A New ‘Global Pulse’ – Using emerging technologies for sustainable development

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Originally posted by JustMeans on June 29, 2010.

The Secretariat General has also launched the UN Global Impact Vulnerability Alert System (UN GIVAS) which has recently been re-named ‘Global Pulse.’ This new agency is using emerging technologies in ways never done before to do critical work: monitoring in as close to real-time as possible the changing conditions of vulnerable people. In it’s own words, it seeks to use emerging technologies to “close theinformation gap between the onset of a global crisis and the availability of actionable information to protect vulnerable populations” through regional PULSE Labs’. Global Pulse feels that we now ‘live in an age of vulnerability’ and interdependence where traditional monitoring systems – especially large macroeconomic indicators or annual World Bank reports – are inadequate to inform policy makers about the reality of how their populations – especially their vulnerable populations – are fairing. Global Pulse is, thus, in the active process of designing what they hope will at least a partial solution to this challenge, brining fast, immediate and up-to date information about how vulnerable people are being affected by the crisis to the appropriate authorities.

The UN has made the financial crisis a ‘priority’ since 2008. From the beginning, it has recognized the interconnection between food, fuel and financial crisis, and the impact of climate change. They recognized the need for an international coordinated responses. They sought to do so while addressing the ‘fundamental imbalances in the global economy’ including market failures and the other food, educational, employment, and social ‘gaps’ that preceded the crisis. They have emphasized that this should not be a seen as an attempt to recover back to ‘business as usual’ as soon as possible but should, instead, entail deep structural changes.

Much of their work and published material to date, from UNICEF to UNDP to World Food Programme, has been in monitoring the impacts of the food, fuel and financial crisis; however, the initiatives such as Global Pulse, UNEP’s Green Economy Initiative, the International Labor Organisation’s (ILO) Global Jobs Pack go beyond monitoring and try to create better responses. Most of these initiatives are relatively new, though many build on previous work.

While the websites and reports of the UN system emphasize the need for an ongoing, integrated response (most recently couched as ‘recovery with a human face’), recent informal interviews with people within the system suggest that the reality perpetuates previous images of the UN system as being uncoordinated, unfocused, poor intra-agency communication, fiercely territorial and beset with beuracratic challenges. Can the Global Pulse help with this? For all its faults, the UN is the only place where all governments have a voice; but sustainable development needs the fiercely intelligent people working for the UN to be able to use their full capacity. Global Pulse just might be able help with this process – sometimes, new technology can transform the institutions it interacts with. Which might be just what the UN system – and the global community it strives to serve – needs.

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