Let’s make technology the solution to poverty and gender inequality

by 23rd Jan 2017
 Young women in Jordan who receive vocational and business skills training to help them set up microenterprises Young women in Jordan who receive vocational and business skills training to help them set up microenterprises

The Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) is upon us. Too much to be excited about, right? Or, like me, you may still be wrapping your head around what this revolution means...

For starters, in my life it means that my kids will work in professions that don’t exist yet; and I will one day be as clueless about my grandkids’ whereabouts as my Norwegian fisher-farmer grandmother was about my adventures.  

4IR is characterised by the “fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.” I shop in cyber-physical spaces, whereas my grandmother stored our homegrown potatoes in the cellar. I would embarrass myself trying to predict where my grandkids will be going.

We are witnessing changes that happen at an exponential rather than linear rate, and they affect all economies. No one knows yet where we are headed. The greatest question for CARE is: how will this revolution contribute to poverty alleviation and gender equality?

Technology can benefit the masses

Optimists believe we will see people’s needs met in unimaginable ways as new technology benefits the masses. We can see an example of this in CARE’s work with Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLA) that become digitalised and consequently more effective in bringing financial services to unbanked women. Mobile technology also gives poor communities agricultural and health advice, market information and meteorological forecasts.  

Closing the gap between the haves and the have-nots

However, futurists warn about technology replacing human labour at a rapid rate, which leads to loss of jobs and an ever-increasing gap between the skilled/high paid, versus the low skilled/low paid in every country in the world.

We already see how wealth creation is concentrated in the hands of those who control digital consumer platforms, and those who come up with ingenious technological innovations. The rest of us will increasingly fall flat along a long tail end of development, say the pessimists. The people who will lose the most are the people around the world who are struggling to catch up with the First Industrial Revolution!

The answer: combine technology with social innovations

Again the optimists believe that if only the same technology that brings fun and entertainment could be used to tackle fundamental issues like heath care, transportation and education, people’s access to services would be revolutionised. But, and this is essential: social innovations are required alongside technology to ensure that the algorithms of the world and future distribution of wealth contribute to equitable human development.

Governments need to invent the tools required to lead in this new environment. Industries and businesses must create business models that contribute to closing the gap of inequality rather than widening it. Why? Because growing inequalities is one of the largest threats to continued growth, peace and stability everywhere.

Step one: Support female micro-entrepreneurs

CARE is working in partnership with communities, governments and the private sector to find innovative technological and social solutions to poverty and gender inequality. One of our priorities is to support women’s economic empowerment through support to female micro-entrepreneurs around the world.

Microenterprises are often main providers of jobs in poor communities. CARE works with dairy farmers, tailors, cocoa and coffee smallholders and others who form essential parts of complex market systems, and every day they battle the barriers to business success – such as lack of access to financial services, lack of control over productive assets and decisions, lack of access to information and technical skills, and lack of time alongside unpaid care work to grow their businesses.

Social innovation makes business sense

CARE’s national and international private sector partners understand that microenterprises form an essential part of their supply chains, and through our partnership they create innovative business models that make value chains more inclusive and profitable for all.

This is social innovation, and we need much more of it in 2017!

So, for the sake of our children and in tribute to our grandmothers, I hereby call on all of us to make 2017 the year of microenterprises and social innovations to give women, men, boys and girls the opportunity to benefit from the even greater of revolutions: the one which secures more equitable distribution of wealth. May the history books tell us that 4IR did just that.

Join the #March4Women and be part of the movement for gender equality

Ingvild Solvang

I have 15 years’ experience working with humanitarian and development issues. In 2016, I provided technical expertise on women’s economic empowerment and entrepreneurship on behalf of CARE Norway and CARE’s global women’s economic empowerment team. I first joined CARE in 2005 in the Indian Ocean Tsunami Response Programme in Indonesia. I’ve managed a rural development programme for CARE in Timor-Leste, and responded to numerous emergencies and development challenges throughout Asia and the world with various organisations.

I am intrigued by people’s ability to survive, absorb and adapt to the most challenging environments. I am dedicated to helping to find the key to unlock our will and capacity to stop growing inequality and environmental destruction. In 2017, I will move into work on poverty reduction, gender equality and social inclusion within the shift towards a greener economy.