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The Fourth Industrial Revolution – For all or for some?

Personal takeaways from the World Economic Forum on ASEAN

For the most part, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is seen as an exciting pivotal moment in the evolution of work and commerce. It seems like almost every other day, a new technological disruption takes place, and we see reports extolling the benefits of a new advancement. But with progress comes the inevitable need to shift. What happens to those who are left behind? What can large companies and governments do together? How do civil society organisations and social enterprises help to make this shift less jarring for the everyday global citizen?
These were some of the questions raised at this year’s World Economic Forum on ASEAN, held in Ha Noi last September. I had the privilege of representing Halogen Foundation Singapore at the Forum, invited as a member of the Singapore Global Shapers Community, and brought across the youth-centric messaging to the high level delegates present and seeking to learn more.
The Forum does a good job of reporting the happenings, but I’d like to focus on five personal takeaways, and specifically in the context of youth development and building for the future.

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1. Technology and its Impact on Jobs

A common theme centered upon what the job market looked like for ASEAN in the midst of its cautiously enthusiastic adoption of technology and disruption. In summary, governments and the youth are optimistic – bullish even – about the impact of the fourth industrial revolution on their futures. The survey released by WEF at the session revealed that 51.7% of youth in ASEAN think that technology will increase the number of jobs, and the speeches delivered by heads of state motioned for a closer collaboration within the region in areas such as skills education and free movement of data to embrace the ongoing disruption.
What is really interesting to me is the disparity of optimism among the youth depending on the countries they are from. While the average percentage of youth across ASEAN who think jobs will increase as a result of technology is 51.7%, this is largely due to countries like the Philippines and Indonesia(60.3% and 54.0% respectively). Singapore youth are more pessimistic: Only 31.2% of them think so. This further reinforces how education really moves the needle – both in terms of expectancy for the future as well as preparedness. In Singapore, which has a youth populace that has higher education levels, the hypothesis by WEF researchers is that youth recognise more threats than opportunities. This results in us having two paths ahead, not unlike the ‘glass half full or empty’ mentality: Do we expect to be displaced as an inevitability, or do we work harder towards preparedness? Unfortunately for a country, this cannot be forced, and is an individual mindset shift that must happen among the young.

2. Outperforming Economies

I’m not an economist by any measure, but the nature of market forces and how humans and behaviours affect outcomes in a very real (and sometimes disproportionate) way interests me greatly. This interest was stimulated at a closed breakfast session hosted by McKinsey & Company, where they launched their report on emerging economies and the companies that helped propel them into high-growth. Singapore was one of seven long-term outperformers, achieving a 3.5% annual GDP per capita growth for 50 years. The report identified key government policies that allowed for commerce and large companies to drive rapid growth.
The question for us is: What’s next? Rapid growth is to be expected when you are a young developing country, but once you attain high-income status as a country, you start tapering down to an easier gradient. A separate McKinsey & Company report states that investment growth in Singapore has slowed significantly since 2008, and consumption growth has been sluggish. A heavy conversation piece now centers around income inequality and the social divide it threatens. This is something that the other outperforming economies of ASEAN should also anticipate, seeing as South Korea (like Singapore) is experiencing the effects – or some might say trade-offs – of this growth. Youth should take this as a rallying cry of sorts: The economy will grow, and Gini coefficients will rise. Do we sit and expect for something to be done by the powers that be, or can we — while we increase in affluence ourselves — do something for those that don’t?

3. Diversity in Workplace 4.0

As the workforce evolves, how will diversity be seen and respected in the wake of the fourth industrial revolution? A panel discussion on Workplace 4.0 didn’t have a consensus on best practices, whether on an individual level, corporation level, or government level. There was general agreement over some salient points, more notably the need for inter-sector collaboration, experimentation among the workforce, and a mindset shift on what to expect.
The mindset shift was most crucial to me. In the evolving workforce, we begin to unveil new types of workers: Retirees, triple-job holders, single mums, etc. How do we as business leaders and policymakers support that growing demographic of unconventional worker? Is there equality in treatment and benefit? How does this affect the trade unions and labour movement? The transition stems from all three sectors. In the public sector, enact policies that consider the support that should be given to ease their transition. In the private sector, lead by example and innovate on business models to take advantage of the workplace being disrupted. And in the non-profit sector, keep a keen ear to the ground and sense for those who have slipped through the cracks, ready to help them even the playing field. Regardless of sector, I think young people should also consider their role as the future of their country. Young people considering their careers should be guided by the 80,000 Hours concept, and recognise their immense potential to bridge the gap.

