Covid-19 has brought us face to face with systemic problems we have long chosen to ignore collectively: Inequalities, environmental degradation, hunger, poverty, oppression, and the digital divide. In this age of technological progress, many of us are tempted by the promising thought of quick technological fixes to these deeply-ingrained issues.
But technology alone will not save us. We must put the well-being of people, communities, and the planet back at the centre. We need to ask ourselves: What are the futures we want to create? What do we value? What kind of world do we want to live in?
We need to change how we think about technology and innovation. Rather than allowing technological advancement to steer our narratives, innovation and technology should help us build bridges between the worlds we inhabit now and the ones we imagine for tomorrow.
Even before the coronavirus, the 2020s were envisaged as a “decade of action” to realise the Sustainable Development Goals. Increasingly, individuals, communities, policymakers, and business executives are talking about the need for sustainable social innovation, as well as fostering social impact. To us, this signals that the world is waking up to the idea that to build a future worth inhabiting, we must change course now.
Over the past few months in our work at The Futures Project, we have been heartened to see this shift in action. Through reviewing applications for the Call to Action for Innovators for the Future, we have had a window into how innovators on the ground are working for change.
The Call for Innovators has received submissions from social impact projects in 92 countries. Reading these applications allows for a global pulse-check of sorts. How are the doers using the futures they want to create as blueprints to guide the action they take? What are the priorities in different world regions, and what global trends are emerging?
The applicants from India envision a future in which everyone has access to education, information, and dignified living. Many of the projects pursue empowerment through education and skills training, keeping in mind potential barriers such as Internet connectivity and electricity access. Building on their deep knowledge of local realities, innovators are proposing clever reconfigurations of existing digital tools to bring uninterrupted education services to remote areas.
In Europe, the applicants’ projects most commonly tackle the climate crisis, proposing innovative solutions aimed at reducing Co2 emissions and reducing the environmental impact of production and consumption. These innovators are rethinking the life-cycle of natural resources, applying scientific knowledge in service of a tangible vision: A planet that is healthy and inhabitable for future generations.
The innovators from Africa focus on a vision of high-quality education for all children and universal access to adequate nutrition, health care, and clean water.
While these are just some examples, overall, two trends are evident. First, the recognition that we, collectively, need to do things differently, and that this will take some serious analysis and imagination. Second, though local and regional priorities may differ, our problems are interconnected, globally. So, too, should our solutions be.
Innovating for social impact is a worldwide project that requires localised knowledge as well as collaboration that spans sectors, boundaries, and borders.
We must reach across the barriers we have built for ourselves and ask each other: What futures do we want to build, and how can we create them, together?
Dr Julia Stamm, Founder & CEO, The Futures Project, and Jennifer Shirar, Project Assistant, The Futures Project.
The Futures Project (TFP) is a nonprofit operating out of Berlin, Germany.