Building on the amazing technology innovations of the 20th century that increased computing power and brought us the internet, the Fourth Industrial Revolution promises to be even more transformative. Artificial intelligence (AI), genetic engineering, virtual reality, robotics and other innovations are altering the relationship between man and machine. Every government, business and individual on the planet will feel the impact of this technology shift in ways we cannot yet fully comprehend.

But this revolution is emerging amidst a great threat to our future – the rising tide of inequality. Since the beginning of this century, the poorest half of the world’s population has received just 1% of the total increase in global wealth, while half of that total increase has gone to the top 1%, according to an Oxfam report.

The United States is the wealthiest nation in the world, yet more than 1.5 million American children live in poverty. And in my community – the San Francisco Bay Area – we are facing a homelessness epidemic that is impacting the most vulnerable. The San Francisco Unified School district reports that 1 in 26 children in our public schools are homeless or marginally housed. Studies by the University of California San Francisco have shown that children who do not have the appropriate education and healthcare opportunities by age 5 will remain at a disadvantage for the rest of their lives. As we have seen throughout history, this gulf of inequality creates the conditions that separate and polarize us and fuel conflict.

We need to do better. We need to invest in giving every child the opportunity to get off to a good start in their lives. And a key to interrupting the cycle of poverty and bringing more equality, stability and growth into our communities is improving education. It's not just about funding or accountability – it starts with actively engaging with the schools and students in our communities.

 Grade four students work on laptop computers at Monarch School in San Diego, California
Image: REUTERS/Mike Blake

As an example, my company Salesforce started a partnership with our local school districts to help improve computer science education. We started with San Francisco Unified School District and we've recently expanded that partnership to Oakland Unified School District across the bay. Over the last four years, we've invested $22.5 million in both school districts. It’s not just about writing a check, it’s about wrapping all of our resources – technology, people and grants – around the schools. Through our partnership, San Francisco became the first school district in the US to establish a computer science curriculum for all grades. With additional full-time coaches and teachers for mathematics and technology instruction, class sizes for eighth grade mathematics have been reduced by 25%.

Another local initiative, Circle the Schools, allows local companies to adopt schools and develop relationships with principals. Our employees engage in volunteer activities planned around literacy at the elementary school level, STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) in middle schools, and college and career readiness for high school students. The goal is to have 100 schools in the programme and extend it to 45 schools around the world.

Non-profits like CoderDojo are facilitating community-based coding clubs for kids aged 7-17. This year at the World Economic Forum in Davos we used one of our rented spaces to provide an area for kids to learn to code, while world leaders were meeting a few streets away. For us, this was a great way to put the week in perspective. Ensuring our young people have access to the education necessary to create opportunities and be ready for the jobs of tomorrow is critical.

It's as simple as adopting a public school, volunteering your time, providing technology and services or donating money. Each and every person, company and organization can make a difference in their local communities. We must all work together to take on this important challenge.