4. The Fight against the Illicit Economy

My first brush with Bitcoin was in October 2013 when I read about the owner of the online black market Silk Road being arrested. What began as intrigue into how the FBI tracked a man whose methods of evasion included using public computers in libraries went into how Silk Road managed to maintain the drug trade without the paper trail, trading exclusively in BTC. I bought 2 BTC then, as a fun experiment and at ~US$300, but eventually spent it on some in-game currency for World of Warcraft at a big steal (I stopped playing WoW a while ago). You can imagine my bewilderment when 1 BTC traded for ~US$18k in December last year.
But I digress. The panel at WEF on ASEAN focused on the rise of illegal activity, both enabled by tools such as cryptocurrency, but also disabled by law enforcement’s savvy use of groundbreaking technology. My story above simply notes how it took the rise of a black market on the Dark Web to proliferate the use of cryptocurrency, and the implications the fourth industrial revolution would have today. Thomson Reuters gave a presentation on how they are able to map through connection networks the different links on terrorist financing and money laundering, and financial institutions were cautioned about the tenuous balance between innovation and security. While the discussion was centered mainly upon the financial industry, I couldn’t ignore the concern of how this would permeate into other aspects of security – societal, physical, even moral. (Think: Altered Carbon.)

5. The Role of Community

After the Forum, I realised that the best moments of my time there weren’t during the sessions, but during the conversations I had with some amazing people. And these weren’t all the big names. The World Economic Forum is an equalising platform indeed – government officials, top corporate leaders, business superstars, you name it – and in whatever context you enter with, you are placed on the same level for a discussion that matters to your respective entities. Because of that, there was access to persons who had influence to make big things happen, and naturally there were many deals to be made.
But the real value was in building relationships. The World Economic Forum runs three communities: The Global Shapers Community, the Young Global Leaders, and the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Selected members of each community were invited to the Forum, and I was fortunate to meet people who were making enormous change in their own fields. These were folks who were young, still in their 20s and 30s, and already inspiring countless others to adopt the audacity and tenacity they had in pursuing impact. This is in line with a common piece of advice I give to youths: Build your network, build relationships, build goodness. Support people doing good work and be a giver. This is absolutely essential in your late teens and early 20s. Reach out to me if you want to find out more about committing and contributing to a community like the Shapers.

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As we progress, who are we endangering or leaving behind?

In all the optimism and excitement for the fourth industrial revolution, it’s worth thinking about those who might not be so fortunate to ride the wave, but instead are in danger of being swept away. These include:
  • Our elderly. Already we observe how the shift to cashless payments has created the possibility of them having to rapidly learn how to operate digital money transfers and pay for their meal through their phone. What more in the age of driverless cars and delivery-by-drone?
  • Vulnerable or exploited persons. Touched on very briefly in an earlier point, the nature of exploited persons being further endangered is a real possibility. Only 1% of illicit activity done over digital connections are caught – is there more we can do? Can we benefit more from tech, despite tech being neutral and value-ascribed?
  • Underserved youth. One hypothesis that WEF and Sea Group researchers had in the youth survey commissioned is that youth are more optimistic the lower their income-base, and this could be due simply to the access they might have to emerging frontier technology. But with lagging exposure comes the risk of being left behind or ‘late to the game’. How can we even the playing field so the gap between the privileged and underprivileged; the access-easy and the access-tough, is not widened?
I leave the Forum feeling enriched, both intellectually and emotionally, but stirred for change. It is a commendable effort to bring the youth voice to a platform such as this, but we need more. We need more youth representation, and not youth who act like grown-up businessfolk. We need to raise the youth voice higher, spread the inter-generational work wider, and make advocates out of would-be adversaries.
I spoke to some participants about the 80,000 Hours theory, and this is what I stand by. But you don’t have to make a career change to prove an economist’s view of altruism – that is not for everyone. What you can do is simply to make your own contribution. The world needs more. We can do more. At Halogen Foundation, we are doing more. Join us to uplift a generation.

