25 September 2018: On the margins of the 73rd UN General Assembly’s (UNGA) high-level debate, high-level representatives of governments, the private sector, civil society, and academia discussed the impact of the technological revolution on society, including on the workforce, education, and low-income countries’ industrialization. They called for regulation of new technologies and for educational systems to adapt to the changing labor market.

The event titled, ‘Curse or Cure? Leaving No One Behind in an Age of Technological Revolution,’ took place on 25 September 2018, at UN Headquarters in New York, US, organized by the UN Development Programme (UNDP). UNDP Administrator Achim Steiner moderated the meeting, noting the need to change the way the public owns the products of national development, and the way governments interact with the market.

Nikol Pashinyan, Prime Minister of Armenia, said his country faces a huge need for a technological revolution because of its growing youth population, and the three most prominent sectors in the country’s economy being extractive industries, agriculture and betting. He said the IT sector and technological industrialization should have a more prominent place in the economy, to make it more attractive to investors, and stressed the need to empower youth through technology to that end.

Clare Akamanzi, CEO, Rwanda Development Board, highlighted the importance of policies, institutions and infrastructure to foster technological development. She said Rwanda invested over US$1 million to lay out the optic fiber infrastructure needed to attract private sector investment. She presented how Rwanda worked with a drone company to develop public regulations for drones, then used them to deliver health services (blood transportation), which was essential because of the lack of road infrastructure.

Mary Snapp, Microsoft Philanthropies, called on governments and companies to work together to regulate new technologies. She called for providing the users of new technologies with “context details,” from the reasons for which they were developed to what benefits they bring and how to use them, in order to ensure buy- in.

Molly Kinder, New America, said technology can create job growth, noting that the US’ job market for data analytics has grown by 600% percent. She explained that with the changes brought by technology, people will need more sophisticated cognitive and interpersonal, customer-service skills. She spoke about “premature de-industrialization,” saying that the amount of time that low-income countries use low-skilled work in industrialization is shrinking, with that work increasingly automated. Thus, she said technological change will disproportionately affect those who are already left behind, from lower-income countries to women, which raises important issues of equity and inclusivity. She emphasized the need for education systems that promote interpersonal skills that can complement technological development, as well as to invest in programs for life-long learning.

Royston Braganza, CEO, Grameen Capital India, invited the use of blockchain for inclusion, solar energy and agriculture. He called for democratizing financial access, for which he said crowdsourcing provides a great opportunity. He also noted that India has a 2% tax on profit that goes to corporate social responsibility initiatives, and suggested that this tax be linked to the SDGs.

Sakiko Fukuda-Parr, The New School, cautioned about the dangers of corporate capture of innovation, including in technology, agriculture and health. She said their corporate capture limits countries’ ability to make decisions and support developments aligned with their national priorities, because of the corporate influence on trade and investment agreements. [Event website] [Concept note] [SDG Knowledge Hub Sources]