Will technology connect or divide us? The challenge for leaders in Globalization 4.0

Globalization 4.0

(Alex Kotliarskyi, Unsplash)

This article is brought to you thanks to the collaboration of The European Sting with the World Economic Forum.

Author: Douglas Broom, Senior Writer, Formative Content


Over the past 70 years, globalization has dramatically changed our systems, organizations and values. Individual exposure to international ideas, culture and attitudes through tourism alone has grown 56-fold, with 1.4 billion people travelling internationally in 2018 compared with just 25 million in 1950. Our countries and regions have become more interconnected and interdependent, leading to greater affiliation between people across geographies. Recent World Economic Forum research shows that the vast majority of people across regions feel their country has an obligation to support other countries around the world.

But what is the nature of this interconnection? And what does it mean for us as individuals?

Human interactions in the era of globalization have been driven significantly by technological development. Accompanied by a proliferation of online social and dating platforms, internet access has enabled us to befriend people we would otherwise not have met. In 2010, smartphones began to broadly penetrate the market; people aged 16-24 now spend three hours a day on average on social media connecting with one another. These exchanges can connect individuals to groups of people with shared backgrounds; for me, locating parents with similar childcare issues to mine has been both cathartic and productive to identifying solutions.

But technology-enabled interaction has serious downsides. The fact that that many adults spend 11 hours a day individually interacting with screens begs the question whether technology nurtures or inhibits meaningful human connection. In some countries, a quarter of the population reports that the effect of online social interactions has resulted in strong feelings of loneliness. The late Jo Cox, a British politician who campaigned for unity as a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, led a UK commission report on loneliness, which resulted in the UK appointing its first minister of loneliness to combat isolation, in 2018.

And it’s not just loneliness that has become an issue with technology: the anonymity of screens has helped bullies and provocateurs perpetuate new forms of harassment and polarized discourse. In Germany, anti-refugee posts on social media appeared directly correlated with attacks on refugees. As our sense of community shifts from the physical to the virtual, there are repercussions we cannot afford to ignore. Globalization and technology have opened incredible opportunities to connect and exchange ideas in new ways; they have also led to divides that we must concertedly overcome.

Leaders around the world have an opportunity to take the best of technology to re-infuse meaningful connections across their spheres of influence and counteract ideological polarization. Much of this effort begins with preserving space to meet with and truly listen to people from diverse backgrounds and experiences. It also requires injecting elements of pre-technology approaches to interacting.

This year, the Forum of Young Global Leaders will bring together 250 leaders from all over the world at an annual summit to forge relationships and work together to achieve a more humane and just phase of globalization – Globalization 4.0. We are bringing key thinkers and doers together to consider how our societies can encourage interactions that unify and create community, rather than divide. They will also collaborate to advance coalitions to protect the planet, integrate practices that promote inclusive growth into their organizations, and promote responsible leadership. These leaders represent over 100 countries and diverse backgrounds, and they have a shared mission to improve the state of the world.

As one Young Global Leader described it, Globalization 4.0 should foster deep connections and shared interests instead of focusing on profits and specific outcomes. We are looking forward to welcoming these leaders to strategize on doing just that.

Some of them include:

Mokena Makeka, a professional architect and leading voice on urban strategy, who founded Makeka Design Lab to create built environments that unify rather than divide diverse communities. Mokena is an internationally renowned, award-winning architect whose fusion of innovation and sustainability make him a critical contributor to shaping urban design in Globalization 4.0.

Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, an activist who focuses her work on promoting mental health in an age of environmental and technological change. She is Malaysia’s only international psychology trauma specialist and the country’s youngest Amnesty International chair. Her expertise on mental wellbeing and relationships influences new approaches to personal and community health.

Bernise Ang spends her days looking across many disciplines in an attempt to tackle social challenges in an urban context as the chief alchemist at Zeroth Labs. She and her team take a participatory approach to determining solutions to inequality in cities. Her approach subverts traditional power dynamics between those who are “helping” and the community, and brings people into the process of ideating.

Shi Yan, a trailblazer in China’s agricultural future, is pioneering ways to bring high-quality, fresh food to dense, urban areas. She founded Shared Harvest, one of the first Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) models in China, where consumers buy meat and vegetables directly from producers.

Peter Lacy, a senior managing director for UK and Ireland within Accenture Strategy, is driving the organization’s action and insight on responsible leadership, particularly as an authority in the area of sustainability. With other Young Global Leaders, he founded the Circular Awards, a ceremony that created a movement around sustainable economic practice.

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