Harnessing big data to meet the Sustainable Development Goals – Building capacity in the Global South

Large volumes of complex and variable data, often called big data, promise to improve government service delivery, complement official statistics, and facilitate development in sectors such as health, urban development, transportation, and humanitarian response. Furthermore, declining prices and improved functionality have democratized data usage, and open-source tools have broadened the mechanisms for people to conduct big data analytics outside of proprietary and expensive software packages. Interest in capturing and analyzing these data sets for public purposes — big data for development (BD4D) — is still relatively new, but it accelerated when the post-2015 development agenda called for a data revolution to draw on existing and new sources of data to monitor progress on the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

However, much of the BD4D research is coming from Northern institutions and private sector companies, resulting in a Northern-driven, male-oriented agenda, rather than one driven by Southern voices and Global South collaboration. To meet this challenge, this project will develop capacity among researchers from the Global South, focusing on activities linked to measuring progress on the SDGs and to gender-related issues. It is being implemented by LIRNEasia, the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences, and the Centro de Pensamiento Estratégico Internacional – CIPEI.

Over a two-year period, a global network will work on applied big data for development innovations, including big data analyses and capacity building in close collaboration with private sector companies and policymakers. The network will also develop a critical perspective on issues related to big data and marginalization, privacy, security, rights, ethics and competition. Combining globally coordinated research efforts and regional hubs, the network will embed the findings of the project into Southern-led processes, and represent Southern voices in global policy discussions.

Project ID


Project status



24 months

IDRC Officer

Phet Sayo

Total funding

CA$ 1,463,600


North of Sahara, South of Sahara, Central Asia, South Asia, Far East Asia, Colombia, India, Kenya, Mexico, Rwanda, South America, Sri Lanka


Networked Economies

Project Leader

Sriganesh Lokanathan



Institution Country

Sri Lanka

Institution Website


Project Leader

Charles Mberi Kimpolo


The African Institute for Mathematical Sciences - Next Einstein Initiative Foundation (UK)

Institution Country

United Kingdom

Institution Website


Project Leader

Philipp Schonrock


Centro de Pensamiento Estratégico Internacional

Institution Country


Institution Website