Written by Justin Spelhaug, Vice President & Global Head, Microsoft Philanthropies
Reflecting on my fifth visit to the United Nations General Assembly, I’m once again inspired and energized by the commitment to tackle global challenges head on. We find ourselves grappling with critical issues that have the power to impact each and every one of us. And after a week spent with people whose mission it is to think big and act boldly, I have come home with a fresh perspective and renewed motivation in what the role of technology is to help accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
One key takeaway for me was the potential for Artificial Intelligence to deliver strategic impact through a combined UN 2.0 effort. We're at the halfway mark for the SDGs, and we're facing significant financial shortfalls. AI for the SDGs can be a real accelerator because it can support significant efficiency gains that enable us to create more with less and work toward bridging some of the funding gap. But it comes with both opportunities and challenges. It is only through dialogue as a community, looking at each organization’s practices, understanding what’s working, and addressing the pitfalls, that we can learn collectively to close the SDG gap. We dove further into this concept at a great event with our partners at Avanade. We don’t yet have all the answers, but it’s inspiring to see the action each day that UN organizations and NGOs are taking to push forward.
I was also incredibly inspired by some AI in action stories that I had the pleasure of hosting during our Pioneering Progress: AI for a Better Worldevent. We discussed how the International Criminal Court's AI-powered war crime evidence management platform is helping to achieve their mission of justice, how the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) is enhancing agricultural productivity and data-driven decision-making, how the World Bank is transforming with AI, and the ways in which the United Nations Operations and Crisis Center's Integrated Crisis Hub is combining AI for Good geospatial analysis and chat bots for accelerated reporting and to inform decision-making. Take a look at the great insights we captured via this sketch at the event.
During UNGA78, we also unveiled Microsoft's Digital Development Program(DDP). Our DDP program is a comprehensive platform that supports low- and middle-income countries who receive international development assistance. These countries, with 1.8 billion citizens, represent 23% of the world’s population. Participating countries will benefit from pro bono digital advisory, affordable cloud solutions, skilling, and capacity building tools to help governments modernize their infrastructure and provide critical services. Cape Verde, Angola, and Ethiopia are among the first countries leading the way in harnessing the potential of this program and to have a real impact towards a more equitable and inclusive digital economy.
Clearly digital public infrastructure and the digital public good are central to the digital transformation strategy of many governments around the world – especially in the global south. Local innovation will also play a vital role and these discussions reinforce that our mission to empower nonprofits, international organizations, and developing economies with technology is essential for inclusive growth and citizen engagement.
Another great milestone was sharing our progress in our partnership with UNICEF on the Learning Passport, a platform that was created to ensure children and young people around the globe can learn and continue their education anywhere and anytime. Since 2020, we have rolled out the program in 36 countries and territories, engaging more than 5 million people on roughly 12,000 courses, for a total of 6 million completed courses.
It was a real honor to participate in the week’s events, but it also reinforced just how much work we have in front of us. Today we support 325,000 nonprofits and International Governmental Organization, but we need to double, triple and quadruple that number so that we're supporting most organizations in the world with the technology they need to deliver their mission. To do that, we've got to be in more places in the world where these organizations are serving them. And often it starts at the UNGA.