The world is on fire: we need leaders ready to build resilient, informed digital nations now

Exactly five months ago I was standing at the World Economic Forum in Davos amidst world leaders, systems builders, and changemakers. I was grateful for the opportunity to be there launching a global impact movement, championing social innovationand blockchain, and seeking out like-minds to help achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals by leveraging digital technologies.

As we begin to adapt and plan past COVID-19, we must make systemic upgrades and improvements.

The special edition magazine headlines dominating the week featured a looming recession, war with Iran, and climate change. However, none contemplated one of the most pressing and significant challenges we’d face in over 100 years, COVID-19.

It is an understatement to say that COVID-19 is having an exponential impact on humanity. It is catapulting the world into the gig economy and a digital future previously a decade away. Many people are navigating the trauma of abrupt change and managing the noise of the Internet and social media. Meaningful dialogue, being vulnerable, having a voice, and being seen is nearly impossible. And, being forgotten is easier than ever.

The systemic shortcomings of the internet infrastructure, algorithms, and transparency around data and government are ever apparent. And, as old systems fumble, many bright minds and bold leaders are looking forward to finally ushering in a more transparent and inclusive digital future – a great reset.

As Bahn Ki-moon, former UN Secretary-General, told the world just a few years ago, “we are the first generation that can end poverty, the last that can end climate change.” Today, we are also the first generation to live through a pandemic and be digitally empowered to share real-time data, exchange knowledge, skills, and resources. We have the power to truly ensure no person is left behind. But will we?

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By now, we have collectively seen the power of digital platforms to amplify meaningful human connections at unprecedented speed, and in unprecedented ways. Humans are leveraging these digital platforms to access PPE, partake in recovery strategies, gather data, and reach out to loved ones. Online platforms have also shown us that even in hard times humans maintain their capacity to connect with each other empathetically and to show kindness in remarkable ways.

We must never forget this moment in time, we must also not waste it.

As we begin to adapt and plan past COVID-19, we must make systemic upgrades and improvements. It is imperative that we refuse apathy and the former status quo. New opportunities are being exposed, new leaders are emerging, and, while new perspectives resonate, complacency and myopic profit-seeking must be categorically denied.

In the last election, as head of Canada’s Chamber of Digital Commerce, I asked leaders to collaborate with industry and to consider pro-growth statements, programs, and policy to encourage innovation leadership from Canada and to chart a path forward to decentralize and democratize old systems so we may finally break through bias and improve transparency leveraging blockchain technology. There was no reply.

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I have met often and early with many of our country’s political leaders to share strategies to accelerate cross-sector collaboration and social innovation. The uptake of new digital solutions and social innovation in our country has been disappointingly slow, suggesting apathy and disregard. This is not the legacy Canadians deserve. Instead, let’s use this transformative moment to build a legacy that we can all be proud of – one that is just, inclusive, and sustainable.

I ask again that our leaders prioritize humans and return to systems that reward shared value creation and long-termism. It is time for all of our business, government, community, and citizen leaders to deliver on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and commit to:

  1. Closing the digital divide by providing internet connectivity to everyone;
  2. Providing all citizens with algorithmic and digital literacy training and tools to make informed decisions about the technologies they use and rely on;
  3. Establishing open governance, data interoperability, and transparency standards for all governments and industries;
  4. Mandating digital downtime and creating digital well-being requirements across sectors;
  5. Introducing a new global charter to protect human rights online; and to,
  6. Prioritizing the establishment of national and local social innovation ecosystems that invest in, and reward, private industry and citizen efforts serving the public good.

The ability to design resilient systems lies within the capability of the systems to relate to situations and meet human needs in an objective way without delays. Our systems are now due for a digital upgrade. People are ready to be empowered online, to engage, to learn, and to lead our country to a brighter and prosperous future for all.

With the world on fire, it is time for leaders to care and commit beyond mandates. It is time to engage, and it is time to partner with new players in new ways to simply do better.

Image source NASA via Unsplash

Tanya Woods

Tanya Woods

Tanya Woods is the Founder and Chief Impact Officer of ProjectInKind.org, Managing Director of the Chamber of Digital Commerce Canada, a former trade negotiator, and a global leader on digital technology law and policy, social innovation, and the impact economy.