Progress Towards the SDGs is Going Backwards, but Digital Transformation can Help us Accelerate Impact


Marcus Harvey


5 minutes read

The Asia-Pacific region is decades behind the goal posts of the SDGs. Investing in digital transformation can accelerate impact.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, we witnessed a major shift in the adoption of digital technologies. The global community embraced technology, and digital transformation was critically essential for organisations to survive. Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana, refers to this time as the “digital big bang.”

This rapid adoption forever changed the way that we live, work, and interact. While this transformation helped improve the lives of many people across the region, there is a group that often struggles to adapt: Asia-Pacific non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

NGOs in the Asia-Pacific region play a vital role in providing assistance to some of the most vulnerable populations in the region, and work tirelessly towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

We were seeing great progress towards the goals over the last few decades – but the pandemic slowed this progress down. According to the Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the region is now expected to achieve the 17 SDGs by 2065 – which is three and a half decades behind the original goalpost. Additionally, an estimated 68 million people were forced into poverty as a consequence of the pandemic, with the majority of those living in South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific.

While the rapid pace of digital adoption has welcomed economic opportunity, it has also created widening disparities between those who lack the skills, finances and resources to utilise digital technologies.
By being strategic in our support of Asia-Pacific NGO’s, we can help accelerate the region’s recovery.

The Asia-Pacific NGO Sector is Challenged

NGOs are often challenged with some of the most complex humanitarian and environmental responsibilities. While billions are invested in international aid for NGOs to deliver services to people on the ground, many NGOs struggle to effectively generate impact without the leverage of digital tools to accelerate it.

In a recent report from Infoxchange, NGOs are under-resourced in adapting to the ever-changing technological landscape, with its opportunities and its challenges.
Many NGOs recognise the value of enhancing the digital capabilities of their staff and volunteers, but lack the funding and resources to invest in the infrastructure required for digital transformation initiatives.

The report found that:

  • Fortunately, more than 3 in 4 organisations have implemented multi-factor authentication (MFA) to some degree, but just 44% have MFA enabled on internet-facing systems storing sensitive data.
  • 84% of organisations reported they are satisfied with their technology when there is a technology plan in place, but only 50% of staff feel confident in using technology to perform their roles.
  • 62% of organisations do not have a system that enables them to understand their impact.
  • 1 in 6 organisations experienced a cyber security incident in the last 12 months. This was even higher in Indonesia, impacting 1 in 3 NGOs.
  • Only 24% of organisations provide cyber security training for their staff.
  • 1 in 2 organisations do not have technology that adequately enables staff and volunteers to work remotely.
  • Some organisations reported financial limitations to invest, often looking toward unsafe pirated software for digital transformation efforts.
  • These are just some of the many examples of NGOs struggling to invest in their digital infrastructure, despite clear evidence of its impact. By having cost-effective and secure collaborative digital tools and staff with the IT skills, it can help drive inclusion for the disconnected, can allow us to better track and communicate impact, and collaborate on shared challenges.

How Digital Transformation Can Strengthen the NGO Sector

Being under-resourced can cause organisations to prioritise existing approaches over digital ones.

The critical – yet improvable – areas for digital upskilling include:

  • Skills, resources and accessibility: As the old saying goes, “don’t give someone a fish, teach them to fish.” Digitization requires tools, resources, location-independent accessibility and education. NGOs should feel empowered to obtain new learnings and inspired to utilize these tools for greater impact.
  • Cyber security: As digital adoption grows, so does the need for cyber security measures. By equipping NGOs with security protections and educating them on some easily accessible cyber security hygiene, we can guide the development of more secure internet-native solutions, ensuring NGOs are better protected.
  • Data-driven decision-making: To drive impact effectively, NGOs need data literacy and analytics capabilities to develop actionable insights. This opens the door to stronger outcomes, and to potential new funding initiatives using evidence of impact.

Taking it a Step Further Through Collaboration to Enhance Economic Potential

The path to successful digital transformation lies in collaboration. NGOs, funders and corporates must come together to share insights, successes, and failures. By creating an ecosystem of support for NGOs, we can ensure they are not alone in their journey and can unlock their digital potential.

Take Malaysia, for example, where an estimated 72% of economic value achievable through emerging digital technologies could mitigate the risks posed by the pandemic. This underscores the economic contribution that digital transformation can make, particularly in times of crisis.

And according to the International Data Corporation, digital transformation could add an estimated USD 1.16 trillion to Asia Pacific’s gross domestic product.

Digital transformation, driven by digital advancements and artificial intelligence, is critical for meeting these goals. Regional collaboration and partnerships, facilitating knowledge exchange and equipping leaders with the right tools is necessary for NGOs to adapt in the digital era.

We must be strategic in our support for Asia-Pacific NGOs to help accelerate the region’s recovery and contributions to the SDGs. By empowering organisations to reduce disparities and overcome challenges posed by the pandemic, we can accelerate the region’s recovery by harnessing the power of digitization and make a lasting impact on the lives of millions.

This opinion editorial is authored by Marcus Harvey, Program Manager of Infoxchange’s APAC Digital Transformation Program. The Program is made possible with support from Google.org, Google’s philanthropic arm and the Asian Development Bank. TechSoup Asia Pacific and TechSoup partners will support delivery of the program. Sign-up to stay connected or join our webinars at the APAC Digital Transformation Program homepage here.


A. Environmental Stewardship
To protect the environment, we organize programmes like mangrove nursery and Reforestation, Coastal and River Clean-Up, Community Based Environmental Solid Waste Management, Environmental IEC Campaign and Eco-Academy

B. Food Security and Sustainable Livelihood
To ensure a sustainable livelihood for the community, eco-tourism include Buhatan River Cruise Visitor Center Buhatan River Mangrove Boardwalk are run by the community. Others include Organic Vegetable and Root crops Farming, Vegetable and Root crops Chips and by-products Processing and establishing a Zero waste store.

C. Empowered Communities
To empower the community, we provide product and Agri-Enterprise Development Training, Immersion and Learnings Exchange Program, Earth Warrior Training and Community Based Social Entrepreneurship Training


Marcus Harvey

Program Manager at Infoxchange, APAC Digital Transformation Program

Marcus Harvey is Program Manager of Infoxchange’s APAC Digital Transformation Program. He is passionate about helping organizations use technology effectively to work smarter rather than harder and achieve measurable outcomes with the clients and communities they work with.

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