How a technology initially designed to entertain is now changing urban landscapes
A popular game for kids and teens has turned out to be the inspiration behind smart city policies around the world. Thanks to a UN collaboration with a computer software company, citizens of all ages and backgrounds in places like Mexico, Haiti, Kenya and Gaza are literally playing an important role in redesigning public space.
Block by Block started as an initiative to get citizens more involved in the planning of public spaces through Mojang’s Minecraft computer game. Directly supporting the SDG11 (inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities), it gave tools to community members so they would develop plans that architects and governments could turn into reality. Since then, it has spread to a range of countries, from Vietnam to Haiti, Mexico and Somalia.
Known as a “digital Lego”, Minecraft was adapted to real-life cities, where people can suggest improvements and start building models for their communities.
In Kenya, the program started in 2017 as a way to bring refugees and locals closer together. The idea was to develop their design skills using the game and organize visits to physical sites that needed improvement. Even people with poor computer skills could learn quickly, due to the recreational nature of the project. Then, they would discuss the project and come up with ideas, many of them economically feasible and environmentally friendly. Some of the participants suggested tree-planting in order to provide more comfort and shade to the community and solar lights for clean energy – both projects duly implemented.
In Vietnam, the project has taken a strong gender approach. Girls were the main affected group, as they commute several miles every day to go to school, facing many safety challenges. Dark corners and dangerous passages were some of the problems they faced, and the solution came in the form of improved signage, lighted walkways and safe spaces like women-only coffee shops and shelters.
In addition to fostering collaboration, the Block by Block initiative also serves an important social function: that of developing computer skills in endangered communities and empowering minorities like women and refugees. Regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, digital technology is inclusive and for all; it leaves no one behind.
While world leaders are gathered in the climate change conference, there’s a general concern about discussions not going fast enough
Four years ago, the world celebrated one of the most important environmental treaties: the Paris Agreement. Besides all the differences, global leaders were able to sit together and decide that it was time for a bold action concerning climate change. By then, 195 countries signed the agreement that aims to limit global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above preindustrial temperatures.
In the following years, the global audience has seen the momentum created in Paris fade as the time passed: implementation, voluntary commitments and rules were hard challenges that didn’t find consensus. So, what’s the expectation for the COP 25? Held in Madrid, Spain, after Brazil and Chile having abandoned their candidacies, the 25th annual Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is expected to be “The COP of Implementation”.
Representatives of the parties will discuss rules about the international carbon markets, climate finance. Their main objective is to finalize the details of the Paris Agreement, filling in legal and technical details. One of the main topics to be discussed is the set of rules for voluntary carbon emission markets, which would let nations meet their pledged emissions cuts by trading with other countries.
Climate finance for developing countries is also another issue on the table. Parties will negotiate details about how to support these countries as they adapt to climate change and reduce their carbon emissions.
What is happening now?
The first days of COP25 climate talks were marked by demonstrations and social discontent with the slowness of global leaders about climate change. Young activist Greta Thunberg is leading marchs in Madrid, saying the world hasn’t achieved anything, as carbon emissions continue to rise while debates are ongoing. A recently published report published by the Universal Ecological Fund shows that greenhouse gas emissions rose by 0.6% last year, even though the rate of increase has declined. It is not enough to represent a shift in climate action, as we must change it from increasing carbon to falling emissions.
I must confess that I was disturbed by Greta Thunberg’s speech at the UN Climate Action Summit, which took place last September at the UN Headquarters in New York. I’ve seen many teenagers angry for whatever reason, but never for such a genuine and clear purpose as the future of their own kind. It’s not about the planet anymore, it’s about the hundreds of thousands of climate refugees, it’s about the species that are under threat and whose disappearance could unbalance the environment só strongly that it would cause famine and chaos. It’s about us, the ones who have a few more decades ahead to live.
Although I’ve seen many angry teenagers before, I’ve never seen a 16-year-old be so disruptive with her words and receive so much criticism for being too «bold and pessimistic». But I know I’ve never seen such mobilization of so many young people. It was beautiful to see millions of children going on strike for the climate just a few days later, inspired by a clear message that said we must create other rules because the current ones are no longer working. I saw it as a call to re-create capitalism and rethink our consumption and production system, as well as our way to reassess national growth and wealth. Isn’t there a better way to be rich than to always seek to produce more and more?
It was the first time than I saw such anger coming from someone so young and, yet, so right that she strokes hearts all over the world. She disturbed some, angered others, inspired and caused strong emotion on many – I haven’t heard of nobody say they were not touched by her words.
