UNDP’s Future of Government Awards celebrates projects in Brazil, India, the Philippines

By Yong Shu Chiang

Robert Opp, Chief Digital Officer for the United Nations Development Programme, said that more digital government solutions, such as those recognised at the 2023 awards, can help countries get back on track to meet Sustainable Development Goals.

Teams nominated for the Future of Government Awards are doing "wonderful work", said Abhishek Singh, President and CEO of India's National E-Governance Division. Singh won the Leadership Award. Image: Future of Government Awards

More than half of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – 17 goals to foster “peace and prosperity for people and the planet” – were not on track as of late last year.


Even worse? Progress towards some targets has been stalled or even reversed, according to an assessment at the UN’s SDG Summit last September, said Robert Opp, the Chief Digital Officer for the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).


However, over 70 per cent of SDGs could benefit from digital technology, a report released at the same summit called “the SDG Digital Acceleration Agenda” found.


“The SDG targets are not abstract numbers... They represent the individuals, communities, and entire countries that are affected by these issues like poverty, hunger and climate change,” said Opp during the Future of Government Awards 2023 virtual presentation ceremony held on 15 February.


The awards ceremony, jointly presented by Public Digital, UNDP and Amazon Web Services, championed practitioners, teams, and leaders who are applying digital solutions and leveraging technology to reform the public sector and transform citizens’ lives.


“We want to really work together with our partners… to promote the global emergence of these kinds of solutions,” added Opp. “Digitalisation is no longer an option in public service delivery. It's an essential, it's a must-have.”

Entries more than doubled from inaugural edition


The second iteration of the Future of Government Awards saw the number of entries double from the inaugural 2022 edition, with 334 nominations submitted from 63 countries across six continents.


Among the awardees were teams that represented sectors ranging from healthcare to public service, to education, and to agriculture.


The Digital Identity Directorate Team from Brazil was named Digital Advocates of the Year. Their secure, simple and interoperable digital identity solution has enabled 155 million users to access 4,500 digital services from more than 1,000 public agencies.


A team from Bangalore, India, won the Open Source Creation award for the Bahmni integrated digital health solution, which aims to improve patient care for millions with limited bandwidth and infrastructure by connecting them to various health systems. The system has been adopted in more than 50 countries.


In the Open Source Adaptation category, the team behind the Philippines’ national ID system, PhilSys, was awarded. PhilSys is the central identification platform for more than 110 million people across thousands of islands in the Philippines. An adaptation of Modular Open Source Identity Platform, or MOSIP, it has 83 million people currently registered.


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Awards are not the end of the journey


Joe Hooper, UNDP’s Director of the Global Centre for Technology, Innovation and Sustainable Development, told GovInsider earlier that the Awards provided insights into emerging digital government priorities, trends, and solutions and can encourage teams to pursue larger goals.


In his presentation, Opp similarly noted that the awards were not an end to their innovation journeys.


“We want to work with you to see if there's an opportunity in some cases to bring forward your innovations into the space of digital public goods.


“We want to continue to champion your work. We want the word to get out. We want countries to know between each other what's going on. We want innovators around the world doing things that you do to know about what's going on and be inspired.”

Lifetime achievement and leadership awards


This year’s Awards saw the presentation of the first-ever lifetime achievement honour, which was awarded to Jennifer Pahlka, who served in President Barack Obama’s administration as the Deputy Chief Technology Officer from 2013 to 2014.


She is known for founding Code for America, a non-profit organisation focused on improving government services through technology and design.


“I got into this work, because I saw a need [to help] public servants who were trying to serve the public but most of the time operating under such enormous constraints,” Pahlka said at the event.


President and CEO of India’s National E-Governance Division, Abhishek Singh, who previously spoke to GovInsider about the country’s journey to inclusive, accessible and safe digital services, won the Leadership Award.


Singh, who is also the managing director and CEO of Digital India Corporation is widely seen as having led the implementation of much of India’s digital public infrastructure.


Among the notable projects he has led are CoWIN, a digital platform that facilitated the vaccination of 1 billion people against Covid-19, and DigiLocker, a digital wallet that enabled the sharing of 6 billion electronic documents.


In accepting his award, Singh thanked his project teams and credited all the award nominees for the “wonderful work that they have been doing, which will go a long way to create a community of practitioners, and a community of digital public infrastructure experts and open-source evangelists.

“If we can build this momentum up, whether we have won an award or been nominated and a part of this, we will create a huge value for all of us together.”