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Using Digital Technology To Transform Society And Achieve SDGs

"Technology has become very affordable now. You have a huge combination of advanced technology which is blending together to create synergies," said Ramanan Ramanathan, Mission Director, Atal Innovation Mission


On 14th March, the NASSCOM Foundation organized the CSR Leadership Conference in New Delhi. The Opening Plenary Session was on Digital Transformations and Sustainable Development Goals, with senior change makers to deliberate on the ‘what next’ in technology for good. It was moderated by Ramanan Ramanathan, Mission Director, Atal Innovation Mission, who began by saying, “We have 40% below poverty line, we have youthful country. We have 124,000 schools. We have a lot of challenges, but we have rapidly changing technology and business models. How do we ensure that with the rapid transformation in digital technology and the challenges ahead, we can help society and ensure a better greener future?”

Ramanathan also went on to add, “We promote innovation and entrepreneurship along the length and breadth of the country. Atal Innovation Mission is working at a school level, by creating a mindset inductive to innovation. We have Atal Tinkering Labs as well in schools, and these technologies are being provided by the government, so students can learn how this technology can be adapted in line with the Sustainable Development Goals. The Atal Innovation Mission is also creating world-class incubators to promote and sustain start-ups with a social or commercial impact. We are promoting a number of challenges called the New India Challenge to solve practical problems in the country." “Technology can make a lasting impact in CSR and solving problem. Technology has become very affordable now. You have a huge combination of advanced technology which is blending together to create synergies. Like in the agriculture domain, how can technology be leveraged to increase farmer income, and we can see that happening in Israel where technology is driving social impact. We have to assess how the SDG framework can leverage technology to create change," said Ramanathan.

Dr. Harsh Vinayak, Senior Vice President, BPO & Shared Services, NTT DATA, said, “We will talk about how technology can be harnessed for change and development in the CSR front. To talk about whether technology has an everlasting effect is to question history. When seemingly insurmountable problems have come forth in the world, technology has helped. Technology is not necessarily digital technology, technology has always been there. We are in the digital or data age, so we can use data in the right way to create impact. Digital technology is certainly going to accelerate the level at which humankind can solve problems. Fossil fuel was a huge thing before, and we can see how rapidly it’s changing, with renewable energy and electric vehicles”. Vinayak also went on to add, “The 17 SDGs cover a wide array of regions. For enterprises when you look at these goals, something clicks. And everything we do does align to the goals somehow or the other. Giving back is the core, and technology accelerates it. The framework and the goals are very well thought of, and it brings all of us together. Technology is nothing new, it is just happening in a different way. Saying that technology and robots are taking our jobs, is a naïve thought. We need to provide skills to the people to get acquainted with it.”

“We have invested quite a bit in the field of climate change recently, with investments on the ground and supporting civil society. We as an institution believe in the power of digital technology to be enablers towards a progressive society. We have just touched the tip of the iceberg, and there is still a lot to be done. In the last few decades, there have been a lot of ways technology has permeated our lives in different ways. If we look at the impact of technology on development, I think there is still a long way to go. There is so much to be done to harness the power of technology for the people on the ground. It requires fresh thinking," said Moutushi Sengupta, Director, India Office, MacArthur Foundation. She also added, “The landscape at the moment is widely open, and a lot of experiments can happen and will happen. One of the criticisms of MDGs was that it did not provide a chance for institutions to contribute, while SDG has a more holistic framework. For each of the SDGs, there is a whole host of activities that need to happen. There is a lot of thinking which needs to take place.”

Leonardo Ortiz Villacarta, Global Field Director, Microsoft Philanthropies, said, “There is no doubt how the increasingly digital society is transforming society, how the economy works, how we operate and so on. The acceleration of the change is one that we have never seen before. We see that in technology and the market. The pace at which the climate is changing is forcing different dynamics across the world, or whether its food or sustainability in general. I think we need a world where no one is left behind”. He also added, “When one doesn’t have access to these digital tools, then you don’t have access to opportunity, and then there’s a wide gap in society. Technology can play a role in bringing out the change in society. We believe that by bringing technology to some of the entities with solutions, IoT, AI, and learning, development can take place. The money going into technology will do good, and there is a lot that can be achieved which can be brought by bringing basic digital skills to the community. When a girl is earning more than the father, or the breadwinner of the family, there is a multiplying effect."

Ramanathan also added, “Technology has the power to do good, but it can be misused. CSR and all the money that is going into innovation, is it going to create problems or actually do good? The SDG framework gives us the tools to assess where technology can do go, and how there can be betterment of the society with digital transformation."

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