A few days later, surrounded by business people from an industry that is marked by their not-too-sustainable methods, all I’ve heard was: we need to change the way we work, the raw materials we use, our waste management. Greta was right, they say, and Greta is the future: she is the angry face of new consumers who are not happy about how the current system goes and demand change now. Greta’s generation might not have the smooth personality we expect from our children, but they know what they will face if we don’t act now. And we don’t dare not to.
Horyou is proud to support the global efforts to ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all at all ages (SDG3). As part of our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals, we invite Dr. Alexey Kulikov from the United Nations Interagency Task Force on Noncommunicable Diseases, based at the World Health Organization, as a guest writer.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health disorders account for 30% of the non-fatal disease burden and 10% of the overall disease burden, worldwide. Mental health disorders include depression, anxiety, bipolar affective disorder, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, and developmental disorders, including autism (1).
Growing ageing populations have resulted in a 30% increase in the global prevalence of mental health disorders since 1990 (2). The heavy burden of mental disorders and small proportion of national budgets earmarked for mental health (less than US$2 per person per year in low and middle-income countries) has resulted in a substantial gap between the need and availability of mental health disorders and treatments (1). Half of all mental health conditions start by 14 years of age but most cases go undetected and untreated due to the lack of mental health care available in many countries. Mental health is an integral part of an individual’s capacity to lead a fulfilling and productive life, and persons with untreated mental disorders experience an average of 10-20 years reduction in life expectancy (3).
The high burden of mental disorders is not just of public health concern but has growing economic implications, too. Common mental disorders alone cost the global economy US$ 1 trillion per year, resulting in increased health and welfare expenditures as well as reduced economic productivity (4). Persons with mental health conditions are more likely to exit the labor force, miss days of work or perform at a reduced capacity while at work.
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Pan-American Health Organization (PAHO), the Ministry of Health of Jamaica and RTI International developed a pilot Mental Health Investment Case in Jamaica in 2018. The investment case modeled clinical interventions selected by Jamaica’s Ministry of Health to scale up treatment of mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and psychoses disorders. The selected scale-up of interventions was projected to cost approximately 16 billion JMD in the next 15 years but also to lead to large economic productivity and social benefit gains valued at approximately 60 billion JMD over the same period (5). The take-away point from this study in Jamaica is that the benefits of mental health treatment significantly outweighed the costs by 375%.
The need to address social and economic challenges posed by mental disorders was highlighted during the High-level Meeting of the UN General Assembly on the Prevention and Control of Noncommunicable diseases (NCDs) in 2018 (6). Together, UNDP along with WHO’s Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, and the WHO Secretariat for the United Nations Interagency Task Force for the Prevention and Control of Non-communicable Diseases (UNIATF) is developing the methodology for mental health investment cases to enable national governments to develop national mental health investment cases to strengthen their responses to mental health disorders and promote health and well-being.
Capitalizing on UNIATF’s experience in development of national NCD investment cases, mental health investment cases will assist national governments in estimating the “hidden” cost of mental disorders resulting from labor force reductions, presenteeism and absenteeism. Based on empirical, nationally owned data and WHO and UNDP tools, analyses from mental health investment cases will identify the leading behavioral, social and environmental risk factors in a country and propose concrete national policies and relevant clinical interventions to combat mental health disorders. From these analyses, an estimation of the return on investments (ROIs) of scaled-up action for the treatment and prevention of mental disorders will be calculated. These ROIs will compare the monetary value of health impacts and economic outcomes of scaled-up interventions with the cost of these interventions. As in the case of NCD Investment Cases, ROIs will allow ministries of health to make compelling economic arguments for taking multi-sectoral and holistic action to promote, protect and restore mental health.
By Alexey Kulikov, Jenna Patterson, Mark Humphrey Van Ommeren,Dudley Tarlton and Nicholas Banatvala
3. Firth, J. et al., 2019. A blueprint for protecting physical health in people with mental illness.. Lancet Psychiatry.
4. Chisholm, D. et al., 2016. Scaling-up treatment of depression and anxiety: a global return on investment analysis. Lancet Psychiatry.
5. Scaling up treatment for depression, anxiety and psychosis in Jamaica: A return on investment analysis, 2018. RTI International.
6. United Nations General Assembly resolution 73/2. Political declaration of the third high-level meeting of the General Assembly on the prevention and control of non-communicable diseases. A/RES/73/2 (10 October 2018) from undocs.org/en/A/RES/73/2
Technology has been central to development throughout the course of human history. The rapid growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across the world proves this fundamental connection on an unprecedented scale – and with revolutionary impact.
