Here’s the speech I gave at the EESC 60-year celebration, celebrating 60 years of collaborating for fair work markets, increased integration, and now a sustainable future.
“Dear president, ladies and gentlemen. Human society has evolved through our ability to communicate, collaborate and innovate.
Innovate, as in changing our tools, practices and ways of organising ourselves to adapt to varying circumstances.
The results have been amazing. Education, science and wealth. Vaccines and Health. Cities and complex supply chains have given an ever growing number of people a comfortable life beyond our ancestors wildest dreams.
We are the generation of humanity who knows that what took us this far, will not be enough to take us further.
Right now, flows of people, goods and ideas are increasing, and with them, the social, financial and ecological impact of those flows. We understand that we must transform our societies; our welfare institutions, our cities, production and consumption patterns, into something sustainable, and that we’re in a hurry to do so.
We must cut CO2 emissions in half every decade, starting now. Not to save the planet, as we know will be fine without us, but to save ourselves.
We must find ways to create social sustainability in a state of perpetual change, and we need to find ways of using our markets to help us achieve those goals.
There is one generation of leaders with the window of opportunity to achieve this, and that is the generation represented in this room. The challenge is enormous.
The good news is, we are the first generation equipped with tools and technology that makes such change possible.
Right now, thanks to digitalisation and automation we can organise resources more efficiently than ever before. All kinds of resources, varying from materials and vehicles to people and knowledge.
Transport systems for example. We’ve all grown up in a car based transport system, and only now we’re seriously talking about the waste built into that system. How an average European car is only used 5% of the time. 95% of the time it’s parked, or we’re looking for a parking space! And for those vehicles used 5% of the time, we use 50% of the precious space in our cities to roads and parking spaces. Our children will think we were crazy.
But today, using electrification, data and automation, we can create sustainable transport with individually tailored mobility sevices, mixing anything from bikes to car sharing pools and public transport. We can dynamically adjust anything from parking fares to road taxes, taking into account factors such as how much traffic there is at the moment, fuel, utilisation rate and public transport alternatives.
We CAN build a transport system that’s sustainable, and what’s more – BETTER for the people in it. But it will require changes in responsibilities and policy, and will result in a very different transport ecosystem.
Or let’s talk about health care
As society, we’re great at health care . We cure previously deadly diseases at a scale no other generation before us could hope for. However, with such progress, comes increased cost. We live longer, with more complex diseases. And it’s taking a toll on our health care systems.
So we need to work differently. Be more proactive in how we help people prevent unnecessary health problems. Personalise treatment to make it more effective. Increase the amount of healthcare accessible from home. For instance, digitally diagnosed ear- och urine infections decrease time spent by doctors from about 30 minutes to 2, while increasing availability for patients. Such health care is organised differently though. It can scale globally. And it requires data to be shared in a secure way. Using these opportunities wisely, we can increase health and wellbeing at scale. But it will require new responsibilities, changes in regulation and new ways of organising health services.
So. We can, and should, make use of these opportunities and more. But while doing that, we know we will create new vulnerabilities. Vulnerability to cybercrime, to increased inequality and new power shifts that challenges our institutions and our democracies.
We face discussions such as what is a functional concept of integrity, in a time of massive data collection?
And what do we really trust, and how do we audit responsibly when we let machines make decisions?
Every increase in the complexity of human society, has brought new vulnerabilities. That is, in itself nothing new. Industrialised society meant new vulnerabilities to power shortages. Moving from the agricultural society to complex food distirbution systems brought other risks. But we now have regulation, institutions, processes in place to manage the risks that come with all of that responsibly.
That’s what we need to do again.
Take advantage of opportunity and learn about new risks and ways to counteract them at the same time. Only, this time we need to do it in more complex collaborations than before.
We need to find ways to be more agile, also in policy. Our processes need to be citizen centric, bringing people into our policy explorations, not just ask them but cocreate with them.
And we can help each other prioritise wisely if we increase transparency of efforts and lessons learned. Open science and open data are two important tools for this, but so is more communication and concrete collaboration between nations and innovation hubs bringing people together.
All of this change is ultimately about people. People are driving the change And people are living through the consequences, good and bad.
People need to feel safe participating in this rapid change, because we are ALL people living in a world that’s changing fast, and on a work market, thats transforming itself as we speak.
For instance, Google recently launched Google jobs search, an initiative aiming at indexing all the job posts in the world, including data on what skills are required and what salary is offered. They then apply their world leading AI skills at analysing what jobs and skills should match, regardless of what the title of the job is. Such initiatives will further increase transparency in the work market. It will also increase the mobility of a millennial work force, already the most globalised generation in human history.
The fact that we can now digitalise and automate how we assign jobs and tasks, is fueling a growing gig economy. We ask ourselves what that means to workers’ rights? To social insurances? These are valid and important questions, as long as we also acknowledge that jobs distributed through platforms are not necessarily unfair and bad. A digitalised work market can also provide transparency and fair terms, but needs to be organised differently.
We also see an increase in automation. No longer only in industry, now lawyers, doctors, teachers and economists all face increasing automation. Many fear a jobless future. But we should remember the industrialisation of the 19th century. At that time, basically all jobs in the previously manual textile production where lost. All of them. Still, the total number of jobs increased for 200 years, as long as demand increased. Before industrialisation there was no retail as we know it. No marketing jobs. No supply chain specialists. Now there are, and it has given us health, wealth and prosperity. We understand that this time around new jobs will be created too.
But we should be asking ourselves what sort of demand will keep growing for the next 100 years? What demand should be stimulated to fuel transformation to a sustainable society? How about health? Human interconnectedness? The stuff we need to build emotional resilience in a time of constant change and information tsunamis?
We also need to act on the fact that most growing demand will require solutions that build on our new raw material; data. Data must be available, interoperable and accessible to innovation.
And finally, remember that while many jobs will disappear, most professions will still be around. It’s the tasks. in those professions, the tools and work processes that change.
This fact brings us to the perhaps most important challenge to address: Differences are now growing, between the individuals, organisations and nations that are capable of harnessing these opportunities into skills, productivity and increased quality, and those who are not. Bridging that gap is our most important task in the years ahead.
Therefore, lifelong learning isn’t something for our kids, it’s not a “future skill”, it’s critical for us to start learning. People born in the 60- 70-ies 80ies should be learning new things every week.
How can we set incentives and opportunity to learn in a way that compels individuals, employers, institutions to maximise and optimise the flow and penetration of knowledge? How do we make use of the fact that educational resources, courses, lectures, books, podcasts and tools for collaborative learning have never been as abundant as today?
Now imagine if every citizen out there would take a digital class per month, we would effectively transform every library, cafe, office and public space into a space for collaborative learning. What new markets would that create? What would happen if we managed to acknowledge and validate learning on that scale? Could we dare envision a European Grand Challenge on learning, where every citizen participates in a collaborative learning experience every month for a year? For a decade?
We now have access to a new digital dimension that allows us to share knowledge with the speed of light, anywhere on the planet. That’s far more impactful than the printing press. We can use that to increase our learning, as a society, in an order of magnitude.
We can do that. We should do that.
So I’m very glad to see all you leaders here, in a forum designed to discuss how to distribute opportunity and risk fairly, and how to adress our common challenges together. Because we are a generation of leaders with a window of opportunity to provide societies with more opportunity, knowledge,better health, more creativity and truly sustainable life styles.
To succeed we must only make the most of what makes us truly human:
Our ability to communicate, collaborate and innovate.