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Thanks to Ivy Tse and Sean Kong for reading drafts of this article and giving their thoughts.
(Timothy Low is the Chief Operating Officer of Halogen Foundation, a youth development non-profit organisation focusing on building young leaders and entrepreneurs. Prior to this, he founded a training consultancy, tenured as Entrepreneur-in-Residence in an L&D firm, and led an accelerator-VC programme for deep-tech startups. Outside of work, Tim is involved with communities making real impact, including Sandbox, Global Shapers, Kairos Society, and +Acumen Impact Circle. This post first appeared on timothylow.com)

The Who, What & Why of Fake News

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In 1710, Jonathan Swift wrote: “Falsehood flies, and the truth comes limping after it.”

3 centuries later, a study by MIT affirms what the writer intuitively concluded. The recent study has found that false news spreads 6 times faster on Twitter than real news, and most of it are spread by people, not Twitter bots.

Misinformation is not a new problem, but technology has enabled it to spread much faster than before. At our recent Halogen Think Tank, we invited a community of educators, as well as experts in the field, to discuss some of the issues surrounding the propagation of fake news.

  1. Who falls for fake news?
  2. What do they fall for? (What do they trust?)
  3. Why do people spread misinformation?denny-muller-534086-unsplash

Who falls for fake news?

On a spectrum of skeptical to gullible, we discussed that youth tended towards the skeptical end of the spectrum, and older adults (Baby Boomers and Gen X) tended towards the gullible end of the spectrum with regards to falling for fake news. This was evident during the controversial 2016 US Elections.

Many of the participants attest that family Whatsapp chats remain their largest source of pseudoscience (a common type of misinformation), with one participant quipping that “Whatsapp aunty tales are the new old wives tales”. The intentions might be good, but the lack of scientific credibility of what is being shared might be a reason why there is a growing skepticism amongst the youth.

While youth may be skeptical, it was found that the skepticism was directed towards mainstream or authoritarian sources of information. There was however higher levels of receptivity towards information and opinions shared amongst peers. It seems that youth gravitate towards opinion, and like to form their own. The concern is whether these opinions are sometimes formed outside of the basis of facts and evidence.

What do they fall for?

In his book “The Trust Economy”, Philipp Diekhöner highlights that trust is attributed to the interface of a website or platform. Everett Rosenfeld, Asia-Pacific Editor of CNBC added that this was true for consumers of mainstream news as well, citing evidence that a large population in the US cannot tell the difference between newyorktimes.com and newyorktime.com because they had similar interfaces whilst featuring very different headlines. The finding is consistent in the world of tech start-ups, where good design and interface trumps substance and content when looking at user adoption and receiving grants/investments. This is not inconsistent with the age old mantra that “first impressions count”.

“Trustable” interfaces can then be purposefully designed to propagate various kinds of misinformation like conspiracies, hoaxes, pseudoscience, political propaganda and the like. It takes a discerning (or skeptical) viewer to be able to filter or question the information being presented.

Why do sources spread misinformation?

This was a sensitive topic that called into the question the professional ethics of journalists and editors, especially those of the mainstream media. The balance between objectivity and chasing the bottom line profits sometimes gets blurred. It is also difficult to have objective reporting when journalist carry their own biases, and sometimes paint events through these biased lenses.

An awareness of these would probably be the key to being able to navigate the large sea of information and filter what is true from what is false. It will serve the reader well to question the motives behind each piece of content that is put out and also question what is not being said.

#neveragain

#neveragain

The world has, indisputably, become more vocal.

And it’s not just because we have immense access to content, or the convenience of sharing through the touch of a screen, and that our gateway to the world can be one instastory, one tweet, or one snapchat away.

Heading to the Big Apple for a partners visit last week, I was a little apprehensive of the terrain that I’ll be going into. After all, this is a country that is going through such a season of volatility and change — just 280 characters from the POTUS sends a media wave reverberating across the globe, daily.

Life has a way of presenting juxtaposes in your path to you reflect upon your beliefs. What caught me by (pleasant) surprise, was the absolute privilege of being in the city right in the midst of March For Our Lives. Here’s to share a bit of what made me come home, really illuminated.

