The UN Sustainable Development Goals set ambitious targets – some might say overly ambitious. Statements like “zero hunger” and “no poverty” ring true on a conceptual level, but sound much harder when it comes to practical implementation.
What helps us move the needle on these generational challenges? The key may lie in goal sixteen – specifically the “strong institutions” part which strives to promote inclusive societies for sustainable development.
Without effective systems to plan, implement and monitor development activity, the international community will spend a lot of effort with precious little to show for it.
Without strong institutions, aid money gets diverted by corrupt intermediaries, assistance goes to those who aren’t eligible and target populations don’t get the help they need.
Building those strong institutions is a challenge in and of itself. Corruption is still an issue, even in highly developed economies. While official studies are few and far between, the problem of fraud, waste and abuse is more common in the assistance sector than many would like to admit.
In many cases, officials who have the power to strengthen institutions are the very ones who benefit from their weakness.
Accountability is the first step in building strong institutions. Creating mechanisms to hold officials accountable is vital to nurturing trust and legitimacy—which is the lifeblood of governments everywhere.
At a very basic level, that means consistent documentation of what institutions do and how they do it—tying actions to the people who implement policy.
Biometrics have long been used to create accountability by deterring fraud, waste and abuse in the commercial sphere. These same tools are now being used in the international assistance sector—where they offer a cost-effective way to stem leakage from supply chains and create records of the impact assistance has on the ground.
By establishing definitive audit trails of both those who distribute aid and those who benefit from it, international organizations and NGOs are creating the trust and legitimacy needed to create strong institutions for the future.
Strengthening institutions through the use of biometrics is only a first step. With accountable mechanisms in place, achieving many of the other Sustainable Development Goals becomes far simpler. Distributing food aid only to those in need ensures that there is more food aid to go around (Goal #2, “Zero Hunger”).
Tracking the distribution of medicine reduces the risk of misallocation (Goal #3, “Good health and well-being”). Determining the scope of disaster relief assistance needs helps communities rebound (Goal #11, “Sustainable cities and communities”).
Biometrics have a multiplier effect which has the potential to revolutionize the way we approach the Sustainable Development Goals. Far from merely strengthening institutions, biometrics can also empower those institutions to do more with the resources they already have.
Ben Ball is the Government Market Director at Crossmatch, where he oversees market intelligence and strategic outreach to government customers around the world. A ten year veteran of the Federal government, Ben was a Foreign Service Officer and worked in the Department of Homeland Security.