The Malta Independent 21 January 2021, Thursday

4IR

Owen Bonnici Friday, 8 January 2021, 08:40 Last update: about 12 days ago

It might have been written back in 2016, but Professor Klaus Schwab's article: The fourth Industrial Revolution: what it means, how to respond is still relevant and enlightening as ever.

Schwab, who is of course the Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, heralds the "brink of a technological revolution that will fundamentally alter the way we live, work and relate to one another …. unlike anything humankind has experienced before."  He counsels that the response to it must be integrated and comprehensive involving all stakeholders of the global polity.

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In his typical clarity, Schwab explained the "Industrial Revolutions" as follows:

The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanise production.

The Second used electric power to create mass production.

The Third used electronics and information technology to automate production.

The Fourth is a digital revolution characterised by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.  

Schwab believes that "the breadth and depth of these changes herald the transformation of entire systems of production, management, and governance."  Wise words indeed.

These are words, which underline the need to have a future-ready country, which can be in a position to anticipate and charter through possible futures.   

In the past days, I have been meeting a whole list of researches and experts from a wide range and array of disciplines.  The preparedness and high-level academic prowess of the absolute majority of the researchers I have had the pleasure to meet is indeed impressive.  

With them, we have discussed the future, applied foresight and imagination, and tried to understand possible future scenarios for our country by fully understanding emerging technologies.

In between interesting discussions about regulatory sandboxes, knowledge platforms, accelerator programs, labs, financing, fintech, incubators, creative disrupters, there is a deep underlying urge amongst all researchers I have met to turn Malta into a gateway for future content and knowledge-sharing in various key sectors such as entrepreneurship, health and wellbeing, transportation, education, AI and others.  

They believe that we, as a nation, are able to showcase what is possible and enable others to live through the future today.

Of course to do that we have to have a strong ecosystem of innovation.  We must apply high-level thinking and strategic initiatives that give birth to change - important, crucial, exponential change – while ensuring that our regulatory and governance ecosystems evolve to fit.  

Central in this quest are the upcoming generations that we want them to be equipped with the skills of the future, including the language of the future – code.  We want them to be the main protagonists in taking our country to the next level.   

We must aspire to be a leading country of the future.

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I read with interest about an initiative done in France, which sought to connect foreigners in this country with isolated elderly people through video chat.  The aim was to decrease loneliness, while at the same time help French learners boost their language skills.

The initiative apparently has been called “Share Ami” and aims to “create intergenerational links by connecting students learning French and elderly living in France over video chat.

The organization behind the initiative is called Oldyssey and it declares that it wants to raise awareness about elderly worldwide and make their voices heard.  A video showing an exchange between a 22-year old from Afghanistan and a 91-year old Parisian woman was published with the story.

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When I was attending University, Corporate Social Responsibility was a term in extensive use, widely applied to a number of companies, which felt the need to contribute to a particular sector in society, often for a charitable purpose.

Today the main concept is more related to impact investing, a term coined by the Rockefeller Foundation back in 2007.  One can notice an increase in the number of companies embracing social impact as a core value.  Studies carried out in the US show that 78% of the people interview expect companies to have a positive impact on society.

It seems that the main distinguishing feature between CSR and the novel social investing is that while in the case of CSR this is an initiative that is done as a “secondary step”, a social impact company prioritises the making or supporting of positive social change in all of its work.

Basic online research provides a number of examples of successful impact companies.  For instance, the company Brandless donates a meal to Feeding America with every order while the company Bombas donates a pair of socks to someone in need for every sock sold. 

Economists who have written about this relatively novel concept have stressed that the increase of such companies leads to an increase of resources to the people working to tackle social challenges because these companies would be committed to making sure of the sustainability of the whole operation, while utilizing the services or goods of like-minded companies.

In theory, successful impact companies have the potentiality to be a good step forward towards tackling the major global challenges and trigger positive change. It seems that the Catholic church is taking active interest in the concept so much that the term Catholic Impact Investing has been coined and the Mayor of Stockholm Anna König Jerlmyr has went as far as declaring that she wants her city become an Impact Capital of the World.

 

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