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Igniting Change Podcast Season 2: Episode 12

Sarah Farooqi joins us to discuss her work with Digital Impact Alliance within the United Nations Foundation to bring their vision of a world where everyone has access to digital tools in order to participate in society...


S2 blogpost episode 12

This week Rich and Puff sit down with Sarah Farooqi, a product owner at Digital Impact Alliance, part of the UN Foundation and their mission is to help the underserved and underprivileged of the world to digitally transform. They really understand the power that digital and technology have to combat inequality across the globe and use their knowledge and influence to support national governments to deliver actual on-the-ground impact to citizens.

We couldn’t wait to talk to Sarah about the incredible work she is doing within her organisation!

Meet Sarah

Early on in her career, Sarah knew she wanted to be involved in International Development, so earned a degree in International Economics and Finance to get her foot in the door. She started work in the humanitarian sector, both in the field as well as programming. After taking a break for her family, and to upskill and earn her Master’s degree, she was looking for something in this space and that’s where Digital Impact Alliance comes in!

She firmly believes that Digital transformation can be a leveraging point to really help accelerate development goals at the national level. When you talk about some of those humanitarian development issues such as poverty alleviation and food security, digital is one of those tools that can really unlock benefits faster.

About Digital Impact Alliance

Sarah is the product owner of the catalogue of digital solutions, which is a flagship platform that helps connect digital development actors with products and tools they can use in their development initiatives. All of this is done through the Digital Impact Alliance, whose vision is for a world where everyone everywhere has access to the digital tools they need to fully participate in society.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) promise to “transform our world” by 2030. They aim to reduce poverty, increase economic outcomes, ensure sustainability, and create opportunities to improve people’s lives. That’s a pretty ambitious promise of a better world – and one we are collectively far from achieving.  

But there’s still time!

Digital technologies are one of the critical tools at our collective disposal that can help drive the transformation the world needs right now and take us closer to achieving the vision of the SDGs. Today, the global population is increasingly embracing digital technology. They use messaging apps to connect with loved ones; buy food and basic goods through digital wallets; and benefit from government digital systems that efficiently run hospitals, water and power networks, and public transport.   

At the same time, there remains a significant proportion of people – often those living in some of the poorest countries – who do not have access to the digital tools that for others are just a basic part of life. 

That is why the work that DIAL is doing is so imperative around the globe, they recognize that digital technology is moving quickly, and they are there to help other development actors navigate the space. As an organisation, they recognise the value of digital transformation, especially because so much progress has been made in the ways in which people are connected. There are immense benefits in innovation, progress, and the promise that digital holds for every individual person on this planet to access better healthcare, education, and social services.

There are significant digital disparities that exist worldwide, so DIAL is there to balance out the benefits of digital while also navigating the risk factors. They do this incredible work by:

  • Researching digital transformation efforts around the world, digging deep into what worked and what didn’t, and sharing our learnings. 
  • Building communities of policymakers, governments, technologists, and civil societies working at the forefront of country-led digital transformations. 
  • Advocating for digital policies and practices that are trusted, inclusive, and designed to empower everyone, everywhere.

Impact at Digital Impact Alliance

This space is a slower-moving one as there are MANY components that need to come together before digital transformation can be really impactful, but the work DIAL has done in Sierra Leone has contributed to a national digital implementation strategy. There is still a long way for the government to go, however, they now have a strategy in place that simply did not exist before.

In a national government structure, they are quite siloed. There’s a Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, etc, so when you are trying to build a digital system, you really need to have buy-in at the highest level so that there is a culture where you can create a Ministry of IT and they can work with all the different ministries to ensure that the IT systems are digitalised in the way that they are communicating with each other. So it is groundbreaking that they can get in there and get a strategy in place and are meeting their milestones to achieve it, where nothing of the sort existed before.

Something DIAL works on is how to support technology, particularly open-source technology in developing countries, and development itself. An initiative to that is the catalogue of digital solutions, which Sarah is the product owner of, and is there to help connect the demand side actors and the supply side actors. You have vendors, system integrators, and product owners that have created and are using these tools, but the demand side doesn’t know who all those vendors are. So this system is there to open it up and make it more transparent.

The jury is still out on the impact of this, but Sarah and her team at DIAL are working to move the needle on it and looking to the long-term benefits of the solution.

When we are having these conversations and conferences around the world, we should always consider the empty chair analogy to remind ourselves who is impacted by this conversation that is not in this room right now and does not have a voice in the decisions that are being made.

Sarah Farooqi

Listen now for the full discussion

To hear more of the conversation with Sarah, listen now using the links below!

For more things tech for good, stay tuned to our blog or shout us a holla to get in touch with us, we would love to hear from you 💚

Published on November 22, 2022, last updated on September 19, 2023

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