10 May 2021

Digital technologies can make a significant contribution to accelerate progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030 and to achieve an environmentally, socially and economically sound society. The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), with the Small Grants Programme (SGP), has a long history of supporting local action to address the challenges of achieving sustainable development. With Indigenous Peoples and local communities playing a key role in efforts to achieve the SDGs, local actions built on traditional knowledge have great potential to scale up and boost their impact by adopting digital technology, if done in a sensible and appropriate manner.

As part of a partnership between UNDP and Microsoft to promote the effective use of digital technologies to communicate, engage and advocate, and to build and maintain partnerships and alliances for the SDGs, SGP is expanding its joint initiative with Microsoft’s Project 15 to address global environmental issues by applying digital technology to accelerate community-owned innovation at the local level. Financed mainly by the Global Environment Facility and implemented by UNDP, SGP initially started this collaboration in two pilot countries with a focus on species and biodiversity conservation, but is now scaling up to more countries to implement innovative local actions related to sustainable cities, agriculture, fisheries and many other emerging environmental problems.

“We are excited to be partners with Microsoft on this pioneering work. Strengthening partnerships with the private sector and adopting digital technology in our work is crucial to unlocking the alliances and resources needed to accelerate innovation and achieve the SDGs”, said UNDP’s Director of Nature, Climate and Energy, Pradeep Kurukulasuriya. “Civil society, governments, private sector and the international development community all have critical roles to play in finding solutions to some of the world’s most challenging environmental and development problems. By working together and building on each other’s strengths, we have the potential to make a huge difference and create the impact that is needed.”

What Project 15 from Microsoft means for local action

Civil society and community-based organizations supported by SGP in over 127 countries have been effectively addressing biodiversity loss, climate change, land degradation and other environmental issues on the ground for many years by applying innovative local solutions. However, the current nature and climate crises require bold, innovative and accelerated initiatives that can scale up these local actions to have global impact. In this context, relevant data collection, analysis and sharing is key to success, as it enables local communities to better understand the challenges they face, come up with the most effective solutions and increase efficiency.

This is where Project 15 from Microsoft comes in: it brings Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI) and cloud technologies to SGP partners to enhance their work by automating manual processes and improving data collection, processing, analytics, monitoring and storage. “Project 15 from Microsoft is about building a bridge between the scientific community and the technical community. Technological solutions created for other problems can be reimagined and applied to address conservation issues and other critical challenges”, explained the founder of Project 15, Sarah Maston, a Senior Technical Specialist & Solution Architect at Microsoft.

In 2020, SGP partnered with Microsoft’s Project 15 to test pilot projects. One of them is in Panama, where local organization Yaguara is creating cloud-enabled processes for jaguar monitoring and notifications, as well as to prevent and track human-wildlife conflict. This will allow the project team to spend less time collecting and processing data, and instead focus on other aspects of its jaguar conservation and community work. Discussion is also ongoing to gamify the monitoring of the animal by using a game app. These solutions can be replicated and scaled up to other similar projects in SGP’s global portfolio, such as those on snow leopard conservation in Asia: “Building on the rich traditional and local knowledge, there are numerous initiatives that these digital technologies can be applied to, and we are just at the beginning”, said SGP’s Global Manager, Yoko Watanabe.

Next steps

Through these pilot projects, Project 15 from Microsoft developed the Open Platform for Environmental Conservation and Ecosystem Sustainability, an open-source software that gets organizations roughly 80 per cent of the way towards a fully deployed and scalable solution by connecting their devices to the cloud and ingesting, storing, analyzing and visualizing the data collected. Microsoft’s vast network of partners, including universities and private companies, are also ready to provide technical assistance to fill in the 20 per cent of work to customize the technology to the specific needs and local context of each initiative. “In this way, Project 15 also builds the capacity of our partners by transferring them the skills needed to manage the technology on their own, making these solutions inherently sustainable and allowing them to scale up the work with other projects and communities”, added Watanabe.

Find out more

If you are interested in learning more or taking part in these efforts, visit Project 15 on GitHub. You can also listen to the participation of Yoko Watanabe, SGP’s Global Manager, in The IoT Transformers podcast, where she dives deeper into the different opportunities that this partnership between UNDP and Microsoft will enable, with a focus on innovation, impact and inclusion.

For more information, please contact Yoko Watanabe: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

The use of the United Nations Development Programme name or emblem or any abbreviation thereof does not imply that UNDP endorses any of the Microsoft (or its affiliates’) products or services described herein.