This post was originally published on Huffington Post Impact on October 28, 2015.
World leaders have just agreed upon the Global Goals for sustainable development; a to-do list for the world for the next 15 years with the lofty ambition of ending extreme poverty.
There is a receptive global public — a movement of global citizens who want to help implement these goals. But as any soccer fan knows, the key thing about goals is scoring them. To ensure this happens, these Global Goals now need to be transformed into practical local scorecards, in the hands of citizens, holding power and each other accountable for implementation.
This is where open government and the data revolution come in.
In his speech to the UN general assembly, President Obama spoke passionately about a young teenage girl, Eva Tolage, who wrote to him asking he commit to the full implementation of the goals. So let’s follow this story — from lofty global promises to local real specifics.
I happen to know that the girls from her secondary school wrote last summer to the head of Tanzanian President’s Big Results Now initiative, also requesting some basic promised services be delivered. In fact, I handed him their letter. The girls demanded a well be renovated, for in that school, they have to walk 3-4 km each morning to collect water from a dirty river, and back, and at dawn and dusk, it’s a dangerous journey for young girls — due to wild animals (it’s on the edge of a game park) and some wild men (it runs a route past various bars).
They are still waiting for the well.
Eva is determined to succeed, as are all the girls of Mlowa Secondary School. But she goes hungry every day, and can’t concentrate on her school work. She fears this will impact her studies and she may let her father, a hardworking farmer, down. Her school has no electricity, no running water, not enough food to feed its students.
Eva, and millions of children like her, are the future of Tanzania, of Africa, and of the world.
But we are letting her down.
The 130bn per -annum industry that is development, the hundreds of thousands of employees of official aid NGOs, UN bodies and government ministries, are all failing Eva and her generation. Yes, some things have made a difference — HIV is being fought back, malaria bed nets are more prevalent as are childhood vaccines. But so much else is required to not just help people survive, but thrive.
The girls of Mlowa Secondary School should be able to see the local education budget, the local infrastructure budget covering irrigation sanitation and electrification, the local agriculture budget that — if well supplied, would help her father be a more productive farmer — and hold local government accountable for delivering these services, so Eva and her generation can be the best students they can be, and carry the county and the country and the continent’s future forward.
Through open government, these secondary school girls can form a local factivist force, and follow the money through these local budgets to ensure it is delivered. But they need good, up-to-date data to understand what progress is being made.
There is a crisis at the heart of global development policy and it is the crisis of bad data. Closed, secret, absent or out-of-date data. That’s why over 70 organisations from business, government and civil society have come together to launch the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data. Their commitment is to invest in, open, produce and use good data to meet the data needs of national governments and local communities and to create the governance framework to support the new collaborations.
Members of the global partnership will work to improve data quality- and quantity-contained within national level Open Government Partnership plans. We need this shared open forum for the world to identify specific problems and start to address them. We need governance structures to ensure that Eva can be confident that her privacy and rights will be protected, that her local community will receive the funds it has been allocated to build its roads, schools and health facilities.
We need new technology innovations and datasets that will ensure that she has the data that she, her family and her community need to make the good decisions and answer the questions that matter to them. Which market should they sell their produce for the best price? Which crops will bring the best harvest in their environment? Have the sums promised for local development and actually delivered?
Most of all, we need leaders to recognise Eva and the millions of others like her as a person with potential, dreams, aspirations, and rights — including the right to know what’s going on around her. Without this being taken seriously, the goals are a mere UN document. With it, the global goals will help people transform their lives.