Learning to leapfrog into the Fourth Industrial Revolution

This article is written by Aziza Vawda, for the July 2018 Edition of the SDG Bulletin South Africa. Aziza Vawda is a Partnerships Officer for the Private Sector Partnerships (PSP) team at The United Nations Refugee Agency’s (UNHCR) regional office in Pretoria. The SDG Bulletin South Africa is a collaborative product of the Department of Planning, Monitoring and Evaluation, the United Nations in South Africa and the South African SDG Hub.


The first and second revolution have passed many people by in a world where one-third of the population (2.4 billion people) lacks clean drinking water and safe sanitation, and one-sixth (1.2 billion people) have no electricity. Even though more than 3 billion people have access to the internet, that still leaves 4 billion people out of the third industrial revolution. If the SDGs are to be realized and ensure that nobody gets left behind, a collective responsibility amongst all stakeholders, including governments, the private sector, civil society, communities and individuals needs to take education in all its forms more seriously to allow adaptation in the evolution of humankind.

From 25- 29 June 2018, young diplomats from Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa and BRICS Plus  countries (including Jamaica, Angola, Rwanda and Indonesia) and the United Nations participated in the Young Diplomats Forum (YDF). The holistic programme around the theme for the BRICS Young Diplomats Forum (YDF), “BRICS in Africa: Collaboration for Inclusive Growth and Shared Prosperity in the 4thIndustrial Revolution” brought together the intellectual capital of future leaders who recognize and are committed to the ultimate aim of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). By learning from the past, it put into perspective the requirements for ensuring that poverty is tackled, inequality is addressed and inclusion is non-negotiable.

In the historical and cultural context, the impact of science and technology, its contribution to innovation and relevance to the African continent framed the legacy of Nelson Mandela’s vision of the youth. In the context of the world we are living in and our responsibility as young people to change the course of history, these sentiments were emphasized in the opening remarks of the Deputy Minister for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, Ms. Reginah Mhaule, who said “If young people are to be the catalyst for change, they will need the necessary tools to be effectively equipped. We need to see more collaboration in areas of skills transfer, knowledge partnerships and best-practice sharing in order to stimulate innovation and empower all people equally. Mandela believed that young people are a country’s most important asset. He argued with conviction that the youth need to be protected, empowered and nurtured to build a rich and united country”.

The relevance of the delegation’s visit to the Sterkfontein caves illustrated the magnitude of the number of discoveries that are yet to be made. Professor Lee Burger, world-renowned paleoanthropologist from the University of Witwatersrand found over 60 new fossils in 600 exploration sites, never seen before in the world by using Google Earth, just after its inception in 2001. The young team that was instrumental in this expedition he said, demonstrates that we need to change the way we view our ancestry and the way in which humanity views and understands the world.

The focus on business and the economy, specifically on entrepreneurship and accessing finance to break into the new industry highlighted the recurring elements of the BRICS 2018 theme – innovation, technology, collaboration, sustainable development and growth, skills development, education and sharing best-practices to create an equal distribution of wealth and prosperity for all. This was summarized aptly by Mr. Tevern Jaftha from the Small Enterprise and Development Agency (SEDA) who implored that the youth needs to think and act differently and transform their minds constantly to keep up with the rapid rate of technological advancements. We need to read and extract the information we have available at our fingertips and understand what the gaps and needs are. Education gives you the tools to articulate at a certain level, therefore the language of coding will be a requirement to understand and communicate at that level in the future. Using China as an example of “learning from the best to become the best”, he illustrated the potential of a country that has learned from the most developed nations and used their findings to disrupt other markets.

These sentiments tied into the reflection of the address on the first day of the forum by Minister Kubayi Ngubane from the Department of Science and Technology who said, “We need competitive advantage solutions and innovation is a key driver for sustainable development and growth – we should share our experiences and expertise. Support for SMMEs results in the promotion of grassroots innovation and enterprise has to help bridge the divide.”

An enthusiastic and engaged delegation was left with solid advice from the Premier of the Gauteng province, Mr. David Makura – that young people change the course of history by helping to reimagine a different world than the one we have today. This world should be built with inclusion as the main organizing idea for business and government, with ethical leadership as the starting point. By leveraging collective resources of BRICS countries in line with the SDGs this is a unique opportunity to build a new world order, especially amongst the youth who represent the majority of the global youth demographic. The advantages of global demand is amongst the youth and to ensure that nobody is left behind in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the education system is key to be attuned to the skills required for the future.

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