UN High Impact Initiative: Digital Public Infrastructure

Vision for Impact

Accelerating progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) requires inclusive digital transformation. Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) can maximize the opportunities for digitalization to support the SDGs and reduce the risks that digital technologies may bring. 

Rather than taking a siloed approach to designing and implementing digital solutions, DPI emphasizes people-centered and interoperable digital building blocks at a societal scale. This approach allows local digital ecosystem players to innovate on top of these blocks, fostering new services for people. With rights-based and people-centric DPI approaches, countries can advance a range of development objectives and respond better during crises.

Today’s decisions by countries on how to build their DPI will have lasting consequences on their opportunity to grow and innovate, and to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Following the G20 Leaders Declaration in 2023, Digital Public Infrastructure is a key breakthrough that gives the momentum needed to change course and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, across all 17 SDGs. As new technologies advance at an exponential rate, there is an acute opportunity for entire communities to benefit from a growing array of life-changing digital solutions — from digital cash transfers to e-health – given proper investments in their own DPI. 

Overview: Digital Public Infrastructure

By 2030, the UN High Impact Initiative on DPI aims to catalyze the collective action necessary, working with leaders and scalable models to unlock targeted support for DPI implementation and strengthening in 100 countries by ensuring that DPI is safe, accessible, affordable, green, financed, and future ready. Accordingly, this HII has identified and prioritized five key pillars that combine global initiatives with commitments from individual countries and organizations in support of this objective.​

Universal Safeguards

DPI must be people-centric and respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. This requires appropriate safeguards, including gender-responsive provisions. DPI implementation without proper safeguards can lead to adverse outcomes, both through unintentional and intentional actions of actors in the ecosystem. Currently there is no commonly agreed set of these universal safeguards that can help drive safe DPI implementation at scale.

This pillar calls for the creation and adoption of universal safeguard framework by all member states and stakeholders to collectively chart a unified path forward to ensure fundamental human rights are universally protected. In partnership with the UN Secretary-General’s Envoy on Technology and under the leadership of the UN Secretary-General, the Universal Safeguards initiative which also includes the 2030 Safeguards Action Hub will be launched at the 78th UNGA, leading into the Summit of the Future in 2024 and beyond.

Innovations for Last-Mile Inclusion

Benefits of DPI should be made accessible for all people, including those living in remote regions and those with disabilities that limit access by conventional means. Lack of last-mile connectivity, availability of appropriate devices, and training often precludes those with most need for DPI from partaking in its benefits. This is compounded by the over 2.6 billion people in the world who are not connected to the internet and therefore do not have the basic access or skills required to use digital technologies.

This pillar seeks to strengthen DPI partnerships with the private sector and community-based organizations across 100 countries to integrate intermediaries into local digital ecosystems and facilitate greater scale services for inclusion, especially for women, as well as strengthen efforts to ensure universal digital connectivity. Through local digital ecosystems, DPI can accelerate solutions in last-mile situations, at scale.

Affordable & Open

To realize the benefits of DPI, countries must have access to affordable, safe, and scalable technologies, along with the technical expertise required for design, deployment, and evolution of DPI.  In the current ecosystem set up, countries cannot make use of low-cost, reusable solutions due to lack of local digital expertise. Affordable access to connectivity is also prohibitively expensive for many people in the world.

This pillar seeks to build awareness of the potential for DPI, facilitate guidance between countries on the approaches most likely to succeed, and promote sharing between countries on best practices. Through the development of open digital and data commons, countries can effectively share, re-use and adopt the relevant solutions for their DPI journeys. This is showcased through a preview of the 50-in-5 Campaign, a global advocacy effort bringing 50 countries together to share learnings and accelerate DPI adoption. This includes the potential for leveraging digital public goods, as built-for-purpose, open-source technologies that countries can adopt and adapt to develop their DPI-capabilities.

Sustainable & Green

DPI can be leveraged to establish global digital ecosystems that enhance transparency, data sharing and innovative green financing. It can help create scalable solutions that empower nations, communities, and individuals in addressing our planetary crisis. To effectively combat climate change and nature degradation, further efforts are needed in leveraging DPI.

This pillar demonstrates DPI’s use of open standards, shared data, and reusable digital building blocks to enhance transparency, data sharing, and innovative green financing across 100 countries. It also promotes the adoption of sustainable technologies in the development and deployment of DPI.

Financing DPI for Sustainable Development

Rights-based and inclusive DPI requires enhanced and coordinated financing to accelerate deployment and aid states in their implementation efforts. The pandemic has widened the annual SDG financing gap in developing countries from $2.5 trillion to $3.9 trillion, and similarly, available funds for DPI fall short of the escalating global needs. DPI and related innovations, such as digital finance, can play an increasing role in mobilizing, allocating, and deploying funds for the SDGs.

This pillar aims to unlock focused financing, including leveraging the Joint SDG Fund window on Digital Transformation, and other initiatives such as the One Future Alliance to synergize global financing efforts to improve accessibility of technical assistance, governance capacities, and open innovations for countries. Without this support, many nations may be hindered in investing in various critical areas at scale, such as poverty alleviation and large-scale adoption of clean energy solutions.

Accelerating the SDGs

Digital Public Infrastructure is a key breakthrough for the momentum needed to change course and achieve the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030, across all 17 SDGs. As new technologies advance at an exponential rate, there is an immediate opportunity for entire communities to benefit from a growing array of life-changing digital solutions — from digital cash transfers to e-health – given proper investments in their own DPI. To this end, DPI holds strong potential to accelerate the attainment of the SDGs. For example:

  1. SDG1 No Poverty: DPI could lead to a cycle of increased economic resilience, added job opportunities and reduced poverty levels to help as many as 670 million people (or 8.4 per cent of the world population) living in extreme poverty.
  2. SDG5 Gender Equality: DPI could enhance service delivery to more than 250 million women.
  3. SDG8 Decent Work and Economic Growth: Enabling DPI can bring access to financial institutions for more than two billion people who do not have a bank account.
  4. SDG13 Climate Action: Using DPI for common Measurement, Reporting, and Verification (MRV) systems and interlinking carbon registries can reduce CO2 emissions equal to 3–4 percent of current LMICs’ emission reduction targets.

While the benefits of DPI are clear, success has been limited by the lack of people-centric governance and safeguards, inaccessibility for last-mile communities, high barriers to adoption, and insufficient funding.  Additionally, the full potential of DPI has yet to be explored, such as opportunities to contribute to the green transition. ​