How a technology initially designed to entertain is now changing urban landscapes
A popular game for kids and teens has turned out to be the inspiration behind smart city policies around the world. Thanks to a UN collaboration with a computer software company, citizens of all ages and backgrounds in places like Mexico, Haiti, Kenya and Gaza are literally playing an important role in redesigning public space.
Block by Block started as an initiative to get citizens more involved in the planning of public spaces through Mojang’s Minecraft computer game. Directly supporting the SDG11 (inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable cities), it gave tools to community members so they would develop plans that architects and governments could turn into reality. Since then, it has spread to a range of countries, from Vietnam to Haiti, Mexico and Somalia.
Known as a “digital Lego”, Minecraft was adapted to real-life cities, where people can suggest improvements and start building models for their communities.
In Kenya, the program started in 2017 as a way to bring refugees and locals closer together. The idea was to develop their design skills using the game and organize visits to physical sites that needed improvement. Even people with poor computer skills could learn quickly, due to the recreational nature of the project. Then, they would discuss the project and come up with ideas, many of them economically feasible and environmentally friendly. Some of the participants suggested tree-planting in order to provide more comfort and shade to the community and solar lights for clean energy – both projects duly implemented.
In Vietnam, the project has taken a strong gender approach. Girls were the main affected group, as they commute several miles every day to go to school, facing many safety challenges. Dark corners and dangerous passages were some of the problems they faced, and the solution came in the form of improved signage, lighted walkways and safe spaces like women-only coffee shops and shelters.
In addition to fostering collaboration, the Block by Block initiative also serves an important social function: that of developing computer skills in endangered communities and empowering minorities like women and refugees. Regardless of age, gender or ethnicity, digital technology is inclusive and for all; it leaves no one behind.
Finding inspiration in worldwide social and environmental actions
Our platform has always aimed to share social good and get inspiration from all the amazing projects we discover around the world. Horyou blog team puts the spotlight on some engaging stories about environmental and social actions worldwide:
Ivory Coast is using plastic waste to build schools
A beautiful initiative that helps to tackle at once plastic pollution and the lack of schools. UNICEF was partners with this cost-effective project that should inspire other communities.
What do disruptive technologies, inclusive finance, women empowerment and the UN Sustainable Development Goals have in common? SIGEF, the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum, set up for the first time in Davos on January 22nd, 2020, brought stimulating insights into the common threads that run through all four topics.
The shared sentiment was/is that an inclusive world can definitely be shaped with the joint effort of all stakeholders from both the public and private sectors. With it, gender equality and wide access to new technologies would be bolstered; financial means and business opportunities would be open to all; and many an environmental and social challenge would be overcome.
More and more, we see a large number of major global corporations, including some emblematic companies like Philip Morris International and Nespresso, both of whom were among SIGEF Davos sponsors, are determinedly headed in that direction. Through strengthened ties within vulnerable communities or via investing in the provision of more sustainable products, they have realized how important it is to embrace the challenges of our times. Startups and fintech organizations including Fintech4Good, as well as NGOs led by WWF and Women Deliver, or media such as Devex and CBS, or again international agencies the likes of Geneva Chamber of Commerce and OECD, are walking the walk, and showing that, undoubtedly, an increased level of social and environmental commitment does help come to terms with inequality.
A few years ago, it would have been unimaginable that the finance and business worlds would seriously get to grips with social inclusion, or deal with environmental issues, or again bolster community empowerment or, even more unpredictably, use disruptive technologies for good. As Yonathan Parienti, founder and CEO of Horyou, the social network for social good, puts it: “Capitalism is changing, and it is becoming more inclusive and more aware of society’s needs”.
How an EU directive – together with the will of consumers – is leading companies to change sourcing and manufacturing strategies
How to live without plastic? The material has been increasingly present in our daily lives for many decades: according to the European Commission, its global production has increased twentyfold since the 1960’s. At the same time, it has become a vital material in our economy as it causes serious impacts in the environment, from its origin to its end of life.
Launched in 2018, the European Strategy for Plastics in a Circular Economy is an ambitious document that aims to transform the way businesses and consumers use this resource. The lifecycle of the products that use plastic in their manufacturing is a big concern – from design to disposal, companies should be aware of the impact they cause on the environment. It means that more businesses and consumers are looking for more sustainable options, like recyclable plastic, refillable or reusable options and post-consumption traceability.
The document sets bold targets for Europe by 2030. The 10-single use plastic products that today constitute 70% of marine litter are in the spotlight and should be banned by then. Also, all plastic packaging placed on the EU markets should be either reusable or recyclable in a cost-effective manner.
Following the directive, manufacturers of plastic have joined in a big movement lead by PlasticsEurope, a Pan-European association that aims to change the face of this not very well reputed industry. In this spirit, they designed the ‘Plastics 2030 – Voluntary Commitment’, focusing on increasing the reuse and recycling of plastic, and preventing plastic leakage into the environment, as well as accelerating resource efficiency. It will lead to a 60% rate of reusing and recycling plastic packaging by 2030, and a 100% rate in 2040.
In this scenario, new materials are gaining popularity among consumers – ocean waste plastic, post-consumer recycling and bio-based plastic made from coffee beans, sugar cane and other non-carbon sources, are rising as alternatives to traditional plastic.
Global players like Unilever – that will cut by half their use of virgin plastic by 2025 – and sustainable trendsetters like Lush – that started launching free-packaging stores earlier this year – are committing to the strategy to offer more eco-conscious alternatives to consumers.
