February 20, 2021

Commission on Social Development Examines the Role of Digital Technologies on Well-Being of All

The 59th session of the Commission for Social Development (CSocD59) took place from 8 to 17 February 2021 at the United Nations Headquarters in New York, though most sessions were held virtually. The Commission is the advisory body at the UN responsible for the social development pillar of global development. This year, the priority theme of the Commission was “Socially just transition towards sustainable development: the role of digital technologies on social development and well-being of all.”

With 10 years remaining to achieve the 2030 Agenda, which aims to reduce inequalities and to “leave no one behind,” addressing the inter-linkages between social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development will require pursuing a socially just transition that is people-centred and grounded in the principles of social justice. The economic and social impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic risk reversing decades of progress in the fight against poverty and exacerbating already high levels of inequality. At the same time, this crisis has sparked a global dialogue on ways to build more inclusive and equitable societies by aligning policy frameworks with the vision and overarching objectives of the 2030 Agenda. A socially just transition towards sustainable development entails a re-thinking of economic activity not as an end in itself, but rather as a means for sustainably advancing human well-being and capabilities. It requires a change in mindsets from pursuing narrow short-term economic/material gains towards re-balancing economic, social and environmental objectives to build a common sustainable future for all. 

To enable a socially just transition, the resilience of individuals and societies needs to be strengthened. This requires investing in people’s capacity and equipping them with the skills and resources to withstand economic, social and environmental risks and shocks. Social protection systems, particularly social protection floors, play a key role in facilitating a just transition, building resilience, and reducing inequality and poverty, and promoting inclusive growth. The COVID-19 crisis has revealed gaps in social protection systems worldwide and prompted governments to extend coverage and improve benefits. It is vital that these systems are permanently strengthened and that they are accessible to all people.

Digital technologies can facilitate this transition and create a more inclusive, equitable, resilient and sustainable society for all. The digital revolution has already brought benefits to socio-economic development and improved the quality of life for many by improving access to public services and financial inclusion, and enhancing productivity and efficiency. As the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the pace of digital transformation, it has also exposed the digital divide, which is disproportionately experienced by women and other marginalized groups. The full potential of digital technologies can only be realized when everyone is connected. Closing the digital divide and ensuring the digital inclusion of marginalized groups requires improving access to infrastructure, improving affordability, investing in digital skills, improving awareness of the benefits of being connected and providing relevant content in local languages.

Mercy International Association - Global Action co-sponsored a side event during the Commission, entitled “Migration, Displacement & their Cross-cutting Issues In the Context of Digital Technology & Just Transitions.” Cecilie Kern from MIA-MGA served as the moderator of the event. In her opening remarks, Cecilie mentioned the transformative and empowering opportunities technology offer to migrants, refugees, IDPs, and people who have experienced trafficking or homelessness, but also warned that technology can be used by governments and other operators as a device for collecting personal and group information, in ways that undermine the rights and privacy of displaced people. Tech platforms can also be used to steal financial and identity details, and for online exploitation, extortion, blackmail, and harassment. Tech platforms can play key roles in monitoring and documenting cases of human trafficking and other violations of human rights, and in promoting fair, positive and empathetic perceptions of migrants and displaced people, thus contributing to safety, integration and social cohesion. The full event has been archived on the UNANIMA International Facebook page.

Mercy International Association also participated in the Civil Society Forum for the Commission on Social Development, and signed on to the Civil Society Declaration, which seeks to “amplify the many voices that are left behind because they lack access to education, health care, social services, and even digitalization itself,” and calls on governments to extend the benefits of digital technology and inclusion to all. The Declaration contains subsections which reflect the sessions of the Civil Society Forum: “Digital Inclusion in Education and Social Protections for All,” “Digital Technology and Financing for Development: Eradication of Poverty and Promotion of Equality at Global and National Levels,” and “Digital Technology and Good Governance: Creating a Legal Environment that Protects Human Rights, Respects Privacy, and Prevents Abuses,” and contains a call to action with recommendations for governments. The Declaration concludes, “We, the representatives of civil society, are truly confident in the transformational power of a Digital Technology Revolution based on human rights and dignity, and guided by the values of inclusion, equity, security and transparency.”

Messages to: Cecilie Kern-Global Policy & Research Advocate MIA-MGA

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