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March For Our Lives
On 14 February 2018, a shooting struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida. A gunman stormed into school and killed 17 students and teachers in a 6 minute 20 second rampage. The tragedy not only shook the world with outrage, but also sowed a very deep seed in the minds of the survivors of this incident and their immediate community.

35 days to start a movement
The students shortly decided that prayers and support for victim’s families were not enough for them, and a core group of youth from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School organised themselves in a directed effort to advocate for tighter gun legislative laws — one that culminated in the March For Our Lives.

In a mere 5 weeks, the march brought together:

  • at least 2 million people in more than 800 March For Our Lives protests across the country and the world.
  • 3.3 million: Tweets sent with the #MarchForOurLives hashtag
  • 387: U.S. congressional districts across the country that saw marches
  • 104: solidarity marches outside the U.S.
  • 800,000 attended the march in Washington, D.C. alone, making it the largest single-day protest in the history of the nation’s capital

(Courtesy: Fast Company: #MarchForOurLives by the numbers)

Many voices, one message
This was one of the most inclusive activism efforts I’ve seen. In the march, rallies and media representation, the most diversified pool of individuals came together for one cause. African-American students and minority races joined the march; family members of the victims, teachers, parents and their children, members of the public — even tourists — were represented amongst the march crowds. Even celebrities and media personalities made their contributions through pledges and commentaries. (see the response by former President Barack Obama).

The youngest rally speaker Naomi Wadler, aged 11, delivered her speech to the Washington D.C. march crowd.

Teens take centre stage
This march and campaign was birthed and led entirely by young people. Starting with only 3 friends in their teens, the trio quickly grew their core team and recruited key members to join their cause. The youth organised themselves and developed a clear call of action for their activism efforts. Their rally for help was extremely concerted — they sought out journalism seniors, survivors of school shooting incidents, youth across diversity profiles etc etc. They utilised media — tweets, online posts and videos — to capture the support of the youth and online audience. They told personal stories with conviction and sincerity, and roped in their peers to join them in taking a stand. Their efforts have delivered nothing short of a world class movement.Check out this speech by Cameron Kasky.

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“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”  — Margaret Mead

A seed of change
Seeing the teens going up onto a stage to deliver their own speeches, handwritten on school notebooks and scraps of paper, vocalising their thoughts and making a stand on what they believe was nothing short of humbling (Granted, in the open culture of the US we also see a more liberal use of certain forceful vocabulary :P).

In these young people, I saw how the seeds of grief and anger, can develop into a conviction that will influence change; how a glimmer of discontent with status quo, can become a fire that lights a campaign. A single voice can indeed kickstart a ripple effect that fuels great hope, amidst challenge and tragedy.


What does this really mean for us as supporters of youth? I believe there are a couple of things that we, as stewards of our young people, can learn from in order to enable them to create change.

1. Trust in their potential, but help them channel their passions and convictions into meaningful energy

This movement could have been just another social media war, a series of lambasting verbal battles that drag every other frivolous commentary in its tailspin, or turned into an angry act of violence or riot. But it wasn’t. It was an organised and coordinated march of solidarity. The students didn’t want mere “thoughts and prayers”, so they delivered other proactive solutions within their means to rally for change. As said by a district superintendent, “The students in Florida have just really lit a flame in our kids that I don’t know that they’ve ever felt before in terms of a particular social issue.”.

Youth have their inner passions and convictions. Sometimes all we need to do is help them channel their innate potential for change, into meaningful, positive endeavours.

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2. Give youth a stage, but teach them to carry the weight of responsibility for their own endeavours

Groups of adults have been silently supporting the youth in their rally efforts. Instead of having taken over the movement as more experienced organisers, the support community gave the youth ample space, limelight and platforms to lead and make decisions for themselves. In areas of where adult council and supervision were needed, the adults came together to lend their support.

Giving the youth the full autonomy to drive this movement, also meant that they had to take full responsibility for their words, actions and decisions made. While being at the forefront, these young activists have to learn to bear the heat and pressure from opposition forces, to handle naysayers and experience outright challenge to their beliefs and actions. The march could have failed, unthoughtful ranting by their peers could have tainted the campaign message and intents. But a responsible leader will bear them all, the good, bad and the ugly.

