UNDP using apps to fight corruption, pollution in Asia-Pacific
MANILA, Philippines – Technology can spell the difference between victory and failure in humanity’s battle against development challenges like poverty, corruption, hunger, and climate change.
This was the message of Ramya Gopalan, Innovation Specialist of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), in her talk during the Innovation+Social Good Summit 2015 on Saturday, September 26. (LIVE: Innovation+SocialGood: #2030NOW #TheLeaderIWant)
“Innovation plays a big role especially with the appetite for reform to address these development challenges,” she told the audience at the Newport Performing Arts Theater in Pasay City.
The UNDP is among many international organizations making use of technological innovations to confront obstacles facing the world.
Gopalan cited electronic waste in China as an example. She said China is the repository of 70% of global electronic waste, and had to dispose of and manage 56 million television units and 60 million refrigerators in one year.
It was an enormous problem that the usual approaches could not hack.
So after speaking with communities and electronic retailers, the UNDP partnered with Chinese Internet company Baidu to develop an app called the “Baidu Recycle” app. The app connects consumers with retailers of electronics that practice safe disposal mechanisms.
This way, consumers who wanted to get rid of their old electronics had a choice aside from just dunking their old appliances and laptops into the trash bin.
The app has been responsible for the safe disposal of 12,000 units, said Gopalan. UNDP and Baidu have already launched a second version of the app.
The app complimented other more “traditional” initiatives of the UNDP such as partnering with the government to train disposers on proper disposal of electronic waste.
Apps to the rescue
In the island nation of Maldives in South Asia, Gopalan said the UNDP helped develop an app called “Make My Island” to track reports on disaster incidents.
Borrowing from the United Kingdom site Fix My Street, the app gave citizens a platform to report soil erosion and floods to the Island Council who could then take action.
Both the reports of citizens and the action taken by the government are made available online through the app.
“We engage citizens in the kind of reporting they do. We’ve now scaled this up to the capital city of Male,” said Gopalan.
In Papua New Guinea, an island nation notorious for corruption in the government, UNDP helped establish an SMS system for citizens to monitor their government officials.
Because of the system called Eribery, 1,000 cases were reported and two officials arrested over the misuse of over $2 million.
Gopalan added: “Animation videos were launched in Nepal to stir conversations on traditional gender roles. It started amazing interactions with the kids in schools and it helped break the barrier and make them understand how they can bring changes to their families and their communities.”
The power of technological innovations and the wide window of opportunity presented by the Internet has persuaded even national governments to invest in such innovations as out-of-the-box measures to address age-old problems.
Gopalan said there are already 15 “social innovation labs” in the Asia-Pacific region.
What sets apart groups or countries blazing the trail in such innovations from those still trying to catch up is the amount of investment being poured in, she added.
But the best initiatives start with small resources and loads of creative thinking and collaboration.
“We started with minimal seed resources rethinking how we approach challenges, and then co-designing, co- developing small level prototypes that can be scaled up,” said Gopalan.
The key to coming up with successful social innovations is engaging the future users, working hard on the design, and constantly getting feedback, she added.
The Asia-Pacific region, home to two-thirds of the world’s poor, has a huge opportunity to tackle its many development challenges with the new tools at its feet.
The problems may still be daunting, but the weapons the region has against them is forever evolving. – Rappler.com