With a narrow window of opportunity to rethink our world after the pandemic, the World Economic Forum is bringing together innovators from around the world for our inaugural - and virtual - Pioneers of Change Summit.
To coincide with the meeting, from November 16 to November 20, we invited participants to share their ideas on sparking positive change as the world recovers from COVID-19.
What is the biggest opportunity you see for positive change in the post-pandemic world? And what is your best piece of advice for how to make change happen?
'Breaking out of the board room'
Elizabeth Rossiello, CEO & Founder, AZA
I see barriers lowered and even removed for those left out of traditional company structures and boardrooms. Rather than incumbency or monopoly determining a winner, growth and success during and post-pandemic has gone to the innovative, the flexible, and the energetic. Brick and mortar retail, traditional banks, and corporates were faced with huge organizational challenges, especially those around efficiency, that many younger, more agile companies did not have. Working from home has been organic for a growing percentage of start-ups around the world already pre-pandemic, and it gave them a head start as the rest of the world tried to adapt. Without the need for expensive and often inefficient business travel or private club memberships, access to new partners and investors is now just a zoom call away.
To make change you must find the energy to not just start but complete the change. It is all about energy and persistence, because it's the process, not the beginning that is difficult. There are always a lot of distractions and discussions, but real change comes when there is a singular obsession with making it happen.
‘Manufacturing is sexy again - and local’
Dr. Prasad Akella, Founder and CEO, Drishti
Manufacturing is sexy again: the world is shifting to manufacturing locally to meet its own needs. Countries thrive when they are net producers of physical products. Conversely, they shrink when they are net consumers of these products. The world has seen the U.S., Japan, China, India, Great Britain and other nations’ GDPs rise and fall based on the robustness of their manufacturing sectors.
As challenging as it is, dealing with the novel coronavirus has given countries, big and small, rich and poor, the unexpected opportunity to rethink and redevelop their own local supply networks; to take control of manufacturing and distribution in everything from their medical (e.g. vaccines) to their economic (onshoring) security.
To make change happen, we need to think differently, and build regionally. Countries don't need to build the entire product. They can build parts, and share them more narrowly amongst their neighbor countries so the “neighborhood” is self-sufficient. But many parts of the world are not equipped for manufacturing; their infrastructures are inadequate. Digitisation makes it possible to overcome this deficiency by simplifying collaboration and information coordination, even in areas that were never outfitted for manufacturing, as well as providing training that works in different languages and cultures. With neighborhood-centric manufacturing and distribution, local communities thrive. And subsequently, there is more equity across the planet.
‘Strengthen primary healthcare’
Nitesh Jangir, Co-founder and director, Coeo Labs
The COVID 19 pandemic has shown how weak primary healthcare is across the globe - but especially in developing nations where there is already a huge burden of infectious disease. I see a big opportunity for global collaboration between all stakeholders in strengthening primary healthcare delivery in low-resource settings, accelerated by the use of technology for telemedicine, remote diagnostics, as well as Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality-based training for frontline healthcare workers. Most importantly, after the pandemic we need to ensure access to the most basic healthcare infrastructure defined by the World Health Organization.
Cross-border collaboration, while recognising that countries need to be self-sufficient at providing primary healthcare, is key to making this change happen. Supporting local innovators and industries in the production of essential medical supplies with knowledge transfer from other countries can be a good example of this. We need to realise that each of us is connected and it is everyone’s responsibility to ensure everyone access to basic healthcare.
‘Getting back in sync with nature’
Daphna Nissenbaum, CEO and Co-founder, TIPA
COVID-19 has reminded humans how dependent we are on our ecosystems, and the acute connection between human health and our planet’s health. What we see now is an opportunity to reflect, reevaluate, and reimagine the ways in which we use our resources. In a post-pandemic world, concern for our health and the health of the planet has grown, and with it, willingness from leaders from across the world to support sustainable systems and materials that sync with nature.
Sometimes the solution is right in front of us, and all it requires is a change in perspective to see it. Nature has already provided the solutions to many of our challenges. We must look to her for guidance on how to act. Now is the time to go back to basics, back to nature and to act locally and globally through individual motivation, industry action, and legislative activism.
‘Rethink how we work and what we value’
Karen E. Silverman, CEO and Founder, The Cantellus Group
Relatedly: 1) Putting to good use all that we are learning from the pandemic about how our modern lives and economies function (and where they don’t), what we care about, what we rely upon, how adaptable we are. 2) Explicitly discussing – among and across different generations, cultures and experiences - how we want to work and to socialize, and how we define (and reward) value. 3) Particularly in the domains of health care, education and employment, better matching our needs with technologies to more equitably, flexibly and efficiently deliver resources and access.
