Tying down digitalisation’s evolving role in sustainable development into a few paragraphs is like trying to capture the ocean with a sand bucket. Digitalisation will not only support the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, it will also be an integral part in paving the way for a sustainable and resilient future.

CSR Europe’s study on the Sustainable Development Goals: The Value for Europe, released at the European Business Summit, done in partnership with Frost & Sullivan and GlobeScan, reveals a myriad of opportunities where digital technology will play a critical role in overcoming longstanding hurdles in economic, environmental, and social sustainability. The purpose of CSR Europe’s study was to explore how companies of all shapes and sizes can play a major role in achieving a more sustainable, prosperous and inclusive society while also meeting their goals of generating shared value.

Education for all

We set out to uncover a few SDGs and bring examples of the scale of opportunity they offer. Sustainable Development Goal 4, Quality Education, is a particularly relevant example of a goal that offers great social and economic opportunity, provided that we acknowledge and capitalise on its embedded tie to digital technology.

For example, ‘Education for all’ has been a global campaign since 2000 when UNESCO set in motion the movement with over 160 countries pledging to achieve six education related goals by 2015. Two years have passed since the desired timeline and only a third of the countries have achieved the six goals, with many still struggling to provide basic education. 58 million children are out of school and over 100 million without a primary education. In addition to the problem of access, quality of education has also suffered with poor teacher-student ratios and low conversion rates to higher education.

Moreover, in recent years, there has been a digital shift in the scholastic paradigm, resulting in new learning theories and models, modes of delivery, instructional roles and designs, and learning processes and outcomes. The education sector is moving away from purely classroom-based learning towards e-learning with massive open online courses, remote and on-demand learning. Students are no longer confined to one geographic location when accessing resources and lectures, particularly at higher levels of education. Mass Open Online Courses (MOOCs) and free web resources have opened several new avenues for personal and professional development.

Online learning

E-learning offers the unique capacity to overcome limitations in infrastructure and tools that are all too common across the globe. Additionally, mobile learning (m-learning), in which education is delivered through mobile devices, breaches the confines of time and space to allow knowledge and information to reach remote areas where access to education is limited.

While online education and m-learning will address the issue of access, other technologies such as personalised education and cognitive learning will improve quality of learning. Technologies such as virtual reality (VR) will make learning more experience-based in addition to being informative. For example, CSR Europe member Samsung demonstrated how immersive VR technology could inspire education by demoing their Gear VR biology lesson at CSR Europe’s November 2016 European Pact for Youth conference.

As we look ahead into the future, there is increasing confidence that Sustainable Development Goal 4, the realisation of inclusive and quality education for all, can be achieved with the technology now on offer. Moreover, our study makes clear the vast economic opportunities rooted within this effort.

Embracing the digital world in its many shapes and forms will be inherent to the success of the 2030 Agenda.

The education sector, however, represents just one of the many ways in which business can engage with the Sustainable Development Goals and take action that is globally impactful while also profitable. Additionally, the education sector signifies just one realm where digital technology can aid businesses in their efforts to engage with the SDGs.

Embracing the digital world in its many shapes and forms will be inherent to the success of the 2030 Agenda, and although innovative companies stand to gain a lot, there is a deeper value that comes from the collaboration of the private and public sector on the SDGs. At the core of this collaboration lies the profound commitment for business and governments to regain the trust of citizens in order to secure the social dimensions of growth.

Find out more about CSR Europe’s work on the Sustainable Development Goals here.