The Future I Hope For

2012-02-07 12:05

In a recent report, the United Nations has declared the internet to be ‘an indispensable tool for realizing a range of human rights, combating inequality, and accelerating development and human progress’.

My time in Davos confirmed for me the importance of role of the internet and mobile technology will be the development of Africa. I believe it represents for the millions of young people around the world, the most effective tool for empowerment.

The intention to solve Africa’s development problems is there, but the ‘hows’ remain vague. How do you get critical services to those on the fringe of society? How do we ensure solutions can be scaled to millions and billions of people?

The internet can be a most crucial enabler. And this enabling factor is not limited to freedom of expression we all observed in the Arab Spring. For billions of people, the internet can prove the most effective and scalable method in delivering, facilitating or improving access to critical supporting information and systems for farming, education, health, financial services, entrepreneurial activities, job opportunities as well information portals that provide a broad range empowering information and an understanding of what else is happening around you. The printing press in the 1400’s enabled the dissemination of information at an unprecedented level and contributed significantly to the exponential growth in global trade at that time. The internet can take that dissemination of information to another level.

The power of the internet brings a paradigm shift. It has the potential to change the innate way the world has operated to date, where, outside of revolutions and social unrest, the power to bring significant change lay with a privileged minority and leadership who had access to information, tools and traditional networks of influence. This model of operation that assumes that a small proportion of good-intentioned and educated people can cater adequately for a passive majority is unsustainable.

The approach with which we choose to address the global challenges must evolve. And by evolve I do not mean that we try to come up with smarter ideas more unique ideas. It requires a departure from the notion that good intention can enable one to cater better for a group of people than those people can do for themselves if empowered to do so.

The world needs a model that recognizes that sustainable progress and optimum results can only be obtained when everyone is in a position to play their part and be active contributors of their world. Mobile and internet technology presents us with an extraordinary opportunity to engage the previously excluded.

I believe in a future, where the majority are active contributors to solving the problems they find themselves in, applying the wisdom that is visible only from the experience of the problem and not observance of it. A future where the average person can upskill themselves using adaptive learning applications on their phone, and even improve their literacy levels. A future where business support, tools and information empower a budding entrepreneur on the fringe of society is available in the palm of her hand.

I believe in a future where even the poorly educated and of limited financial means, can begin to have access the information that changes the way they see the world and apply themselves to the task of improving their own condition and consequently the human condition as active contributors; because for the first time we have a means to connect all people, to each other, to information and a view of the world. Only 2 billion of the 7 billion people in the world have access to the internet. And the big question will be how the other 5 billion get it? Most of us will be familiar with the Chinese proverb about teaching a man to fish as opposed to giving him a fish. My proposition is:

Teach a man to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime. Expose a man to the internet and he will change his life.

Watch Closing Plenary Video – ‘The Future of across Generations’ where these thoughts are shared. View from 45:00

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