9 Weeks To Davos: Innovating An Industrial World

David Jonker

17 weeks to Davos. 17 global goals to achieve a sustainable future. 17 blog posts exploring the UN’s vision for humankind. Here is number 9.

Global Goal #9: Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation

The poorest in Western countries are better off economically than they were 300 years ago. We can thank the Industrial Revolution for that. Most modern countries offer some form of social security, ensuring that even the infrastructureunemployed have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over their heads. I’m not claiming it’s perfect in any way and I don’t wish poverty upon anyone, but given the option between today and 300 years ago, I would choose today.

Industrialization radically transformed the lives of everyday people. They left the countryside for cities in droves. Some people were looking for adventure and opportunity; others  are forced to find work out of desperation. In the process, their jobs, families, and daily activities took on a whole new shape. And industrialization improved their financial status. Home ownership, appliances, flushing toilets, hot water, electricity, cars to drive, leisure, and entertainment were part of this new world.

In stark contrast, many of the poorest countries have not yet transitioned into industrial nations. Agriculture-sector employment in sub-Saharan Africa continues to see pre-industrial numbers: 61% in Kenya, 79% in Ethiopia, 80% in Mozambique, 84% in Burkina Faso, 92% in Burundi, to name a few. In comparison, less than 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture in the United States, with similar numbers in Canada, Britain, France, and the rest of the Western world.

Infrastructure was foundational to achieving industrialization and its resulting prosperity. At the core of the Industrial Revolution were innovations in banking and investment to help fund technological invention and production. New factories developed along rivers and near coal fields, close to energy sources necessary to drive emerging industrial complexes. Waterways, railroads, and roads connected new goods to national, and eventually global, markets. Infrastructure spurred on, and developed along with, industrialization.

The infrastructure necessary for industrialization won’t be the same for Africa as it was for 18th century Europe and North America. For starters, we know a lot more about how to build industrial processes that are more sustainable. For example Less than 20% of the roads are paved in the Sub-Sahara, but drones may provide a new way to get goods to market. Energy is critical for production, but renewable electrical production may become the norm.

Data and the information technology that generates, collects, and analyzes it is critical to building a resilient infrastructure that ensures sustainable industrialization. Many emerging countries lack the core IT infrastructure needed by large and small businesses alike. However, mobile technologies and cloud services provide an opportunity for smaller enterprises to adopt the latest technology without massive investments in data centers. Innovation won’t have a chance to take root and grow without a core infrastructure and motivated entrepreneurs.

Where in Africa is the next Thomas Newcomen,  Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or  Henry Maudsley? Whoever and wherever they are, they will create small businesses that grow into large enterprises employing thousands. Empowering entrepreneurs with the tools and support to make their dreams a reality takes non-profits like Endeavor, private enterprises like Compartamos Banco, and companies like SAP. Together, we are making it our  vision and purpose to raise up a new generation of innovators for Africa and the rest of the developing world.

This blog is part of our 17 Weeks to Davos series. To learn more about the UN Global Goals and how you can help make the world a better place, view this interactive Web experience from SAP: 17 Global Goals to Achieve a Sustainable Future.

David Jonker

About David Jonker

David Jonker leads the global thought leadership team at SAP, exploring how technology innovation addresses business, economic, and social issues today and tomorrow.