New innovations

October 25, 2018

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The writer is country director, UNDP Pakistan.
The writer is country director, UNDP Pakistan.

THE 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development puts forward an integrated, broad and ambitious plan for global action on sustainable development. With such enthusiastic targets, the need for innovative, disruptive solutions is critical. These will largely sprout from technology, thanks to innovations introduced through the Fourth Industrial Revolution which has reshaped government, commerce, healthcare, mobility, education and livelihoods.

Along with the potential to provide disruptive solutions on a large scale, new technologies bring their own challenges and opportunities. What impact will these technologies have on inequalities, poverty, jobs and well-being? How can these innovations aid in overcoming development challenges? With commercial goals, how can we combine the social impact of new technologies? These are critical questions.

Technological innovations have allowed access to information around the world. Those in the most remote areas are now joined by invisible lines of connection, over radio waves and satellite signals, which give them a voice and a means to communicate across the planet. The advent of artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics is reshaping livelihoods and decision-making; 3D printing is opening up an entire world of better health opportunities. The list is endless.

The world is being reshaped by new technologies.

Pakistan’s start-up community are actively using new technologies for commercial and impact use. Investments by the government, private sector and UN agencies need to be made in this ecosystem. Pakistan’s young men and women mostly lead these start-ups. With appropriate training and opportunities, these young women and men can become both the drivers and the beneficiaries of a massive global shift. Institutions such as Ignite Fund and National Incubation Centres set up by the government are hubs focused on harnessing this very ecosystem and new technologies.

These changes encompass developed and developing countries alike. In Pakistan, for instance, technology has opened up more natural ways of doing things. Online education platforms such as that of the Virtual IT University are improving access to education in every corner. In elections, voters will be able to navigate to their designated polling stations using their phones and exercise their democratic right. A dengue app monitors new cases and informs local government response, while online platforms coordinate the national struggle to eradicate polio.

The innovative potential of microfinance has also been a vehicle for leveraging technology. Mobile technology, the internet, and globalisation are potent tools in eradicating poverty through microfinance loans, which have funded half a billion people and counting.

Automation has also revolutionised gender parity in employment. Advances in technology have allowed more women to work in an executive, and senior-level roles, from the confines of their homes, or remotely otherwise, or have created opportunities to co-share a job. An example of this is ‘telemedicine’, which has empowered female doctors. The Karachi based health start-up, Sehat Kahani, is an example of one such platform.

However, new technologies also bring challenges. As automation continues to replace manufacturing or blue-collar jobs, AI will do the same for skilled, white-collar jobs in banking, law or medicine. While it is true that technological leaps have often eliminated older, human-powered methods of doing things, advances in technology also have the potential to create new jobs, most of which we cannot even dream of today.

The World Economic Forum Global Risks Report, 2017 says: “The Fourth Industrial Revolution has the potential to raise income levels and improve the quality of life for all people. But today, the economic benefits of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are becoming more concentrated among a small group. This increasing inequality can lead to political polarisation, social fragmentation, and lack of trust in institutions. To address these challenges, leaders in the public and private sectors need to have a deeper commitment to more inclusive development and equitable growth that lifts all people.”

Harnessing the benefits of science and technology for all is essential. Being inclusive in how we innovate, engaging vulnerable communities in the process of innovation, and developing solutions that are accessible to people living in poverty, will be critical to ensuring that no one is left behind. For this to happen, there needs to be leadership to define a vision, and effective institutions to implement that vision of a sustainable future powered by technology. Making available through various means the financial and technical resources, along with incentives for investment, are prerequisites for a successful transformation. By building on the vision at the heart of the SDGs — to leave no one behind — global and regional partnerships can take the world towards a technologically unified global village.

The writer is country director, UNDP Pakistan.

Pulished in Dawn, October 25th , 2018

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