLINARI said his company sought to use blockchain technology to create access to capital � especially for women and youth. With that access, people created jobs and stability. When they lacked access, there was greater incidence of conflict. Capital flows must be unblocked, he said, adding that education must focus on accessing it. For his company, profit did not mean greed; it created sustainability and change. If we can empower women and youth, he said, we begin to change the essence of how we view the [Sustainable Development] Goals.

Mr. RHEE said Samsung had measured the positive impact of its programmes by examining several elements, including the number of beneficiaries from its digital education programmes, how they had progressed through their careers, and how the skills that had been provided to them had allowed them to access the workforce.

Mr. TIWANA welcomed the idea for civil society, private sector and all stakeholders to work together to help to achieve the 2030 Agenda. He encouraged business leaders to be champions on issues such as xenophobia, inequalities and violations of human rights. The 2030 Agenda was a holistic framework; therefore, business needed to adopt a broader perspective, including on labour or human rights. Businesses needed to partner with civil society and engage with it locally to create change. Investments in social causes were important for the private sector, and he was encouraged by the examples shared during the Partnership Forum. He invited the participants to share these good practices with peers to further multiply their impact.

MR. WILSON said inclusivity was a core driver of business and more businesses must follow that lead. Communications and outreach to the private sector were key. Also crucial was demonstrating how inclusion delivered long term financial results to encourage businesses to care for inclusion. In addition, fostering enabling environments was very important, as the lack of policy barriers allowed for progress.

In the ensuing discussion, representatives of Government, civil society and the private sector acknowledged the need for partnerships � at all levels � to achieve the 2030 Agenda and its Sustainable Development Goals. Many outlined the challenges in such work and described various strategies for streamlining partnerships, with Egypt’s delegate, on behalf of the Group of 77 developing countries and China, reaffirming the importance of enhancing South South cooperation. Multi stakeholder partnerships must be based on transparency and accountability, he said, and in all partnerships, the United Nations development system should prioritize the use of core resources.

The representative of Bangladesh, speaking on behalf of the least developed countries and aligning himself with the Group of 77, said partnerships were crucial for least developed countries to attain the Goals. Efforts should consider countries’ development levels, while ensuring transparency and accountability, he said, underlining the need to fulfil pledges for official development assistance, debt relief and foreign direct investment. Least developed countries should be provided stronger financial and technical support to develop their private sector in work to attain the Goals. Similarly, Paraguay’s delegate, on behalf of landlocked developing countries, said those nations faced challenges in unleashing the potential of the private sector, notably inadequate infrastructure, skills shortages and mismatch, trade restrictions and difficulties in securing meaningful and long term finance.

Other representatives of the private sector and civil society presented ideas and business models that increased marginalized communities’ access to basic resources, especially women and young people. With that in mind, a speaker from Order Healthy said his company’s traffic light system for rating the health of food in restaurants and on ordering platforms aimed at improving the quality of food consumed by marginalized communities and helping Governments to manage increased spending on health care.

A speaker from Global Impact Sourcing Coalition said her organization was an example of how companies could lead on the issue of inclusive employment. A collaboration of 40 companies, including Microsoft, Bloomberg and Tech Mahindra, had come together to advance a business practice called impact sourcing, whereby a company prioritized suppliers that intentionally provided opportunities for those who would otherwise be at a disadvantage. A representative of the children and youth major group advocated reforming business models and fiduciary duties to respect planetary boundaries and social equality. She pressed the private sector to institute mandatory reporting on their environmental footprints and to remove barriers to intellectual property rights.

Meanwhile, a speaker from Impact PPA, a renewable energy company that set up micro grids to provide electricity in developing nations, said blockchain technology could help to bring marginalized communities into modern society. That, in turn, gave rise to other benefits; with access to clean energy, people could access basic services and rights, such as education and health care. The representative of the Digital Equity Laboratory at The New School asked about the challenges of replicating the Supracafe programme in other Latin American countries.

Mr. SA�NCHEZ-POZUELO said knowledge of the local market was key to replicating the example of his business elsewhere. In that vein, Governments should develop more partnerships with private companies.

Mr. RAINA said Governments should provide legislative clarity and transparent incentives.

Mr. MOLINARI agreed, adding that consumers vote with their purchasing power.

Mr. RHEE said regulations should not prevent progress on a huge innovation possibility.

Ms. LATIF stated that the corporate sector had a role to play to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Governments needed to provide education to vulnerable groups to make them fit for employment.

Representatives of the United Arab Emirates and Timor Leste also took part in the discussion.

Panel III

In the afternoon, the Council held a discussion on The role of private sector in unleashing the potential of big data for public good. Moderated by Robert Kirkpatrick, Director of United Nations Global Pulse, it featured presentations by Rachel Samren, Executive Vice President and Chief External Affairs Officer at Millicom and Andrew Zolli, Vice President of Global Impact Initiatives at Planet Inc.

Ms. CHATARDOVA, opening the discussion, said the panel aimed at exploring the potential role of big data in the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals, especially in promoting inclusion and the participation of vulnerable groups. Multi stakeholder perspectives on the new generation of data partnerships with the private sector for sustainable development would be discussed.

