The Fourth Industrial Revolution: What does it mean for NGOs?

What does the fourth industrial revolution mean for the development sector? Photo by: Kaboompics

MANILA — Rapid technological advancement is driving the fourth industrial revolution, and it is expected to create huge disruptions in employment and the way people conduct business.

It is already happening. Car parts are now being manufactured through 3-D printing. Commutes and hotel bookings have been disrupted by the emergence of cloud-based services such as Uber and Airbnb.

Much of the disruption also poses a threat to job security. Millions of jobs are expected to be lost over the next decade. Therefore, people’s ability to solve complex problems and think critically will be as valuable and in-demand — if not more so — as hard technical skills, according to Sandeep Aneja, managing partner at Kaizen Private Equity. Anjea expounded on the topic during his keynote presentation at the Asian Development Bank’s two-day Digital Strategies for Development Forum 2017.

What does disruptive technology mean for the nonprofit sector? Here’s a quick FAQ:

What is the fourth industrial revolution?

At its most basic, the fourth industrial revolution refers to the explosion of technology and digital tools. But it is difficult to assess at this point precisely where it starts and what it covers. Simon Gee, Asia Pacific managing director for international nongovernmental organization TechSoup, which provides technical and technological support and tools to nonprofits, said most people don’t likely put a boundary between the third and fourth industrial revolutions.

The only clear thing is that this will be an upgrade of technologies the world has been used to. Panelists at the forum talked about the continuing development and use of artificial intelligence, big data, and cloud computing in different aspects of business and development. Most of the panelists pointed out this is only the tip of the iceberg.

How far is the sector from adopting these advanced technologies?

A number of NGOs are already using the cloud for data sharing and retention, said Gee, but some are still wary of the technology for security reasons. There are others that want to adopt it, but can’t due to lack of a stable internet infrastructure.

“Cloud can work offline and online, but to really take advantage of all its benefits, you need to have this internet speed,” he told Devex. “We need the basic internet infrastructure to get anywhere. A lot of NGOs want to move to cloud, but the reality is they simply can’t do it.”

Should NGOs be as concerned of being replaced by robots?

Most of the rhetoric surrounding the fourth industrial revolution is concerned with automation. Its impact may be too early to predict, especially because much of the work being done in the development and humanitarian sector still requires a lot of human intervention and complex decision making, such as addressing mental health issues, Gee said.

“There will be innovations for sure, but, I don’t know. It sounds dire, but I actually perceive that with all the changes coming on, there are going to be more problems that [will] come up, and unfortunately, for whatever reason, it’s quite often problems in society that become NGOs’ and charities’ problem as well. So, we might see more new charities and NGOs popping up to tackle social issues,” he added.

Read more international development news online, and subscribe to The Development Newswire to receive the latest from the world’s leading donors and decision-makers — emailed to you free every business day.

About the author

  • Jenny Lei Ravelo

    Jenny Lei Ravelo is a Devex Senior Reporter based in Manila. She covers global health, with a particular focus on the World Health Organization, and other development and humanitarian aid trends in Asia Pacific. Prior to Devex, she wrote for ABS-CBN, one of the largest broadcasting networks in the Philippines, and was a copy editor for various international scientific journals. She received her journalism degree from the University of Santo Tomas.