Kian Bakhtiari FRSA argues that combining technology with creativity through collaboration can help achieve progress on the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
On 25th September 2015, the 193 member states of the United Nations adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled "Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development”. This created a set of 17 goals and 169 targets, known as the Sustainable Development Goals: A universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure prosperity for all. This was a watershed moment; signalling a shared vision of humanity and a new social contract between the world’s leaders and the people.
Three years on, we need to ask: are these ambitious goals still achievable? And has progress been made?
Well, according to the World Bank, 768.5 million people live in extreme poverty today, that’s 2.5 million more humans than last year. There’s no escaping the fact that we are living in an increasingly unequal world. One where eight men own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who make up the poorest half of humanity. You see, the system is not broken but rather fixed to reward the few at the expense of the many. To make matters worse, global carbon emissions have increased for the first time in 3 years despite significant Investments in clean energy and the Paris Climate Agreement. Not to mention the constant yet silent threat of nuclear annihilation at the press of a button.
For the first time, there’s a broad consensus that the human race is facing an uncertain future. Are we all doomed? Or can we still shift course away from our failing trajectory? The responsibility falls firmly on all our collective shoulders, since we're probably the last generation that can do something about it. The following factors combined can create a seismic shift in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and creating a better future for all, both today and tomorrow:
1) Use technology for good
Throughout history, technology has been the greatest enabler of human progress. To achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals we need to harness the power of exponential technologies and direct them towards some of the world’s most pressing problems.
At its heart, technology can move us towards 100% renewable energy, improve access to health-care for billions and alleviate poverty by breaking traditional barriers to entry and democratising access to opportunities.
Regrettably, we are using technology to solve the wrong kind of problems. Silicon Valley is more interested in creating wi-fi enabled juice machines than tackling child hunger or malnutrition. That’s because our current economic model fails to take into account the social and environmental value of a product, service or technology. To bring about meaningful change, we need to redirect global venture investment - currently at a record high ($155 billion) - towards tech for good initiatives.
2) Creativity rooted in purpose
As eloquently depicted in the first scene of Dead Poets society “No matter what people tell you, words and ideas can change the world.” Currently, those “words” and “ideas” are being used to increase society’s overall consumption. Advertising has a massive influence on the thoughts, decisions and actions of individuals. The average person is exposed to 500 - 5,000 advertising messages every day. On the flipside, the world of marketing and advertising is uniquely placed to address some of the world's most pressing challenges. Thanks to its deep-rooted understanding of the human psyche and the consumer’s decision-making process, not to mention an unrivalled ability create value out of nothing, re-frame problems and tell compelling stories. The same techniques used to sell burgers or alcohol can also be used to promote a healthy lifestyle or an equal distribution of food: the common denominator in both scenarios is creative problem solving.
It is the revolutionary explosions of new ideas which create a new way of seeing things. We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking that created them: human knowledge is limited, it is our imaginations which carry unlimited possibilities. We now have an unparalleled opportunity to channel this creative energy towards alleviating poverty, reducing Inequality and addressing climate change based on the U.N’s Sustainable Development Goals. Creativity rooted in purpose focuses on improving lives; not selling products or increasing profits for shareholders.
The alchemy of creativity and technology has the potential to produce new possibilities. However, any real attempt to realise the U.N’s 17 Sustainable development goals will require an unprecedented level of collaboration; often between unlikely parties. We can’t save the world in silos; doing so requires collective, collaborative action, inclusive of the state, civil society, business and individuals. In this case, the whole really is greater than the sum of its part.
Perhaps the greatest level of effort should be placed on bridging the gap between business and society. By establishing a new, collaborative framework founded on shared value, defined as sustainable economic growth which addresses the needs of society. Let’s not forget, doing good makes business sense: achieving the Sustainable Development Goals can unlock $12 trillion in market opportunities by 2030. If business wants to achieve such success, it needs to go beyond CSR by embedding new thinking, products, strategies and above all doing good into the core of its business. Similarly, social projects stand to gain a tremendous amount from the knowledge, skills and expertise locked within most international companies. Strategic partnerships will enable good causes to move away from traditional fundraising models towards self-sufficiency. To focus on what truly matters, improving lives, creating new solutions and instigating system change. In short, the 17 Sustainable Development Goals offers a win-win for people, planet and even profit.
All we need to do is rethink the way we measure “growth” and redirect the magical forces of technology and creativity towards doing good.
Kian Bakhtiari FRSA is the founder of The People: a creative agency which connects social Impact projects with brands that care.