Mr. KIRKPATRICK said that United Nations Global Pulse used data to build tools to make better and faster decisions for the public good. Big data was new on the global landscape, but the data revolution was not. Big data was a tool to observe change at a speed that had never been possible in the past. Inclusion was a tricky issue for big data. The digital ocean offered an enormous potential, but only if used correctly. Data philanthropy, which aimed at putting data to work responsively for the public good, had become a global movement. Big data was notoriously difficult to anonymize and privacy protection needed to be improved. The risk of continued non use of big data was real, as privacy was a right as was food, shelter, water, food and sanitation.

Ms. SAMRA�N said that Millicom had built digital highways to facilitate the use of big data. It was a responsibility, but also an opportunity to make sure no one was left behind with regard to mobile and Internet usage. Digital inclusion efforts aimed at ensuring everyone could access technologies and knew how to use them. Technology was a tool to help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, including Goal 5 on gender equality, as it assisted in empowering women and girls and in closing the digital gender gap. The technology was life changing for people. That opportunity came with risks of not only use but also abuse of big data. Governments had a significant role to play in that regard and a multi stakeholder approach was key.

Mr. ZOLLI said big data was difficult to manage because of the amount of information to process and it must be used in context. Citing examples of ongoing projects, he said data and images collected in Dar es Salaam, United Republic of Tanzania, had allowed monitoring projects to study the city’s growth, leading to efficient city planning and feeding into Sustainable Development Goal 11. A project in Bolivia, rapid deforestation, was being monitored by the same tool, examining the amount of carbon lost and deducting ecological cost, which provided information on Sustainable Development Goal 15. You cannot fix what you cannot see, he said.

Panel IV

The Council held a final panel on Building momentum for the SDGs: the role of big data. Moderated by Mr. Kirkpatrick, it featured presentations by: Anil Arora, Chief Statistician at Statistics Canada; Eddy Mukooyo, Chairperson at the Uganda AIDS Commission; JoAnn Stonier, Chief Data Officer at MasterCard; Sriganesh Lokanathan, Team Leader of Big Data for Development at LIRNEAsia; and Ana Maria Blanco, Director of Public Policy and International Relations at Groupe Speciale Mobile Association. Lead discussants were: Stefan Schweinfest, Director of the Statistics Division at the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs; Bjorn Gillsater, Special Representative of the World Bank Group Office in New York; and Amir A. Dossal, President and Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnerships Forum.

Mr. ARORA highlighted the Government of Canada’s strong commitment towards evidence and data to drive decision making, citing legislation to strengthen the independence of Statistics Canada. The Government had invested in that pursuit, having decided not to be data rich and information poor. Science must help to translate significant amounts of data into consumable, high quality information. Given that there were new populations, the value of data about them depended on what happened over time and the ability to consistently compare one region to another. It was important to know what was a statistical anomaly and what constituted real change. Equally crucial was building the capacity for responsible data use across the Government. Statistical agencies dealt routinely with different data sizes, and meshing them into a framework that made sense was a statistician’s daily task.

Mr. MUKOOYO said the Government of Uganda had partnered with civil society, the private sector and local Governments to operationalize development projects, using common indicators to track the performance of various interventions. Most importantly, Uganda had launched, with the United Nations, Pulse Lab Kampala to generate and harness high impact data to solve such challenges. For example, it used mobile phones � and services owned by mobile companies, such as mobile money � to predict hotspots for an epidemic. That work, in turn, had informed a national task force, which put in place mitigation measures to contain epidemics in real time. To reach those in more isolated western and northern areas, a radio programme had been launched in collaboration with local districts. The Government reached out to people participating in radio talk shows, tracked their concerns and used their feedback to identify and evaluate the effectiveness of interventions. People started to demand services as a result of those efforts. In such ways, big data could inform Government about people’s perceptions of its services and track epidemics in real time.

Ms. STONIER said data were the raw materials for innovation and humanitarian action. Yet, innovation and risks had to be balanced. For its part, MasterCard had dedicated resources for financial inclusion and public private partnerships, she said, adding that codes of responsibility beyond ethics allowed for innovation.

Mr. LOKANATHAN, asking if you only fix what you see, questioned whether big data was showing the invisible. What got measured got done, so Governments needed to get help on accountability.

Ms. BLANCO said using big data for social good meant analysing and aggregating it to provide insights to Governments and other stakeholders and guide efforts to take action. As an example, to address SAPound o Paulo’s high pollution index, air monitoring devices had been set up by the Government. In addition, information from mobile data provided insight to help the Government to direct traffic and curb pollution. Frameworks on how to use data and an ethical code of conduct were also developed, she said, noting that the programme’s scale and reach had been very promising.

