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Achieving SDGs – An Actionable Framework

By October 16, 2023November 22nd, 2023No Comments

The UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) provide a shared aspirational blueprint for achieving economic prosperity for all nations and a sustainable future for the planet. The goals recognize that attaining economic prosperity and preserving the environment starts with removing inequities, creating opportunities, and ensuring that basic services like food, health, and education are available to all.

Currently, we are at the halfway point for achieving SDGs. Adopted by member states of the  United Nations in 2015, the SDGs have a target date of 2030 for achieving the goal of a fair, equitable, and sustainable world. The UN has acknowledged that countries are woefully off-track and far from achieving the SDGs. We must make the next seven years count.

The annual SDG funding gap is estimated at $4.2 trillion. This funding gap is calculated in-part based on the percentage of GDP that countries are expected to allocate in their budgets for food security, health, and education. The US spends over 18% of its GDP on healthcare, but it is nowhere on track to meeting its SDG 3 target of universal and affordable healthcare. Throwing more money at a problem is rarely a sustainable solution. Asking developing countries to allocate 5 – 6% of GDP on SDG 3 is unlikely to improve outcomes, unless we reform the delivery of health care. You cannot spend your way out of a flawed model. The availability of external funding for operationalizing SDGs, also incentivizes countries to allocate their budgets away from basic services like food, health, and education.

The SDG funding gap also overlooks the improved efficiency and significant savings from digital transformation of government services. India’s digital transformation has been a game changer for economic development and moved hundreds of millions into the formal economy. The Digital India Stack – a Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI) – provides open standards based digital building blocks that governments and institutions can use to deliver services. The digital building blocks include foundational services for digital identity and zero-cost digital payments. Digital services built on these foundational layers can significantly lower costs for delivering basic services, increase financial inclusion, and ensure social equity.

Even if we can address the SDG funding gap, the bigger issue is clarity into where and what investments will have the most impact. Countries need an actionable framework to provide transparency into underserved geographies and sectors, and to fund and operationalize the SDG. This clarity will require quality data, trusted processes, and actionable intelligence. It will require an actionable framework that can baseline and compare status, identify gaps, make targeted investments, and quantify the return on investments. It will require reforming service delivery models, adopting best-practices, and continuous and consistent monitoring of progress across countries.

An Actionable Framework

To achieve the SDGs, we need an actionable framework that allows for all countries to consistently baseline status, identify gaps, direct investments for maximum impact, track progress (or lack thereof), reform service delivery models, and drive actions that put them on an accelerated path towards achieving the goals.

The framework must define the data that needs to be collected, the actionable metrics of interest that allow for tracking progress, and the investments and actions needed to close the distance to targets.

The MeTRAA (Measure/Track/Reform/Accelerate/Achieve) framework leverages open data, digital transformation, digital public infrastructure, and sustainable models of service delivery. The Metraa framework will provide transparency into progress towards goals and an accelerated path towards achieving them. Foreign aid has driven most Global South countries into either dependency or debt. The Metraa framework will foster collaborations and partnerships, boost local entrepreneurship, and put countries on a path towards sustainable resilience and climate equity.

Measure Impact

Different methods have been used to measure and compare SDG performance at the country level. There are strong discrepancies between these methods and countries can receive substantially different relative evaluations depending on the model utilized. These discrepancies are a result of the lack of established standards on a number of the SDG indicators. Even where standards exist, availability and the currency of data is an issue. These models also fail to provide actionable insights that can specifically highlight regional gaps and where and what investments might have the most impact.

Facility-based data collection involves enumerating facilities of interest, visiting the facility, and periodically collecting data on service availability, service capacity, and service readiness. Facilities include food distribution centers for SDG 2 (Food for All), health facilities for SDG 3 (Health for All), and educational institutions for SDG 4 (Education for All).

Facility based data collection provides a simple and cost-effective way to baseline status. Facility based data is significantly cheaper to collect when compared to census data which requires household enumeration. The data is also last-mile accurate when compared to randomized surveys. The correlated nature of SDGs allows facility based data to provide insights into SDG 5 (Gender Equity), SDG 6 (Water and Sanitation), and SDG 7 (Access to Power).


Hawkai Data Decision Support Dashboards for baselining SDG status

To know more about the facility based data model and how to cost-effectively measure impact, read our article – Measuring Social Impact.


Measure Impact

Track Progress

Countries and global organizations have traditionally tracked progress on SDGs using phone and online randomized surveys that focus on demand-side data. The facility based model uses supply-side data and periodic data collection to track progress.

Censuses are expensive as they require household enumeration and are usually done every ten years. Randomized surveys keep sample sizes small to control costs and are usable only when the data is aggregated at regional or national levels.

Supply-side data from facilities of interest provide last-mile accurate data that can be aggregated at regional and national levels. Currency of data is ensured by an automated process for periodic data collection.


Hawkai Data Decision Support Dashboard for Tracking Progress on SDGs

The ‘data for development’ infrastructure and actionable metrics will allow countries to track progress and direct investments to the most vulnerable geographies and sectors. It will allow foreign aid and donor organizations to quantify how their aid is changing lives.

To learn more about tracking SDG progress, supply-side data,  and the need for actionable metrics, read our article – Towards Zero Hunger.


