UN Secretary-General Ban Ki- moon on Tuesday emphasized the importance of an initiative from his executive office that is working to more effectively use data to track the spread of crises and the progress of development globally.
"The time has come for us to bring the work of the United Nations fully into the Digital Age," said Ban. "Global Pulse is a chance for us to innovate and demonstrate leadership.
The Global Pulse Initiative, established by Ban's office in 2009, uses advances in telecommunications and digital technology to obtain important information that will help the UN know where and when it is needed. Representatives from the initiative gave a high-level briefing to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, which featured a keynote speech by the secretary-general.
"In today's volatile and interconnected world, when crises emerge in one part of the world, they have the potential to reverberate quickly around the globe and inflict immediate suffering on the poorest and most vulnerable populations," said Ban. "It is as if socioeconomic crises can now move almost with the speed of natural disasters."
The secretary-general referred to the recent global economic crisis, during which he said socioeconomic consequences moved rapidly around the world.
"Too often, by the time we have hard evidence of what is happening at the household level, the harm has already been done," said Ban. "Our inability to understand the impacts of a crisis while there is still time to adjust our policies and programs threatens to reverse years of hard-won development gains."
The secretary-general said that there is hope for more rapid and effective responses to such crises by taking advantage of increased access to mobile phones and digital technologies.
"The private sector is analyzing this new data to understand its customers in real-time," he said. "The United Nations must do the same for its constituents: people around the world who are losing jobs, getting sick and having difficulty feeding themselves and their families. Much of this data contains signals that are relevant to development. We must use it to tell us what is happening, while it is happening."
Global Pulse is acts as an innovation lab that will bring experts together in order to help the UN utilize technologies for real-time analysis of trends on the ground.
"The idea behind this initiative is simple: once we know what signals to listen for, we will be able to 'take the pulse' of vulnerable communities," said Ban. "This rapid feedback will help us understand where people and communities are in trouble, how they are coping with global shocks, and how to respond while there is still time to prevent harm."
The initiative is setting up "pulse labs" in Uganda and Indonesia, which will function as regional hubs as well as ways to harness local knowledge and innovation.