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3. Give youth a space to fail, but focus on playing the role as an evolving supporter of their journey

The younger generation of today will grow into a very different world, with different social and economic roles, facing very different challenges from us. And while we constantly go back to the old adage of letting them fail and fail forward, I think we also ought to examine our own role — one that is also constantly evolving — as good supporters to their learning endeavours.

There may be setbacks; you may sometimes feel like progress is too slow in coming. But we have no doubt you are going to make an enormous difference in the days and years to come, and we will be there for you.
— the Obamas, in response to the March For Our Lives

In tumultuous times, some of the most meaningful support that we can offer is not that of giving solutions and answers, but one of guiding thought processes and nurturing timeless values. For what’s even more valuable than pulling off a movement like this, is to know that our youths have learnt how to go about stand up for something that is not right, in a meaningful and grounded manner, to attain change.


At home ground, what’s next?

As a member of the youth development community in Singapore, it is impossible to not beg the question — what about our Singaporean youth? I certainly don’t wish we would ever face a calamity as severe as this for our youth to rise up, but I certainly hope that in times of need, our youth will step up with the same type of maturity, stead and resolve in standing up for what’s right.

We cannot rest on our laurels. But take every opportunity to build that inner character and mindset in our youth, a strong foundation for a generation of great promise.

We are moving forward . There’s still much to do (and particular to work on ourselves), but I know there’s much hope if we all set our eyes on the prize and continue to press ahead.


Want to do more? Want to reach out and play a part in becoming an effective and responsible youth influencer? Reach out to Halogen and get involved!

(Ivy Tse is the Chief Executive Officer of Halogen Foundation, a youth development non-profit organisation focusing on building young leaders and entrepreneurs. As a strategist and a builder for the organisation, Ivy brings her roots from a multinational corporation to that of the non-profit sphere. Ivy is a Double Degree Graduate & Global Merit Scholar from the National University of Singapore (NUS) and also a recipient of the NUS Eminent Business Alumni Award in 2016. Drop Ivy a message here to speak to her about your interest in the youth sector!)

 

Beyond Borders

At a recent event*, I stumbled on a fascinating story of Peace Boat started by Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Yoshioka Tatsuya. Yoshioka started on his passion project back in 1983, with a simple notion of wanting to travel the world to meet and build friendships with people in the neighbouring regions. Today, Peace Boat has transformed into Japan’s largest cruising organisation, impacting up to 600,000 participants through their tours. In December, Peace Boat’s 93rd Global Voyage will set sail, charting 22 destinations in the Southern hemisphere, including that of Singapore.

33 years into this initiative, Yoshioka is constantly pushing new frontiers with Peace Boat’s work, and there are a couple of perspectives that may help us sharpen our saws for what’s ahead:

1. Plan for outcomes, not output

Yoshioka did not start off with the notion of building a cruise enterprise. He began with a desire to bring cultures together. Carrying that heart and aspiration to catalyse cross-culture appreciation and bonding, Peace Boat is able to generate countless ideas that can be used to design learning experiences. Cruise spaces are transformed into platforms for participants to play, learn, build and celebrate together; on and off deck activities at the ports are created to allow for deeper understanding of social and cultural differences.

2. Invoke inspiration as a catalyst

The activities presented by Peace Boat often bring inspiration and excitement that draws the participants into a deeper conversation for the issues at hand. Something as simple as cruise performances are reframed into exciting cultural showcases, bringing novelty that arouses interest and inquiry. Their latest projects? To reinvent University education on deck and build a new Ecoship that will game change the way we think about cruises – radical design, solar panelled sails and a ecogarden inspired by Singapore’s very own domes.

3. Enlist your people (influencers)

A committed staff team is what Yoshioka credits to be the key to Peace Boat’s success. Looking for “cheerful people who thrive on working in a group and can build on each other’s energy to come up with new ideas” provides the organisation with the stamina for change and invention. This team of staff are also the crew that embodies the Global Voyages experience – of energy, optimism and cooperation – and that gets consistently passed on to the batches of participants.

In many ways I find that Peace Boat’s journey is no different from that of our organisation. By focusing on outcomes, integrating inspiration and building culture, I believe that organisations will experience a surge of renewed energy towards achieving future aspirations.

— Article by Ivy Tse