Today, it could be said that all development is linked to digital development: from education to transportation, urban planning, sanitation, health, manufacturing, industry and, of course, communication, there is no industrial sector today that does not rely on ICTs as the essential backbone infrastructure providing access to services – and the associated benefits of social and economic development.
At the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the specialized United Nations agency for ICTs, one of the priorities is to ensure that those benefits are made available to all of the world’s population, not just a limited few. ITU is committed to connecting all the world’s people, wherever they live and whatever their means. And connectivity, and the ICT services, products and solutions it enables, is essential to meeting every one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
But how can we accelerate universal connectivity and the development it brings when nearly half of the people in the world remain offline?
The ICT sector is working with us towards an ambitious long-term goal of connecting the next 1.5 billion citizens by 2020. This will require not only enormous investment in networks and other infrastructure, but also – crucially – significant political commitment.
Infrastructure alone, however, is not enough. According to ITU, around 90% of the world’s population is covered by at least 2G or 3G services – yet adoption remains at barely 51%. So for connectivity to be meaningful, to actually reach people and change lives, affordable, fit-for-purpose services and equipment are needed, as well as local content in local languages, relevant to local context. And programmes to raise awareness of the benefits of connectivity, as well as to teach the digital skills essential to taking full advantage of this potential.
Digital literacy is just as important for meaningful connectivity as cheap handsets or 3G networks in rural and remote areas. Innovation and inclusivity are as vital as infrastructure and investment.
It’s clear that neither public nor private sector can go it alone. The task of connecting the whole world is as enormous as the developmental benefits it will bring. The leadership, resources and skills required are as great as the impact it will have. Government must work closely with the private sector, with all stakeholders throughout the digital ecosystem, with NGOs and international organizations, with civic society, communities, academia and media.
Public private partnerships, in whatever form, are the key to driving meaningful connectivity and bringing the world online. This is where ITU’s leading annual event, ITU Telecom World, has such an important role to play. By bringing together leaders from government, industry, regulatory bodies, international agencies, consultants and academia from developed and emerging markets alike, the event works towards meeting the SDGs through digital technology, focusing efforts on infrastructure, investment, innovation and inclusivity.
The ITU Telecom World Awards Programme, in particular, is an opportunity to encounter, engage with and celebrate the best in innovative tech solutions with very real social impact.
The international visibility, UN credibility and access to networking, investment potential and partnerships offered by the Awards has proved highly valuable since the programme’s introduction in 2015 – and is an excellent stage for precisely those public-private collaborations so essential to growing connectivity.
Held this year in HungExpo, Budapest, Hungary, from 9 – 12 September, ITU Telecom World 2019 is only one small step towards connecting the world. Every step counts, however, on the journey to accelerate development throughout the world through technology. And together, we can make those steps larger, longer and more effective.
Horyou is a media partner of ITU Telecom World 2019
Focused on 3 Sustainable Development Goals, the Future Here Summit invited social good doers, innovators and artists to re-imagine a new Renaissance – one involving technology.
Let’s fast forward and think of a world without inequalities, where innovation is a core element in all enterprises and society is built on partnerships for good. This is not Utopia – all the aforementioned scenarios actually come under three of seventeen United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals.
The 3 SDGs – Reduced Inequalities; Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure and Partnership to Achieve the Goals – , were the main focus of the Future Here Summit, an event focused on re-imagining the next generations from a ‘Renaissance’ viewpoint. Unsurprisingly, Florence, birthplace of the eponymous artistic avant-garde movement, was the venue. While addressing issues including Augmented Intelligence, Energy, Nature, Sustainable Development and Education, the event had both on-site and virtual panels and sessions, whereby artists, entrepreneurs, visionaries and academics were invited to exchange ideas and expectations for the future.
Horyou, the social network for social good, contributed to one of the sessions with an inspiring presentation of its role in empowering change-makers. Speaking for Horyou, Sueyfer Velásquez, Social Media and Partnerships Manager, introduced the network to a diverse and curious audience. «It’s a very powerful experience to share our vision for a better world in the birthplace of Renaissance», she said. Seizing the opportunity, Sueyfer went on to introduce HoryouToken, the first digital currency for economic inclusion and advancement of the SDGs, along with HoryouTV and SIGEF, the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum, which will take place on 18-19 September, in Tokyo, Japan.
In addition to the conferences, the Future Here Summit incorporated Orbit, a dedicated incubator for the development of «experiential wisdom tools and businesses» where art, science and businesses were welcome to help promote inclusive growth.