Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Data AND Analysis on 7 Billion People

By Jim Hagemann Snabe and Babatunde Osotimehin – Special to CNN

From the CNN website, December 6, 2011
Editor’s Note: Jim Snabe is a co-CEO of the business software maker, SAP AG. Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin is Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund. They recently launched this global dashboard.

The world’s population has just crossed 7 billion, according to United Nations estimates.
This is a big milestone for the planet. Only a century ago, world population was about a billion. A sevenfold increase in a century has been possible because of unprecedented advances in science and technology. Today, on average, the world’s poor are better nourished and live longer than their counterparts a century ago – although a lot still remains to be done.
So what is next? In the next hundred years, experts predict that the fastest population growth will take place in countries that are currently the least developed.
If the world can help improve investments, the quality of life – health, education, human security – and governance in those countries, we could unleash a lot of human potential. This leadership falls on the developed countries and technology leaders – people who know from experience how this can be done. On the other hand, if we fail to address this challenge, we will see negative consequences. If we cannot provide adequate education and employment opportunities to the youth in developing nations, particularly young girls, we could see waves of instability or violence result from frustration.
In the age of Google and Facebook, transparency, crowd-sourced knowledge, education and investments will help win the day. In fact, they are necessary if we are to continuously improve a world of 7 billion men, women and children. How will we manage our finite resources? How will citizens make sure their representatives are accountable?
New technology is putting more information in the hands of ordinary people, and the time is no longer very far off when citizens seeking to inform themselves will be able to determine quickly and easily whether their governments are actually tackling the serious problems they have promised to address.
For instance, Ushahidi, a web-based platform developed to aggregate live reports of post-election violence in Kenya in 2008, enables people with mobile devices to submit real-time information on rapidly unfolding events of public interest. It has been deployed similarly in places as far apart as Brazil and Kyrgyzstan, and has been used successfully to track earthquake recovery initiatives in Haiti, Chile and Japan.
Even more recently, a mobile application developed by, a website that tracks the spending of the US Government under the 2009 stimulus bill, made it incredibly simple for just about anyone to look into how the programme’s taxpayer dollars were being spent.
This is welcome news to people with an interest in promoting greater transparency and accountability in government and society – which ought to be nearly everyone. In less-developed countries, corruption and lack of transparency in government are commonly cited among the top obstacles to business activity and improvement for the populace.
Ultimately, these new methods for accessing and analyzing data can help translate into jobs and growth.
With this in mind, SAP and UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund) have partnered to create a dashboard for analyzing information related to the world at 7 billion. Using it to look at a country like Pakistan, for instance, you can see that 21% of its 42 million children are enrolled in secondary school. This is 1 in 5. And of these, 43% are girls. If you are a young parliamentarian in Pakistan, or a policy expert, or just someone seeking more accountability from your representatives, this is powerful information to have – to argue for better education for the generation that is growing up, particularly girls.
Until recently, an analysis of this sort would have taken months of aggregating data from hundreds of spreadsheets from schools, departments and government agencies. It would have been complicated and costly. Today, thanks to tools using data from multiple U.N. agencies, anyone can access and analyze this information. The data and – even more significantly – a tool to analyze it are now in the hands of the people, not just in Pakistan, but also for countries across the globe.
For some, it may seem hyperbolic to claim that the latest technology can fix so many problems. And, of course, much of what needs to be done to address far-reaching challenges like food security and health-care inequity involves hard work and substantial capital investment.
But new technologies can help citizens ensure that available funding and the sweat of dedicated individuals do not go to waste. The clock is ticking, and it is up to us to show leadership, build partnerships and make investments to address this challenge for billions of today and the ones to follow.
(The views expressed in this article are solely those of Jim Hagemann Snabe and Babatunde Osotimehin.)
Gathering and analysing the data, primarily a research process, able to be undertaken by both individuals and organizations, inside universities and think tanks, and outside both, is one thing.
Finding the political will, spine, courage and discipline to act on that information and its analysis is quite another.
The optimism expressed by these two individuals is commendable; it is unlikely that governments, based on the current evidence from all quarters of the globe, will provide the collaborative political vision, courage and will to put into place the necessary collaborative measures that would see:--
  • the world's starving find food,
  • the world's dying find health care,
  • the world's dispossessed find shelter and work,
  •  the world's illiterate find education...
  • the world's thirsty find safe and clean drinking water
  • the world's unemployed and underemployed, find appropriate work
  • the world's victims find peace and solace and comfort
  • the world's criminals and terrorists find justice and a cessation of their misguided ambitions
  • the world's leaders find strength to tell the truth in public, to all their people
  • the world's bankers and financiers find their ethical compass in empathy and compassion
  • the world's corporate executives find balance in their pursuit of profit and social utility
  • the world's poets, artists and composers find their voices and compositions heard and appreciated
This is not rocket science, as the 'dashboards' might be thought by some to be. This is the potential that all humans, collectively, collaboratively and urgently need to seek and to find, with the help of their spiritual angels.

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