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Author's profile photo David Jonker

9 Weeks To Davos: Innovating An Industrial World

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 unemployed 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 the city in droves – some looking for adventure and opportunity; others out of desperation, forced to find work by the mechanization of farming. In the process, the shape of their jobs, families, and daily activities took on a whole new shape. And it 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. Less than 20% of the roads are paved in the Sub-Sahara, but drones may provide a new way to get goods to market for example. 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 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 core infrastructure and motivated entrepreneurs.

Where in Africa is the next Thomas Newcomen and Thomas Edison, Henry Ford and Henry Maudsley? 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 who make it their vision and purpose to raise up a new generation of innovators for Africa and the rest of the developing world.

This blog was originally published here. To learn more about the Global Goals, and to view previous blogs in this series, visit:

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