Using data and AI to track progress toward the UN Global Goals


Led by the UN with funding from, the UN Data Commons for the SDGs is part of the UN data modernization initiative that aims to provide a single entry point for official data and statistics from across the UN system. UN SDG data is also now incorporated into Data Commons for use alongside other datasets, making it more broadly accessible and allowing nonprofits like the Nigeria Network of NGOs to track their country’s progress toward the SDGs.

A growing network

UN Data Commons for the SDGs is part of a larger Data Commons network that includes Feeding America, Harvard University’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science, Stanford Doerr School of Sustainability, Resources for the Future, and TechSoup. This growing network is providing nonprofits, researchers and multilateral organizations with better access to the world’s publicly available data.

We’re building on this with a new collaboration between Data Commons and ONE, a global advocacy organization co-founded by Bono that brings together activists’ voices and hard-hitting data to push for progress in achieving the SDGs. We’ve worked together to create a ONE Data Commons, which will bring together ONE’s data and analysis from on the economic, political and social changes impacting Africa with the thousands of publicly available datasets in Google’s Data Commons.

“Data is critical to our advocacy because it sharpens our analyses and shapes better policies, and we are thrilled to partner with Google on this critical project,” says Gayle Smith, CEO of The ONE Campaign. “Data is not just about the numbers, it’s about empowering people to explore and unpack issues, amplify their voices, and act together to make change happen. We’re confident the data available on this platform will inspire and enable creative collaborations to build a better future.”

AI’s potential to help accelerate progress

We know we have a long way to go to meet the SDGs, and we believe that AI has tremendous potential to help people and organizations accelerate progress by reducing the time and resources required.

Some recent advances have made it easier to use AI to move the SDGs forward, including improved AI techniques, increased and diversified tech deployments, more funding, increased AI talent, and data collaborations. We’ve also seen democratization across geographies due to increased access and affordability with cloud, as well as increased use of internet-capable mobile devices.

In the past five years, has contributed more than $200 million and more than 160,000 pro bono hours to organizations around the world using AI to address major global challenges. That includes awarding $25 million this year to 15 organizations specifically focused on projects to advance the SDGs. Our grantees tell us that, on average, AI helps them achieve their goals in half the time and at a third of the cost.

Despite this heartening progress and the impressive work from many organizations in AI for the SDGs, achieving the scale required to drive impact on global targets remains a significant challenge. Some of the barriers we’ve observed are fragmentation of efforts, limited access to data and talent, and lack of knowledge sharing. We hope that the UN Data Commons for the SDGs and related efforts will help lower those barriers and advance work to meet the SDGs.

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