Digital technology is changing economies and societies at warp speed and scale. For people connected to the internet, the vast array of digital goods and services available to them could greatly improve—and potentially even save—countless lives. Access to these digital public goods, and the ability to utilize them, should be available to everyone in the world regardless of location, race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic standing.

“The scale, spread and speed of change made possible by digital technologies is unprecedented, but the current means and levels of international cooperation are unequal to the challenge.”

– António Guterres, UN Secretary-General

To that end UNICEF and the government of Norway are creating a collaborative process designed to facilitate the development, discovery, scalability, and use of digital public goods by anyone in the world at little or no cost.

Definition and Examples

Digital public goods are tools that serve to educate us, help us thrive in our professional lives, enrich our cultural experiences, and ultimately do good for the benefit of humankind. Examples of these goods exist all around us in the areas of information, education, healthcare, finance, and more. Many also serve to further the UN’s 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

Wikipedia may be the most prominent digital public good in the information sector but there are many others we could point to, including Khan Academy and wikiHow.

In the health space, Norway’s open-source health management service (DHIS2) is another great example of a digital public good. DHIS2 helps health professionals save lives by monitoring patient status, improving disease surveillance, and pinpointing outbreaks. DHIS2 is currently being used by 54 countries worldwide and is free to all. The relatively new field of mobile health uses mobile telephony to create easier, individualized access to relevant information, counseling services, health records, and more. And platforms like UNICEF’s RapidPro have allowed this access to spread across parts of the world where simple feature phones far outnumber smartphones.

Refer to the Candidates for the initial list of candidates for Digital Public Goods that is being built, and contribute to grow the list!

The Vision

A Digital Public Goods collaborative network would:

  • Create mechanisms for individual users, beneficiaries, and civil society to have a say on what projects are built, why they are needed, and how they are prioritized
  • Employ decentralized governance to advance projects, funding, and decisions
  • Act like a hub for like-minded people to come together and advance the development of these projects, discuss them publicly, and contribute from anywhere in the world
  • Implement financing systems to address the sustainability in the creation, development, implementation, and maintenance of digital public goods
  • Serve as a repository of supportive regulatory frameworks for the provision and execution of these projects around the world
  • Utilize the infrastructure of a software version control system for the development of projects

A Note on Connectivity

Being connected to the Internet is vital for the organization and distribution of digital public goods. However, according to the World Economic Forum, nearly 4 billion people remain disconnected from technology and the digital products that could dramatically improve their lives. UNICEF sees this as an opportunity for countries, corporations, NGOs, and individuals to make a concerted effort to connect those without access to this technology.

Project Connect is a digital public good designed to map every school in the world to better understand where gaps in connectivity are and to assess what necessary steps might be needed to provide them with internet service. Visit the Project Connect website to learn more or get involved.

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Contact Aditi Poddar