Track Progress

Reform Model

No country today is on track to meet SDG 3 (Health for All) targets of universal and affordable health care by 2030. The US spent $4.3 trillion on health care in 2021, accounting for about 18% of GDP. In 2021, life expectancy was 76.1 years – the lowest in 25 years. Health outcomes have clearly not matched the spending. Spending more on a broken model of health care is no guarantee of success.

There are three fundamental issues that needs to be addressed –

1. Health insurance needs to be disentangled from employment.

2. The retail nature of insurance leads to misaligned market forces. The healthcare provider wants to be paid more, the insurance wants to pay less. In this battle for the dollar between the provider and the payer, the only casualty is the patient.

3. Fragmented health data increases operational costs and leads to over-testing, over-prescription, and polypharmacy.

The Direct-Care Capitation Payment model of healthcare addresses the first two issues. It aligns market forces, cuts down waste, and will provide better health outcomes at much lower costs.


Direct-Care Capitation Payment Model

To learn more about the Direct-Care Capitation Payment Model and how it delivers better health outcomes at much lower costs, read our three part series on how the right healthcare model and digital public infrastructure can make health care universal, affordable, and sustainable.

Part 1 — The Rash that Cost $1538

Part 2 — Transforming Healthcare —Better Outcomes at Lower Costs

Part 3 — The Missing Middle —Towards Universal and Affordable Health Coverage


Reform Model

Accelerate Success

Digital transformation has been key to India moving hundreds of millions out of poverty and into the formal economy. The India Digital Stack is being open sourced and made available as Digital Public Infrastructure (DPI). DPI has digitally enabled governance and delivery of services, and significantly cut down on waste and service delivery costs.

DPI has been a digital transformation success story for India. India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) is a component of the India Digital Stack, a public digital infrastructure, that enables transactions without requiring powered terminals or a private secure network. Sellers display a QR code and buyers use their mobile phones to transact and transfer money. Half a billion people have been brought into the formal economy through UPI. For many parts of the Global South, UPI will create a more sustainable and inclusive digital economy, allow no-cash marketplaces to flourish, and move hundreds of millions into the formal economy.

Another component of the India Digital Stack is the Ayushman Bharat Digital Mission (ABDM). ABDM is the digital backbone for a national health infrastructure that connects together the different healthcare stakeholders, the patient, the provider, and the payer. A national backbone that securely stores patient records will eliminate data fragmentation, will create better health outcomes and significantly reduce healthcare costs. It will significantly reduce IT costs for healthcare providers, avoid liability for patient records, and eliminate computer security risks and ransomware attacks.


Using Digital Public Infrastructure will avoid fragmentation of data and lead to better health outcomes

ABDM will also allow for nation level datasets to be de-identified and made available for shared research. The availability of these large tokenized datasets will give data analytics, ML and AI workloads the data volumes to avoid bias, the ability to replicate results independently, and for health science companies to accelerate development of life saving drugs and treatments. The most transformative changes happen when we have the right data.

To learn more about how Digital Public Infrastructure is key to creating resilient solutions that cut down on waste, read our article Digital Transformation Guaranteed.


Accelerate Success

Achieve Targets

A measure of the economic activity of a nation is its GDP. The GDP is a universally accepted statistic that is representative of the economic health of a country. However, a singular focus on GDP has obscured social, ecological, and environmental dimensions of wellbeing. The GDP, when supplemented with SDG metrics can provide a more comprehensive view of a country’s economic, social, and ecological progress.

Countries will need quality data to formulate SDG policies and evaluate progress towards targets. A national data for development infrastructure is foundational to a modern data economy, enabling equity and ensuring that no one is left behind. We need to go beyond GDP as a measure of progress and include social and ecological data. It is time to expand the System of National Accounts (SNA) with new processes to include social and ecological data with economic data.


Achieve Targets by reforming models that don’t work, digitally transforming services for scale, and implementing locally sustainable solutions that can adapt to change

The data for development infrastructure will allow governments to direct investments to the most vulnerable populations and for donor organizations to quantify how their aid is changing lives. When this data is open and available, and digital access becomes inclusive, it will create resilient communities, improve the lives of citizens, create profitable businesses, and sustainably grow the economy.

To learn more about the need for countries to balance GDP with SDGs, read our article — Going Beyond GDP.


Achieve Targets

The Metraa Framework

Foreign aid has created a culture of cyclical dependency. Many governments are drowning in debt, with many in or close to default. To reduce aid dependency and debt, the Global South must identify priorities, act, and implement them. The SDGs outline the priorities, the Metraa framework provides an actionable framework to implement them. The Metraa framework will promote cooperation and trust, increase collaboration, ensure transparency in development, enforce accountability, create local entrepreneurship and localized sustainable solutions. It will foster partnerships instead of paternalism, provide pathways to local entrepreneurship instead of debt, and put countries on a path towards sustainable resilience.

Metraa (pronounced mitrā) in Hindi means friend. The Metraa framework will create a new kind of diplomacy consistent with India’s G20 theme of One World, One Family, One Future. It will replace the current donor-donee relationships of dependency and debt to one based on collaboration, partnership, and equity.

Further Reading

Accelerating the SDGs through Digital Public Infrastructure. UNDP. August 2023.

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Ranjit John

Engineer. Writer. Marketer.