How digital technologies can be used to solve global challenges

  • The world is once again at a turning point and, once again, technology is part of the solution.
  • Strong leadership from the business community is needed to ensure technology is used responsibly and sustainably.
  • The focus should be on deploying digital technologies that make the real world much more livable and sustainable.

When I graduated in 1989, I felt the world belonged to me. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the Cold War ended and globalization accelerated.

At the same time, digital technologies open up unlimited possibilities – the World Wide Web is launched the same year; information technology was flourishing; The Internet was beginning to connect people.

The dream was to create a global village where everyone was welcome to communicate, trade and exchange knowledge and information. Hopes were high.

Now, more than three decades later, we are at a turning point again. Long before the pandemic, a reversal of globalization was underway. Aided by social media, nationalism and identity politics have gained ground in many countries and raised geopolitical tensions and trade disputes.

Today, the same digital technologies that once connected the world are dividing it. They are used to spread misinformation and propaganda and to amplify extreme views. They have made our societies more vulnerable to manipulation and attack.

Given these longer-term developments, it was disappointing, but not surprising, that coordinated international strategies to contain the COVID-19 pandemic were rare. And now the war in Ukraine is further intensifying the fragmentation of our world.

Digital technologies can be a power for good

With all of this in mind, is it foolish to believe that technology can once again raise high hopes and drive progress, as it did in 1989? Can technology save the world again?

I say yes! If we needed a reminder of the power of technology, the recent pandemic has provided it. We’ve seen how digital technology empowers people to stay connected and reach out to others, businesses to keep businesses going, and innovators like BioNTech and Moderna to grow and mass produce COVID-19 vaccines in record time.

These developments, during the pandemic, demonstrate that digital technology is still a key enabler for a better future. But they also show how vital strong leadership in business is for progress, especially in times of crisis.

Although business leaders should not try to be politicians, they can and should address the great and pressing challenges facing humanity. Former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan once called them “challenges without a passport”.

We are all affected by these challenges, regardless of our nationality and our geopolitical constellation. And they are described by the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

They include no poverty, zero hunger, good health and well-being, quality education, climate action, peace, justice and strong institutions, responsible consumption and production, for n cite just a few.

Sustainable Development Goals digital technologies

If companies choose to use digital technologies responsibly and sustainably, it can indeed be a powerful force in solving the grand challenges we face.

Image: United Nations

Achieving these goals by 2030 will require a steady stream of innovation and the deployment of advanced digital technologies at scale over an extended period. Fortunately, that’s exactly what business does.

The private sector is the main driver of innovation and technology. In the United States, for example, it represents nearly three-quarters of the country’s total R&D expenditure. And, of course, it also plays a key role in job creation, workforce development and economic value creation.

The SDGs should guide business models

The SDGs should serve as a guide when it comes to business models and their impact on society. In this regard, the recently enacted Digital Services Act of the European Union is a major step in the right direction.

Currently, a number of companies are making substantial investments in what is known as the “metaverse” – to further strengthen the virtual world. However, the digital world should not be an end in itself.

Our goal must be to use the digital world to make the real world much more sustainable and livable. I’m talking about developing and deploying technologies that reduce CO2 emissions, provide cleaner and more reliable transport, provide affordable and individualized health care, and reduce energy consumption and waste in production. industrial.

In other words, to harness the power of digitization not just for entertainment and consumption in the virtual world, but to effect tangible progress at scale in the real world.

Digital technologies can drive positive change

Throughout my career, I have had the privilege of seeing for myself how digital technologies can be a tremendous force for positive change. I started my career at SAP, which at the time was a fast-growing enterprise software provider, then moved to IBM, a global software and services leader.

Yet it’s only in recent years that I’ve fully understood that it’s never about digital technology per se, but about the progress we can make collectively when we use it to improve the real world. It’s about combining the real and digital worlds with purpose.

The unprecedented disruption created by COVID-19 has accelerated digitalization and exposed inequalities in who benefits from the benefits of technology, increasing the urgency for an inclusive digital transformation.

The World Economic Forum’s platform for shaping the future of the digital economy and creating new value helps businesses and governments leverage technology to create new value for business and society in an unstable global environment . The platform aims to ensure universal 21st century digital infrastructure and inclusive digital services while transitioning to a new normal.

contact us for more information on how to get involved.

This became even more apparent to me when I joined the boards of AP Moller-Maersk and Siemens. Adding digital technologies to transportation makes shipping and travel more sustainable. Adding them to crafting makes production circular. Adding them to healthcare improves the diagnosis and treatment of disease and the patient experience.

Making this happen is a matter of leadership. To quote a good friend of mine, INSEAD Professor Subi Rangan: Between awareness and acting There are Choose.

If a business chooses to use technology responsibly and sustainably, it can indeed be a powerful force in solving the grand challenges we face. It can indeed lead to the progress our world desperately needs. He can indeed save the world – even today.


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