Last summer, the Skoll Foundation surveyed our Board, partners, and Awardees about trends and issues influencing the work of social entrepreneurs and other change agents.
As a curator of the Skoll World Forum program, I wanted to identify important themes to cover and people to include at the 2017 Skoll World Forum, to build an event with greater impact; and ultimately, to help the larger Foundation become a better partner to our community.
We asked our network about emerging global trends, trends that aren’t receiving adequate attention, and game-changing innovations in their fields of work. From more than 50 distinct trends reported, the most frequently mentioned themes were technology, climate change, youth, migration, and emergent populist and nationalist movements. For each trend, members of the Skoll community offered valuable insights.
Technology: Promise and Pitfalls
Some focused on the promise of technology: to transform education and to tackle poverty, especially by enabling the poor to assess and report on their own needs and opportunities. Others embraced technology as a tool to advance human rights and minimize corruption, leveraging platforms that immediately document and distribute information about human rights abuses, labor violations, and political or police corruption.But some respondents surfaced tensions inherent in the proliferation of technology. In particular, the abundance of “big data” and its potential to offer important insights is tempered by a lack of data literacy among both the public and policymakers.
With more data comes the need for … understanding of quantitative metrics and their proper use, which helps to address the … dangerous ways in which statistics can be manipulated and misunderstood. It’s hard right now to separate the signal from the noise.
In addition, our network expressed concern about privacy rights as governments and non-state actors prove increasingly capable of accessing personal data and using surveillance against civil society.
Climate Change: Calls to Action
Many respondents focused on the intersections between climate change and their own work in global health, security, migration, conservation, and poverty alleviation. Some focused on the need to adopt real solutions, leveraging technology, embracing mitigation and resilience, or embedding social and environmental costs into the pricing of goods and services.
Goods and services are too cheap – there is no signal to the consumer about the cost of decent labor conditions, responsible environmental management, social cost of carbon, or other input costs in the price that the consumer pays.
While some were concerned that we lack the will to live up to the Paris climate deal, others shared a fragile optimism about recent successes in global cooperation, the uptick in public awareness about climate change, and the grassroots movements that have burgeoned as a result.
For many in our network, climate change is not central to their focus, but impacts their work in myriad ways, demanding practical responses, innovation and delivery of solutions, and efforts to reach beyond rhetoric and policy alone.
Youth: Facing an Uncertain Future
Many in the Skoll network are focused on youth, and the importance of engaging and empowering young people in determining their—and our—future.
Some are concerned that widespread unemployment and changing definitions of work will define the generations growing up now, and lead to continued unrest and radicalization.
If education and social systems continue to infantilize youth, their disengagement and lost purpose will continue to accelerate at tremendous cost in terms of decreased capacity to tackle growing global challenges, and increased restlessness and violence.
Despite the challenges faced by young people in a rapidly changing global environment, there are bright spots. Young people today are more educated and more purpose-oriented than their parents: demanding more responsible business, more fulfilling work, and more conscious consumption. This shift in principles is putting young people at the forefront of a potential transformation in global values.
Inequality: Symptoms and Solutions
Another theme that continues to shape the work of our network is wealth inequality. Several respondents pointed to an unjust capitalist system as the primary driver of inequality.
Anger is being capitalized on by xenophobic politicians resulting in the closing of borders and protectionism of domestic industries, but little is being done to address the root causes of why such a large swath of the population feels disenfranchised in the first place.
For the most part, our network focused on potential solutions to wealth inequality, including greater access to digital financial services in the Global South; greater transparency in global supply chains; and policy experiments including increases in the minimum wage, universal basic income, and better taxation models.
Migration: A Solutions-Orientation Approach
Mass migration and the refugee crisis are on the minds of our network, with many of our Awardees operating in source and host countries. Survey respondents were concerned about the long-term consequences for individual migrants, such as vulnerability to forced labor and radicalization by extremist groups.
Successful integration, including employment access in host countries, was elevated as key to supporting migrant populations. In general, respondents expressed concern that there is no systems-oriented approach to the crisis, and a desire to identify and replicate success stories.
Emergent Populist and Nationalist Movements
The Brexit vote and the US presidential election left many of us reeling, but our network already had its finger on the pulse of populist and nationalist movements worldwide. Even before the US election, respondents agreed that these movements are alarming and pose a threat to global progress.
The drivers of these movements are myriad and complex, but respondents called out a sense of insecurity, social exclusion, unemployment, and worker exploitation as the underpinnings of this emerging global trend.
Charismatic leaders have capitalized on this insecurity, fostering an “us vs. them” mentality. The divisive rhetoric of populist leaders has many of our Awardees and advisors concerned about political polarization, disintegrating community cohesion, and normalization of hate speech.
The recent growth of nationalist movements suggests that many around the globe believe we are living in a “zero sum world”—where any group’s success must be the result of another’s failure. That’s a dangerous prospect indeed.
The Skoll Foundation’s focus on models that drive equilibrium change, rather than on issues or regions, means that our Awardees and advisors work on a wide range of challenges across every region in the world. So It was not surprising then that this survey revealed more than 50 different trends shaping the work of our partners.
But it’s clear that certain trends overshadow the rest. Technology, climate change, youth, inequality, migration, the rise of populist and nationalist movements—these drive the work of our community members no matter their location or focus area. The survey findings point to opportunities to share learnings and best practices, and ultimately collaborate on the interconnected challenges that affect us all.
As the Skoll Foundation continues to build its knowledge base on the shifting global landscape social entrepreneurs encounter, this data keeps us aware of the issues most important to our community.
We are also using the knowledge we’ve gained to shape the programming at the 2017 Skoll World Forum as we explore our theme Fault Lines: Creating Common Ground. We look forward to convening experts and practitioners from across the globe to discuss these trends and others in April. Stay tuned for more details on the Forum and how you can tune in.