Like many millennials, I spend my morning commute sifting through texts, emails and headlines on my phone. The news offers an odd blend of learning about robot backpacks that support remote collaboration, and reading about the millions of Venezuelans fleeing poverty and violence.
It’s a daily reminder of how divided and unequal the world still is. As the digital revolution transforms industries, and ongoing geopolitical challenges become more complex, it seems like we are waiting for some inevitable ‘spark’ to ignite the biggest wave of global integration since the fall of the Berlin wall.
‘Globalization 4.0’ could, like preceding waves of globalization, have mixed results: economic growth and poverty alleviation on the one hand, and political crises and greater income inequality on the other. These days, the outcomes of further global integration feel particularly uncertain.
Political divisions are at an all-time high. The threat of global terrorism continues. Institutions that bring countries together may be crumbling (see Brexit). For millennials, our economic opportunities are uncertain: we believe we may not have the skills we need for the jobs of the future. If we are not intentional in our preparation for Globalization 4.0, we risk exacerbating these problems.
I believe in the positive transformative power of Globalization 4.0, if millennials can shape it on our terms of equity, equality and sustainability. According to a 2017 survey of the Global Shapers Community, 51% of people under 30 believe ‘equal access to opportunities for all’ is the most important thing for a free society - even more than job security.
The last wave of globalization in the 1990s lifted some countries out of poverty. However, income inequality is increasing in those countries and in large economies including the US. Other countries with low-cost labour are anticipating the benefits of the next wave of globalization, but there is a risk of laying a foundation that drives inequality for generations. A successful Globalization 4.0 is one of inclusive and equitable growth across and within countries.
This might seem like a tall order. But here are some practical priorities we can focus on today to prepare for tomorrow.
1. Invest in strengthening local and regional economies
Greater global integration doesn't mean only global cities benefit. We should proactively build resilient local and regional systems that can participate in the next wave of globalization, making sure regions have the right mix of education, employment and infrastructure to create and sustain jobs locally. Ghana’s Decent Work Programme is an example of a place-based approach that increased employment and growth.
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2. Innovate educational institutions and aggressively close the skills gap
By 2022, at least 54% of employees globally will require re- and up-skilling. Not only do we need to support people in getting the training they need for jobs in the next five years, but we need to prepare young students with the skills to adapt to the types of jobs we will need in the next 20 years. New Zealand is implementing a national technology curriculum to teach students to be digital creators, as well as consumers.
3. Focus on the most vulnerable populations
Negative effects of globalization will have a disproportionate impact on some populations. Global and local institutions need to advance both universal and targeted strategies to improve outcomes for everyone. At Feeding America, we provide charitable nutritious food across the US, while also deploying programmes focused on removing food access barriers for populations with particularly high rates of food insecurity.
4. Stop climate change
Climate change was not as imminent during the preceding waves of globalization. It is going to have a disproportionate impact on vulnerable regions and populations. The challenges of Globalization 4.0 will be compounded if resources that could be put towards strengthening local economies and education have to be diverted to mitigate the costs of climate change. Nearly 50% of people under 30 believe climate change is the most pressing global issue. By the time we are in global leadership roles, it might be too late.
5. Build a movement focused on equity
Advancing the priorities above and creating greater equity will require a more coordinated global movement than exists today. Many businesses, NGOs, advocacy groups, academics and even individuals have unprecedented global reach and ability to influence equitable outcomes. Millennials are likely to reward businesses who participate in this movement, preferring to work at and purchase from businesses that are driving social good.
Countries that do not act on these priorities risk losing out in the next wave of globalization. Millennials are ready to lead the charge for equitable growth. The looming ‘spark’ that ignites Globalization 4.0 will be the defining moment of our generation.