Lead by consumers’ demand, governments’ commitments and businesses’ efforts, sustainable innovation is rising as an alternative to the “plastic problem”.
A global claim has been echoing for many years: since 2000, when the UN launched the Millennium Development Goals, the world hasn’t seen such public debate about the need to commit to social and environmental targets. As the years have passed and global leaders have complied with the reviewed and renamed Sustainable Development Goals, society started to be bolder about expanding the commitment to a better future.
In the last few years, more companies have been vocal about their own actions thanks to an increased responsiveness of their stakeholders: investors, clients and civil society who demand more engaged action for the SDGs.
Clients and consumers are the first group to put pressure on the private sector, carefully choosing ecofriendly products and brands. Last September, 87 companies, including Danone, Amazon and IKEA, committed to set climate targets across their operations and value chains, setting zero net emissions by 2050. A recent Accenture survey shows that 80% of consumers believe it’s important or extremely important for companies to design environmentally conscious products. It affects the whole supply chain: from lighter and smaller packaging that will require less material to components that are recyclable and reusable.
Jobseekers are another important group that influences companies’ commitment to sustainable actions. MBA graduates are now able to see if corporate social responsibility strategies are legitimate or pure PR – and choose companies they want to work for accordingly. A 2015 survey covering more than 3,700 MBA graduates shows that 64% of them don’t think businesses are making enough efforts to address environmental challenges. Recruiters are getting used to questions about these CSR policies and are feeling the need to develop their employer’s branding, the capacity to attract talented people, investing in real sustainable actions.
Finally, there is the deciding factor for many businesses: money. Asset managers are increasingly taking sustainability into consideration when shaping their investment strategies, according to a recently published article in the Financial Times. Some of them, like Hermes, are launching SDG Equity Funds focused on small and medium-sized companies engaged with the UN Goals. Others, like the Scandinavian investment group Summa, are focusing on some sustainable development areas like infrastructure and innovation (goal 9). These initiatives follow the launch of UN Impact, a program that aims to channel funds to SDG-related projects and companies.
Other funding opportunities like HoryouToken, the utility token 100% dedicated to inclusion and sustainability, are also spotting projects and actions that resonate with the UN SDGs. Built on the concept of “Blockchain with a purpose”, HoryouToken supports and promotes social and economic inclusion while enhancing a positive circle of interactions benefiting civil society, social entrepreneurs and social good doers.
Technology has been central to development throughout the course of human history. The rapid growth of information and communication technologies (ICTs) across the world proves this fundamental connection on an unprecedented scale – and with revolutionary impact.
Today, it could be said that all development is linked to digital development: from education to transportation, urban planning, sanitation, health, manufacturing, industry and, of course, communication, there is no industrial sector today that does not rely on ICTs as the essential backbone infrastructure providing access to services – and the associated benefits of social and economic development.
At the International Telecommunication Union (ITU), the specialized United Nations agency for ICTs, one of the priorities is to ensure that those benefits are made available to all of the world’s population, not just a limited few. ITU is committed to connecting all the world’s people, wherever they live and whatever their means. And connectivity, and the ICT services, products and solutions it enables, is essential to meeting every one of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.
But how can we accelerate universal connectivity and the development it brings when nearly half of the people in the world remain offline?
The ICT sector is working with us towards an ambitious long-term goal of connecting the next 1.5 billion citizens by 2020. This will require not only enormous investment in networks and other infrastructure, but also – crucially – significant political commitment.
Infrastructure alone, however, is not enough. According to ITU, around 90% of the world’s population is covered by at least 2G or 3G services – yet adoption remains at barely 51%. So for connectivity to be meaningful, to actually reach people and change lives, affordable, fit-for-purpose services and equipment are needed, as well as local content in local languages, relevant to local context. And programmes to raise awareness of the benefits of connectivity, as well as to teach the digital skills essential to taking full advantage of this potential.
Digital literacy is just as important for meaningful connectivity as cheap handsets or 3G networks in rural and remote areas. Innovation and inclusivity are as vital as infrastructure and investment.
It’s clear that neither public nor private sector can go it alone. The task of connecting the whole world is as enormous as the developmental benefits it will bring. The leadership, resources and skills required are as great as the impact it will have. Government must work closely with the private sector, with all stakeholders throughout the digital ecosystem, with NGOs and international organizations, with civic society, communities, academia and media.
Public private partnerships, in whatever form, are the key to driving meaningful connectivity and bringing the world online. This is where ITU’s leading annual event, ITU Telecom World, has such an important role to play. By bringing together leaders from government, industry, regulatory bodies, international agencies, consultants and academia from developed and emerging markets alike, the event works towards meeting the SDGs through digital technology, focusing efforts on infrastructure, investment, innovation and inclusivity.
The ITU Telecom World Awards Programme, in particular, is an opportunity to encounter, engage with and celebrate the best in innovative tech solutions with very real social impact.
The international visibility, UN credibility and access to networking, investment potential and partnerships offered by the Awards has proved highly valuable since the programme’s introduction in 2015 – and is an excellent stage for precisely those public-private collaborations so essential to growing connectivity.
Held this year in HungExpo, Budapest, Hungary, from 9 – 12 September, ITU Telecom World 2019 is only one small step towards connecting the world. Every step counts, however, on the journey to accelerate development throughout the world through technology. And together, we can make those steps larger, longer and more effective.
Horyou is a media partner of ITU Telecom World 2019