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Innovative technologies like blockchain can unlock sustainable development goals

sustainable energy

Innovative technologies like blockchain can bring transparency and traceability to ensure progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals, and chartered accountancy and finance professionals have a key role to play in analysing and interpreting the data new technology brings. This was the key finding from young professionals at Finance&Business2030.

Finance&Business2030 is a new initiative aimed to unite and mobilise the finance and business community to work together to achieve the 2030 SDGs. It is a joint initiative of One Young World, Chartered Accountants Worldwide and the City of London and was launched in April 2019 at Mansion House in London.

Following the launch, we surveyed more than 120 delegates who brought their diverse perspectives from a wide range of backgrounds across the public, private and third sectors. We asked them four questions about the programme’s aims. Here’s what they had to tell us about how the finance and business community can seize opportunities of the ‘fourth industrial revolution’ and embed new technologies for the benefit of business and civil society.

 

Defining the fourth industrial revolution

The term ‘fourth industrial revolution’ is a kind of shorthand for describing innovative technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), automation in the form of software-powered robots, the distributed ledger known as blockchain, and widespread use of data to better understand the world around us.

Our respondents took the definition in its broadest sense. Technologies like big data, used correctly, can help finance and business to improve awareness and build trust with consumers. One delegate said: “Technology can be used to increase transparency and accountability by providing greater access to data. This will allow better understanding of the capital, social, natural and economic value and ability to make more informed decisions and measure over the longer term.” Another suggested: “technology can be used to build trust between consumer and industry. We can use data analysis to market and provide beneficial goods and services.”

 

Putting data to good use

One delegate highlighted an example of the way data is being put to good use in Sub-Saharan Africa where mobile phones are being used to collect data on weather patterns that can be applied to farmers producing crops. Another delegate said: “Social media opens a door to vast amounts of data, and access to information throughout the world, enabling economic empowerment.”

The suggestions from our panel were varied, such as applying data to agriculture, forestry and planning where a platform containing GPS data and license documents could show deforestation to help companies understand unsustainable practices. Another possibility is to use geolocation data to track green spaces to help people realise the impact of development.

Other respondents asked about applying technology to improve health outcomes. One asked: “How do we enable people in the developing world? How do we make good health and well-being obtainable for those in the developing world?”

Watch Izzy Obeng, founder and director of Foundervine, talk about the value of Finance & Business 2030.

 

Blockchain unlocks transparency

An emerging technology that delegates mentioned over and over was blockchain. A theme from our poll was blockchain’s potential to shed more light on how aid funding is distributed in the developing world. One delegate said: “We can use it to trace money and where this money is being invested in NGOs on the ground.”

Others highlighted blockchain’s capacity to educate consumers about sustainable sourcing initiatives from different parts of the globe. The technology uses cryptography to create records that can’t be altered, so it could be put to use in a supply chain, providing verifiable traceability. “Through using blockchain technologies you can make people more aware of consumer goods and the production of these goods by businesses,” said one delegate.

Added another: “Consumers have lost the connection with the producer. Blockchain can be used to educate consumers, using mobile phones for example, to educate people on where their products are coming from.”

One suggestion was to use blockchain to contribute towards abolishing modern slavery and to highlight humanitarian causes. “EverLedger is using blockchain tech to ensure no one purchases blood diamonds – why can’t we use that for refugees?”

 

Addressing the technology threat

There is concern that the technologies driving the fourth industrial revolution, such as automation and artificial intelligence, could put even entire professions at risk. Groups like the World Economic Forum are already grappling with this issue.  One of our Chartered Accountants said it was important to see the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution as opportunities for businesses.

“The pace of change is daunting and emergent modern social issues, such as vast amounts of the population not having the right skill sets, are complex and global; often business shy away due to the scale and scope of the challenge. I believe that an insightful framing of the issues and the right perspective can help businesses find their role in the larger strategies set out by the UN and other institutions, so that they can make a lasting impact,” they said.

Another said the fourth industrial revolution will require an adaptive mindset and democratisation of education. “Education is required to replace those jobs that can be tackled by AI, to upskill those workers who will be displaced. Technology allows this to be done on a timelier basis via online platforms.”

Several delegates raised the issue of sustainable data centres, since these facilities need a lot of energy to run. One spoke of investing in data centres powered by renewable sources to minimise society’s reliance on fossil fuels. Another noted how his own organisation is exploring the possibility of funding an energy-efficient data centre through a green loan. These examples show how the finance profession can harness new technologies to make progress towards the sustainable development goals.

This is the final article in a four-part series looking at the goals of Finance & Business2030. You can read the first three articles here. We’ll continue to track the progress of the programme here on Charteredaccountantsworldwide.com.

Working towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals closely aligns with Chartered Accountants Worldwide’s goal of #BuildingTrust. See our inspirational video highlighting what it means to be a Chartered Accountant.