To make change happen, we need to be thoughtful and intentional about how human needs and systems interact and co-exist with the technologies we increasingly integrate into our lives. As we rely upon and incorporate new tools and insights – and we should! – we also need to take the time to think about our purposes, and what we reserve for human beings – not to avoid these technologies but to build them to better serve us. These technologies can bring flexibility, equity and efficiency that we need; and in all that, keeping in mind that humans aren’t just in the loop, we are the loop.
‘Target illicit profits to fight financial crime’
Charles Delingpole, Founder and CEO, ComplyAdvantage
Financial institutions have to balance profits and moral obligations to detect and deter financial crime. Covid-19 has forced institutions to adapt to a fully remote world, which opens up the opportunity to rethink their approaches to anti-financial crime efforts. If we want to eliminate crimes such as human trafficking and terrorism, then we must disrupt the root of the cause: the illicit profits.
There is no golden bullet to make change happen - I think it necessitates a combination of in-depth understanding of the root cause of the issue and what changes have been pushed so far (if any). Example: Criminals are smart. To cut off their access to the financial system, we must take major steps to get ahead. Understanding how criminals access the financial system, why financial institutions struggle with anti-financial crime efforts and how they prioritise them is essential and will allow the identification of gaps in the system so that those can be addressed. It’s only when you fully understand the context of why change is needed that you can make change happen.
‘Universal Basic Housing for all’
Fanyu Lin, CEO, Fluxus
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance for everyone to be able to have a place to call home - it is a human right. As we see the new normal unfold, accelerating digital transformation is a strategic priority to transform many legacy industries including construction and infrastructure. We are presented with the opportunity to advance global housing solutions through smarter methods of construction, where measurable ESG metrics are woven into the value chain for creating new homes. Turning housing into a driver for social, economic and environmental sustainability in the Great Reset should be our global goal.
My number one piece of advice is to collaborate. We now have the technological foundations and tools to support transformational change in the way we create value for all stakeholders. We should incorporate wisdom from urban planning, public governance and justice. We need to leverage networks of global partners and innovations in advanced building materials, smart city and connected building technologies, next-generation networks, industrialization and the automation of construction. Together, we can bring the dream of Universal Basic Housing to fruition in the most sustainable way, in alignment with the planet – our shared home.
‘Update the operating model for healthcare’
Nawal Roy, Founder & CEO, Holmusk
Healthcare is in the early stages of adopting data science and technology. We have been living with an outdated operating model that is not up to the standard of our times. This pandemic has brought forward challenges that we otherwise might not have recognized, giving us an opportunity to rebuild to serve a more diverse community through technology-based solutions. Change can be daunting, but rather than dwelling on current system constraints, we can seize this opportunity to make positive changes through data-driven decision-making in healthcare and refocusing on the social determinants of health that are vital to understanding and improving outcomes.
Show up. Show up every single day! That is the best advice to make change. Change doesn’t happen overnight: it takes time, patience and dedication. But mainly, it takes showing up, being the difference that you want to see and continuing to push forward. If you move things forward just 1% a day, over time this compounds and compounding is how you make and sustain change.
‘Optimism and understanding on tech’
Dr. Frida Polli, CEO and Founder, pymetrics
The past year has allowed even the most sceptical audiences to appreciate technology as a protecting and unifying force against COVID-19, as well as a force for good. This optimism should foster more nuanced attitudes about the pros of digitisation for society as it helps level the playing field for many and keeps us connected. Changes enabled by technology in my industry alone include allowing for more geographically- and socioeconomically-diverse employees to work remotely, as well as for the entire pipeline of job applicants to be considered, instead of time-constrained humans implementing biased processes that shrink the pipeline from the start.
Be the change you want to see in the world. Technology can be a force for good. However, we are seeing many examples worldwide where it is the opposite - a destabilizing and anti-democratic force. Therefore, greater adoption of technology must co-occur with increased safeguards and regulations. Society and consumers deserve to be protected with respect to technology and that means a greater focus on transparency and safeguards. Voices against regulation say it hinders innovation. That is not true. Every new product - from cars to organic food - has had to develop safeguards for its ethical use, and digital platforms are no different.
‘Protect ourselves from future pandemics’
Kristina Lagerstedt, CEO and Founder of 1928 Diagnostics
Unfortunately, I don’t see we’re heading towards a “post-pandemic” world since the current Coronavirus is not the last threat to humanity. Nonetheless, it has drastically increased awareness and highlighted the importance of adapted behaviour, pathogen testing and outbreak tracing. The biggest opportunity right now is that we learn from this pandemic for the future. By protecting ourselves, from hand-washing to tracking pathogens, lives can be saved globally.
My advice, being a HealthTech Entrepreneur is: dare to challenge conventional ways to solve problems, for example by utilizing new technologies. Global change will also require productive multi-stakeholder collaborations on a local, national and global level.
