COVID-19 exposed the reality of global crises and challenges — from the vulnerabilities of data ecosystems and health systems to the need for clean, accessible water for all.

To assess these challenges and work out how to solve them, we need good data to understand what is happening, and effective skills to use that data to take appropriate action.

In 2020 — the year COVID-19 spread across the globe — the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) and the Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data (the Global Partnership) worked together to play our part in responding to this unprecedented crisis.  

Across Africa, we listened to what Governments wanted and found our network of partners were ready and willing to respond collectively to their needs. Building on five years of strong partnerships, in this time of crisis, our network came together to support each partner with vital resources, information, and experiences. 

A common theme across our conversations was that COVID-19 intensified the urgent need for timely data. We worked in collaboration to bring partners together with the data, technology, and tools they needed. 

COVID-19 also starkly demonstrated the need for that data to be produced, analyzed, and shared within a robust data system. Data systems take time to build securely and ethically, and we believe COVID-19 has clearly shown the need to continue creating them. There will be more pandemics and more global crises — including the ongoing climate crisis.

While focusing on the challenges of today, we did not forget about tomorrow. Our work has always been about the future of our societies and planet. The skills that have been built through these partnerships will also help Governments plan for sustainable development to mitigate climate change, track economic progress, and apply data science to get the best outcomes in health, education, and other critical challenges.

We need to be better prepared in the future. COVID-19 saw a rush for short-term fixes, creating a danger that poor-quality data will be used to inform important decisions or that data sharing oversteps its original purpose. To build a robust system for future crises, we need partnerships, we need skills in government to utilize those partnerships, and we need more public dialogue about what data is collected and shared, and why. This will mean more collaboration that builds trust between the public and private sectors, civil society, and academia, to lay the groundwork for future scaling up and flexibility when crises hit. Preparedness also requires stronger technical capacity in Governments in geospatial data and data science, not only for emergency response but also to improve data access and use across the range of government activities every day. At the Global Partnership and UNECA, we are working to ensure that the momentum gathered during the pandemic helps to build stronger systems for the future. 

Ensuring that the vast potential of new data and technologies is used to make lives better, prevent crises, and protect our planet is a huge challenge. Getting it right will result in better policy and, ultimately, better lives. The Global Partnership and UNECA are committed to working with partners from every sector to build the data systems we need across the continent of Africa. We are bringing together organizations to interrogate assumptions and ask hard questions to make data partnerships more transparent and work together to protect rights and prevent data misuse. 

We call on organizations with data, tools, skills, resources, and other capabilities to join us in using them to foster resilience amid the climate and health challenges ahead.

Claire Melamed headshot
Claire Melamed
Global Partnership for Sustainable Development Data
Vera Songwe headshot
Vera Songwe
Executive Secretary
United Nations Economic Commission for Africa

From Senegal to Somalia

The initiative has been rolled out across Africa, supporting more than 40 partnerships between Governments and over 30 technical partners who bring data, skills, tools, and resources.


Explore the partnerships in the interactive visualization below.

Abdirisak Aden, Head of GIS at the Puntland State Statistics Office examining the areas effected by Cylone Gati, Credit: Faaris Adam/GPSDD

Abdirisak Aden, Head of GIS at the Puntland State Statistics Office examining the areas effected by Cylone Gati, Credit: Faaris Adam/GPSDD

This report offers insights into how and why data partnerships were so crucial during this unprecedented time and what was achieved when stakeholders from across the world came together to share resources. And it shows how this work will need to continue if the world is to be ready to meet future health crises and to tackle the looming threat of the climate emergency. 

The Global Partnership facilitated the development and strengthening of COVID-19 data hubs in seven countries.

Countries were able to develop data dashboards featuring visual, analyzed data of confirmed cases, recoveries, deaths, and other indicators that could inform COVID-19 actions from Governments, businesses, and communities. These data hubs were able to provide immediate insights into the virus’s spread as well as the social and economic impacts. They also provided a foundation to add other metrics to be used for other needs, including future pandemics, health interventions, or climate change adaptation.

In many cases, government officials needed to rapidly acquire new skills to enable them to take advantage of new data sources and develop insights. The Global Partnership facilitated capacity-building partnerships to support immediate pandemic insights across 14 countries: Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Ghana, Madagascar, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Somaliland, South Sudan, Togo, and Zambia.

Oliver Chinganya headshot

That’s really something that we have seen changing, countries demanding more ways of looking at things in terms of how to disseminate data. Data collection and analysis can also be seen in real time. That’s also a big change."

Oliver Chinganya Director of the Africa Centre for Statistics, UNECA

New skills will outlast the pandemic and will strengthen data systems for the longer term, increasing the use of timely and inclusive data for decision-making across government. These data systems need to go beyond pandemics and encompass the broader economic and social impact of shocks such as pandemics, floods, and droughts.

Explore the case studies below to learn more about how some of these partnerships came to fruition.

Explore the case studies below to learn more about how some of these partnerships came to fruition.

Skills for the future

Looking to the future means focusing on skills.

Throughout 2020, there was an emphasis on developing skills to sustain the impact of the program and to contribute to progress over time. 

The skill-building included data science, environment data, machine learning, earth observations, gender data, inclusive data, and administrative data. Over the course of the year, more than 100 people from 20 countries and 47 different institutions — spanning national statistics offices; ministries of environment, agriculture, health, gender, and planning; and various academic departments — were involved in training activities.

Ruko Community receive training from Mohamed Shibia of Northern Rageland Trust
Combating the pandemic has revealed why data partnerships are crucial.

Through the Global Partnership and UNECA partnerships, we learned a lot about what was needed to support countries to adopt new technologies and methods. Fully utilizing new data involves bringing together partners who may not have worked together before. Trust is the bedrock, but trust underpinned by practical considerations focused on investment, sustainability, and accountability.

Davis Adieno headshot

We continue to work with Governments and technical partners in their COVID-19 response, but the focus is increasingly shifting on recovery and building resilience through capacity-building and strengthening data ecosystems broadly. Out of the COVID work, we now have a brand-new country engagement strategy that is defining critical steps to a partnership-led scale-up and replication of our work in more countries. Over the next two years, we’ll more than double the number of countries we work in."

Davis Adieno Director of Programs

As they have worked together to tackle COVID-19, the Global Partnership and UNECA have kept sustainable futures as their key priorities. This pandemic was not the only health challenge nations faced over the last 18 months, and there will be more crises in the future. Data is crucial, and investments in data systems will pay off again and again.

One thing is clear: Trust cannot be forged overnight.

Sustained funding is needed to close the technical and social gap between supply-side technology providers, data holders, and academics and demand-side Governments in the Global South, and to establish global norms and cooperation on data governance to guide a common vision. We still have much to learn from one another.

Data for a Resilient Africa

Partnering to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and build toward inclusive economic and social recovery

Des données pour une Afrique résiliente

Des partenariats pour relever les défis de COVID-19 et construire une reprise économique et sociale inclusive

Stacey Knott
Stacey Knott

Stacey Knott is a multimedia journalist and GPSDD 2019 press fellow.
She spent five years working in West Africa, covering health, politics, human rights, and environmental stories. She has also worked as a communications consultant for development organizations. She has a Master's Degree in International Development.

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