As a child growing up in the Indian state of Kerala – called God’s own country – the only weather I experienced was summer all year long. Climate change meant the weather moved from dry summer to wet, but almost always hot and humid. Born in a joint family with over fifty cousins within a ten-year age span, social networking for me meant meeting up with them during a family function every other month. The most existential threat was the likelihood of a coconut falling on your head. Learning advanced math didn’t help this either, as you now had the mathematical odds stacked against you.
Fast forward to 2018, when Kerala was devastated by floods and local fishermen turned heroes by volunteering with their boats and rescuing over 65,000 people. What also aided the rescue and relief efforts were cloud-based collaboration platforms where volunteers could be crowdsourced, combined with the use of social networks such as Facebook to highlight regional needs and WhatsApp as a communications hub to ask for and receive help locally. Real-time verification of requests, along with geotagging and analytics, helped prioritize rescues based on proximity, number, and ages of people. Volunteers deployed a network using WhatsApp groups where the requirements of relief camps were mapped with people who were ready to provide the supplies.
Technology, aided by a digitally literate population, made a big difference in limiting the loss of life and empowering citizens to act. The proliferation of digital technologies in what is often called the Fourth Industrial Revolution, and the ease of its adoption in mainstream areas has changed our reality forever. It is putting the power back in the hands of the people, and democratizing participation in economic activities. Take for example Uber – as a high-frequency consumer of their services for over five years, I’ve seen both ups and downs. One of the reasons I stick with them is the experience of having been paired with drivers who are hearing impaired. Imagine the world of opportunities that opened for people with disabilities thanks to this innovation that merged the digital and physical worlds.
Last year I met Kevin Ryan, serial entrepreneur and one of the early investors of Zipline, at a mayoral dinner in New York. By then, I’d already heard of Zipline, a start-up that revolutionized access to medicine in sub-Saharan Africa using fast, reliable drone delivery and a fully autonomous logistics network. If a group of elementary school students were asked to solve this problem thirty years ago, without any constraints of what is possible, they might have come up with this exact same solution. Doctors place on-demand requests for any medicine through an app, drones transport the centrally stored medicine to the destination, flying over remote mountains, rivers, and washed-out roads, para-dropping at the exact location. The simplicity is remarkable, and the impact is unprecedented – patients in need, getting the medicine that they need, when they need it.
The convergence of technologies, industries, and society is a fundamental driver for Business 4.0, and I firmly believe that we can harness this abundance to empower communities. Every day, I see or read about an invention or solution that can only be brought to life because of this convergence. The future of social purpose is transforming, with cause campaigns already becoming increasingly hyper-personalized and virtual in nature. Technologies such as AI, IoT, analytics, and blockchain are the first ones being adopted in this space, being used primarily by social entrepreneurs to create innovative solutions like Zipline, or an armband indicator for malnutrition, or our very own Digital Nerve Center. This is an exciting time to be alive, and I am eager to take on some of the grand challenges facing society, armed with the power of people, purpose, and technology!