At the Co-Willing conference in Ukunda, Kenya, there were a plethora of interesting people with different skills and areas of knowledge. On the first night of the conference I sat down to dinner with a member of the team from the Millennium Institute. Over our lovely meal, and after introductions, he began to tell us what he was doing. I must admit, when he began to talk about data modelling, I was already out of my depth and maybe because of my tiredness from a day’s travelling, I struggled to follow the conversation. However, the next day changed everything!
Across the world, governments and citizens argue about what policies to implement and how national budgets should be divided. Is the health service more important than education, should we put more money into security and the military, or social services. Do we cut money from the emergency services in order to pay our teachers more. There are so many different variations and through the noise of discussions and arguments, and political parties taking a standpoint because historically ideology, it is impossible to gain clarity on what is the right way.
By changing the expenditure in one area, it will effect other areas. For those of you that have played the sims, and have had to fiddle about with the budget to keep the people happy, but also have enough tax to pay the fire department for all of those natural disasters that seem to occur, you will realise that even on game level it is a difficult juggling act. (My cities always died horrible deaths)
And that where data modelling comes in, and more specifically the Millennium Institute’s iSDG Integrated Simulation Tool. And this isn’t a game, it is real life! The tool enables governments, or even citizens to input percentage of budget to put into different sectors and see how that will effect other sectors and the country as a whole. It is built around the Sustainable Development Goals, are a collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations.
The general goals are interrelated, though each has its own targets to achieve. They include poverty, hunger, health, education, climate change, gender equality, water, sanitation, energy, environment and social justice. The iSDG model supports the simulation of policies in 36 different areas, and many more can be added to satisfy specific analytical needs
Not only can you decide where the money is invested, but it is also possible to make assumptions of where the funding is coming from, whether from the government, or loans, or investors. Surprisingly, the different sources of capital effect how each division of budget performs.
It is also amazing that you can see the impact on one intervention on something that at first glance is not related. For example, greater investment in paving roads, could effect the average schooling years and access to health care and therefore increase the average life expectancy. On the switch side, it will also bring more cars to the area, which would also have a negative effect on life expectancy, assumedly from either the pollution or accidents. This tool essentially enables us to study the trends of the past and predict the future! A super historian!
The iSDG Integrated Simulation Tool can enable African governments, as well as governments around the world, to plan their entire economy to make sure that the SDGs are reached and their countries develop effectively. The tool also enables the citizens to hold their governments accountable. Not only could it be a tool to create change in Africa, if implemented with AI, it could even form the basis of a change in the way we run our countries.
This innovation may not be from Africa, but it can benefit the continent greatly. The team at the Millennium Institute have a wonderful knowledge and incite into African issues and I learnt an awful lot from them. It is clear to me that the implementation of this tool could make a tremendous difference, worldwide.
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