‘Get serious about protecting data’
Jonathan Rouach, CEO and Co-founder of QEDIT
Pre-pandemic, there was growing awareness around the importance of protecting Personally Identifiable Information (PII), particularly in the context of large enterprises that routinely handle consumer data. COVID-19 has underlined the need for innovative tech solutions to ensure such privacy is upheld. Post-COVID, there’s an opportunity for broader deployment of Privacy-Enhancing Technology (PET) across public and private sectors. PET — already helping enterprises securely collaborate on sensitive data — has transformative healthcare applications. For example, it could allow hotels or airlines to cross-reference a customer’s name against national lists of vaccinated individuals to confirm their health status while safeguarding their privacy.
In my experience, community-driven collaboration is the most effective way to engineer genuine change. Collaboration between government, academia, and industry ensures that technological innovation is informed by subject matter experts, a clear vision of enterprise applications, and importantly, the parameters of regulatory constraints.
‘Build global resilience to health shocks’
Milana Boukhman Trounce, MD, Clinical Professor of Emergency Medicine, Director of BioSecurity, Stanford University; Chair, BioSecurity, American College of Emergency Physicians
The world has an opportunity to harness the innovation and lessons from the pandemic to create healthier and more equitable societies, and to build resilience in the global medical infrastructure. We are seeing this happen already, as our healthcare systems have moved leaps and bounds in their ability to enhance healthcare access through telemedicine and other forms of digital health. What may have taken a decade occurred over a period of months. We also have an opportunity, or really an obligation, to build global resilience to the inevitable future pandemics through additional forms of technological innovation.
The changes brought about by the pandemic have already propelled our society and our healthcare systems forward. To make further change happen and truly build resilience, we need to harness the energy and the collaborative spirit brought about by the pandemic to facilitate the creation of interdisciplinary solutions. When it comes to building resilience to future pandemics, these solutions need to be equitable and globally scalable.
‘A local, sustainable and fair food system’
Stuart Oda, Founder & CEO, Alesca Life Technologies
The biggest opportunity for positive change in the post-pandemic world is for our global food system to become more local, sustainable, and equitable. While so much of our collective attention and investor capital has been focused on providing consumer convenience, the pandemic has irreversibly shifted the conversation to building community resilience. Governments are now actively working with stakeholders across the entire agricultural supply chain to promote and invest in innovation related to indoor farming, precision agriculture, food safety and preservation, waste reduction, and alternative proteins.
In order to expand this global movement, my advice to consumers is to buy local whenever possible and practical and to learn more about where your food comes from. A larger community of consumers that make more conscious and informed decisions about their daily eating habits will encourage new and exciting innovation across the agricultural supply chain. This will ultimately serve to benefit the health of our communities and planet.
‘Understand and embrace our relationship with nature’
Jim Flatt, Co-Founder and CEO, Brightseed
The biggest opportunity for positive change post-pandemic is to more deeply understand and embrace our relationship with nature. Humans evolved alongside plants and we intuitively know that they hold the answers to many of our mental, physical, and emotional challenges. The pandemic revealed the fragility of our current approaches to healthcare. While facing extreme fear and uncertainty around Covid-19, we took up gardening, started “forest bathing,” re-energized the market for house plants, and stocked up on healthy foods and natural supplements. We know that our resilience as a species is dependent on developing a better understanding of our connections to the natural world.
The best way to make change happen is to identify and cultivate a catalyst, whether that be a person, organization or event. The role of a catalyst in chemical reactions is to accelerate the rate of reaction from one state to another. This moment of renewed enthusiasm for the natural world can be a powerful catalyst, and one we can continue to nourish this through thoughtful educational initiatives, policymaking, and investment. It's time not only to “get back to nature” but more deeply understand and respect the benefits it provides us.
‘Shorten the innovation cycle’
Ponsi Trivisvavet, CEO, Inari
The acceptance of technology and innovation across industries and geographies is critical. COVID-19 exposed the vulnerability of our food system in particular. It has highlighted the importance of shorter innovation cycles for the life sciences, whether that be in agriculture or human health. Our industry’s capacity to react to this fast-changing environment is essential. We must bring new seeds to market — and ensure they fit local needs — much faster and more efficiently than what has been done in the past.
Have the courage to challenge the status quo and offer the diversity that is lacking in the industry: diversity of technology, diversity of thought, and diversity in the players who will deliver the required innovation to the market.
‘Celebrate work that breaks boundaries’
Kevin Kniffin, Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management, SC Johnson College of Business, Cornell University
Is COVID-19 a problem that’s most relevant for virologists and epidemiologists, sociologists and anthropologists, or people involved in other neighbouring areas of research such as biology and ecology? Of course, each of these perspectives brings its own set of important lights to shine on how we navigate into a post-COVID-19 world. While COVID-19 has obviously impacted workplace and organizational dynamics in myriad ways, there are reasons to hope that there will be a renewed and deepened recognition after the current pandemic – that will guide policy-making in organizations – that we need people who can bridge traditional disciplinary silos.
Even before COVID-19, it was common for organizational leaders to publicly call for work that is “boundaryless” but such talk has often not matched the walk. Looking at one of the groups where one might most expect an openness to new perspectives, research has shown that doctoral students in STEM fields tend to face inferior near-term employment outcomes if they complete an interdisciplinary dissertation. Instead of penalizing boundary-spanners, organizational leaders need to take steps to help ensure that hiring and promotion decisions are aligned with high-level celebrations of boundary-spanning work.
‘Fight back against misinformation’
Peggy Choi, Founder and CEO, Lynk
We now need trusted knowledge more than ever. “We're not just fighting a pandemic; we're fighting an infodemic,” as Dr. Tedros, the WHO's director-general, put it. There has been abundant misinformation and disinformation. Many global institutions have come together to launch initiatives to educate people to navigate this wave of information and decide who and what to trust. Technology platforms implemented fact-checking functions. This issue has been building up for a number of years, and COVID-19 brought this to the forefront. Global communities have the opportunity now to work on solutions to rebuild credibility of media and public trust of professional expertise.
To make change happen, we need to have will. Having the will to change is crucial. Having the will means having the right mindset to pursue change or allow for change to happen. Having the will also means having the willingness to take actions. Taking that very first step requires a leap of faith, overcoming inertia and fears, facing risks head-on. Having the will helps us welcome change, embracing the good and the bad that comes with it.
‘Leaders who pay attention to science’
Mark van Vugt, Professor of Evolutionary and Organizational Psychology, Director of the Amsterdam Leadership Lab, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, the Netherlands
I see a worldwide trend in the appreciation of a different kind of leadership in business and politics as a result of the pandemic. Strong leaders who rely on personal dominance and charisma and who minimize health risks for themselves and their citizens and employees are shown to be quite ineffective. They are being replaced by leaders who pay special attention to public health and safety, and who are not afraid to consult (scientific) experts if they are out of their depth. These new leaders are willing to strengthen public institutions to prevent such crises happening again even if this curtails their personal power and authority.
To make change happen, we need to create leadership training and development programs for the public and private sector that are focused more strongly on (a) the needs of followers; (b) on strengthening competencies in the domains of public health and safety (including training in recognizing mental health issues among followers); (c) the benefits of sharing leadership with experts.
‘Join forces to improve child safety online’
Netta Korin, Founder Hexa Foundation, Cofounder Orbs
The Internet has revolutionized our lives to the extent that it is impossible to imagine living without it. Unfortunately, in many aspects it is a double-edged sword that introduces horrendous new threats, especially for children. The National Center of Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC) recorded more than 4 million online abuse complaints in April 2020, a 106% growth compared to March 2020. The sad thing is that, with time, newer and bigger threats emerge. It is our obligation to harness new technologies and join forces, on a global scale, to fight this relentlessly and make sure children are safe online.
The internet is filled with illegal content of child sexual abuse imagery. This is not only a continuous violation of the victims, who are powerless to remove or even search for images of their abuse online. Blockchain can enable greater communication and more efficient collaboration on a global scale for enforcement agencies working to remove child sexual imagery from the internet. A private network that is shared by all agents, continually updated for new illegal content, can assist agencies around the world to communicate with cloud and social media platforms and enable swift removal of existing illegal content, and forbid the uploading of additional images.
'Better support for innovation and creativity'
Diana Paredes, CEO and Co-Founder, Suade Labs
The pandemic highlighted the power of technology and digitalisation. Those companies that had invested in modern technology and digital transformation were in a much better position to weather the storm of a global pandemic. The Fourth Industrial Revolution holds the promise of changing our world for the better, and post-pandemic, we are in a unique position to drive digitisation. This renewed effort needs to be driven by a broad range of innovators, including start-ups and entrepreneurs, as this will bring diversity and creativity to technological innovation. This way we can fully leverage the opportunities of digitisation and technology post-pandemic.
The number one focus should be on supporting innovation and creativity. Back in 2016, a World Economic Forum report predicted that complex problem solving, critical thinking, and creativity would be the 3 leading skills by 2020. Fast forward to 2020 and the world is presented with a complex problem that requires critical thinking and creativity to adapt. The number one tool for adapting existing processes has been technological innovation. Public and private sector organisations should focus on supporting creativity and innovation from entrepreneurs, SMEs, and large corporations alike to make the most of our drive towards a better world.