Mr. SCHWEINFEST, explaining first that big data was fast, local and specific to certain groups, advocated a focus on the quality, and over time, consistency of data. Data cannot be fireworks at one time, he explained. We need them for 15 years consistently to measure what we want to measure. He underscored the need for strong leadership at national statistical institutions and traditional household surveys to be conducted so Governments could understand what had changed over time. Drawing attention to the Global Working Group on Big Data for Official Statistics, he highlighted two upcoming events: the United Nations World Data Forum, from 22 to 24 October in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, and the United Nations World Geospatial Information Congress, from 19 to 21 November, in Deqing, China.

Mr. GILLSATER cited examples of how the World Bank was using big data for the public good, noting first it had used mobile data to help Haiti to rebuild its transit system following the 2010 earthquake and the Philippines to reduce traffic pollution. Ongoing joint efforts included a partnership with India to monitor harmful stove fumes. In SAPound o Paulo, another project was using smartphone data to learn about urban mobility and ensure low income people’s needs were met. He also cited a $37 million partnership between the International Finance Corporation and MasterCard Foundation, expanding the reach and quality of financial services to unbanked populations in sub Saharan Africa.

Mr. DOSSAL said big data could be used to garner important information to make decisions. He stressed the need to put sufficient safeguards in place for its use, noting that blockchain technology could enable that process. The United Nations was already using big data and blockchain approaches to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In the ensuing discussion, delegates and members of civil society shared ideas and recommendations about the use of big data, the opportunities but also the risks it presented.

The representative of the Republic of Korea, speaking also for Mexico, Indonesia, Turkey and Australia, said that the fourth Industrial Revolution was reshaping every aspect of daily life. Big data helped to identify needs and prevent crises while providing real time analytics. Big data could also play a role in implementing the Sustainable Development Goals. He called for an increase of statistical capacity, particularly for developing countries. The private sector must share relevant data with Governments and stakeholders for the public good and Governments had to make sure the data was not misused.

A representative of the children and youth major group amplified the role of Goal 16. As science and technology were reshaping the world, an analysis of big data was needed. Social media platforms continued to develop their guidelines. The use of big data to build the capacity of youth was a positive approach and purpose driven data could help to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Validating the source of digital data and the promotion of transparency were also important.

A representative of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) said efforts included work on data and census projects. New big data instruments were available, but some countries would be unable to join the 2020 census. Working with the private sector would make it possible to leave no one behind. As such, UNFPA was working with several partners to include more countries into the 2020 census.

A representative of GNation said 35 per cent of births in developing countries were unregistered, creating so many challenges in these people’s life.

The representative of Mexico said official data and big data should be used together. Legislation needed to ensure efforts made the best use of big data while protecting people’s privacy. The Mexican official statistics agency had a lot of experience with big data, including from a partnership with Twitter about tourist flows during long weekends. The results had provided information that helped to shape public policies.

Mr. ARORA, asked about the biggest bottleneck to overcome, said it started with a culture change. The Canadian Government was giving users more voice. We need a demanding consumer or citizen, he said. When you ask, they’re not shy to tell you. Canadians were saying that in times of crisis, the response must be informed by as much statistical information as possible. The day when a child was abused in foster care could not happen anymore. The right interventions should be in place to prevent such abuse.

Ms. BLANCO echoed the call for cross society collaboration, which would develop the needed trust. She urged closer collaboration with Governments around smart and agile regulation that allowed innovation to flourish.

Mr. MUKOOYO stressed the need to put in place an enabling environment for the private sector to work with Governments to address people’s concerns. Big data could only be useful if it informed stakeholders about what to do in times of need.

Ms. STONIER urged stakeholders to strike a balance between invasion on the one hand, and the risk of big data use on the other. We need some kind of language, she said, whether through a code of conduct or framework to address that balance. Keeping innovation people centric was important as well. Until there were consistent methodologies, stakeholders would not be able to bridge that divide.

Mr. LOKANATHAN said big data use was at an embryonic stage. Codes of conduct would evolve based on citizens’ needs. His call to action was to move from concept to scalable systems in practice, with examples of big data working at scale.

Ms. CALVIN, in closing, encouraged the development of more partnerships that were more strategic and transformational in nature, and the promotion of that idea to a broader set of businesses. We need to have better data on the performance of those partnerships, she said. The United Nations Foundation would work with the Department of Economic and Social Affairs to facilitate such efforts. It would host a partnership exchange at the high level political forum in July, where local networks of the Global Compact would participate. She asked delegates whether some partnerships could be upgraded, measured better or maintained so that data related to performance was more clearly communicated.

ELLIOT HARRIS, Assistant Secretary General for Economic Development and Chief Economist in the Department of Economic and Social Affairs, delivered closing remarks on behalf of the Under Secretary General for Economic and Social Affairs, emphasizing that investment in building inclusive, resilient societies was a win win for the private sector. Indeed, the private sector must focus on building long term trust through partnerships with all actors, including the most marginalized. For their part, national and local Governments should seek to align their policies with the 2030 Agenda’s inclusion targets, he said, also suggesting that more robust mechanisms for public private dialogue be put in place, especially with vulnerable groups in the national context. Finally, he urged development partners to provide financial and technical support in developing country contexts.

Source: United Nations