Fourth Industrial Revolution

How civil society can adapt to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

A drone drops its first blood delivery in the compound of Kabgayi hospital south of Rwanda capital Kigali where Zipline, a California-based robotics company delivered their first blood to patients using a drone October 13, 2016. Picture taken October 13, 2016

A three-point plan ... new technologies are challenging the humanitarian sector. Image: REUTERS/James Akena

Silvia Magnoni
Head of Civil Society Communities , World Economic Forum
Antony Declercq
Research Consultant, Pact
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Fourth Industrial Revolution?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how The Digital Economy is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

The Digital Economy

It is a time of transformation for the civil society sector - and it should be perceived as such by those civil society organizations who, amidst major geopolitical shifts, rising environmental challenges and ongoing social changes, are coming to understand - and experience - the impact of the ongoing Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Building directly on the third digital revolution, which has connected billions of people through mobile devices and the internet, the technologies of our post-digital world are poised to further change all aspects of our lives. They are radically altering our ability to create, access and use information; to relate to each other and to issues that matter to us; and to create resources of value. These changes are generating new needs and social issues that must be appreciated and addressed by civil society organizations working with individuals and communities.

Some of these challenges are both new and extremely complex, which means societal actors often lack the mechanisms and experience with which to mitigate them. Examples include discriminatory outcomes in algorithmic decision-making; individual and group privacy violations resulting from data-sharing projects and maps; high volatility associated with crypto-philanthropy; lack of agency on the part of workers pushed to sign off on the use of their data; and bias and misrepresentation in virtual reality storytelling.

Loading...

For civil society organizations this new context requires, more than ever, that they have eyes and ears on the ground in order to capture and respond to these new needs and challenges in a timely way. And beyond this, the rate of change today and the speed of technological advancements require these organizations to look at the big picture and fundamentally rethink their roles and mandates, acquire new capacities and skills, and transition to organizational, partnership and funding models that will allow them to become more empowered, agile and informed agents for social good.

Discover

What is civil society?

There are good stories to tell around how the sector has been embracing emerging technologies to pioneer new ways to fulfill their missions. Algorithms have been used to predict how forest fires spread and how best to stop them; distributed ledgers have been used in the provision of aid and resources to refugees; unmanned aerial vehicles have been used to deliver vital medical supplies in hard-to-reach areas; and VR technologies have been used to create immersive experiences that highlight issues such as environmental conservation in ways that were not possible before.

At the same time, the transformation at hand goes beyond the mere adoption of technologies and other innovative tools. It is a deeper, more fundamental transition to new roles, new structures and new systems for the delivery of social good. Here are three considerations for civil society organizations as they continue along their journey of change.

1) Be ready to play new and different roles

A key function of a thriving civil society sector within democracies is its ability to promote accountability, fairness, trust and transparency in society. This role is more important than ever in the current context, whereby technological change - if not governed appropriately - risks creating new inequalities and reinforcing existing ones. There is a huge need for civil society involvement in influencing how the Fourth Industrial Revolution unfolds and how, on the one hand, its positive impacts can be directed towards those groups in society most in need of help, and on the other hand how its negative impacts can be prevented in the first place. Civil society organizations are expected to enter radically new spaces and to demonstrate their (historical) value as, for example, advocates, watchdogs or capacity builders against the complex and ever-changing context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Have you read?

2) Be ready to address and resolve a range of tensions in order to perform those roles responsibly

There are a series of hardcore questions that organizations will need to grapple with as they navigate their approach to innovation and technology. What is driving civil society’s motivations to use technology? Which problems are we solving? How do we design systems, organizations and cultures for innovation? How do we remain independent while still relying on algorithmic tools or corporate-owned digital platforms for our work? How do we learn and share best practices? How do we allocate limited resources on technology in the short versus the long term? The ability for a civil society organization to successfully and responsibly navigate technological change is dependent on what the organization makes of these tensions and the decisions taken around them.

3) Be ready to work with other stakeholders in shaping the future of the sector

The nature of technological change, combined with other drivers such as closing civic spaces, means that civil society organizations cannot change on their own, or in silos. To a certain extent, their engagement with other sectors for their partnership, operational and funding models requires support and benefit from multi-stakeholder actions to incentivise radical change. Philanthropy, government, industry: they all share responsibility in creating the supporting structures, collaborative platforms and enabling conditions to accelerate civil society’s readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It is ultimately a game of systemic change that all actors must play in concert.

It is time for civil society to stand on the frontline of responsible innovation. The challenges ahead are manifold and undoubtedly present a risk; but the opportunities and need to put people at the core of the Fourth Industrial Revolution are too critical for the sector not to take it.

Civil Society in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Preparation and Response: read our full whitepaper here. It is part of the Preparing Civil Society for the Fourth Industrial Revolution initiative led by the World Economic Forum in partnership with social sector organizations.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Related topics:
Fourth Industrial RevolutionCivil Society
Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

IDEA: Investing in the Digital Economy of Azerbaijan

Sara Al Hudaithy and Anu Devi

June 4, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum