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How Will We Harness the Potential of the 4th Industrial Revolution for Good?

Part 1 in a 2-part Davos Report for the Social Good Sector

At this year’s World Economic Forum, one phrase was on everyone’s lips:  Fourth Industrial Revolution.

WEF Founder and Chairman Klaus Schwab has sparked a worldwide conversation on the coming revolution. For background: The first industrial revolution occurred when water and steam were harnessed to mechanize production. The second came through using electric power to drive mass production. The third revolution happened as electronics and information technology automated production.

Every one of these revolutions brought with it incredible new advances, economically, socially, technologically and more. But each revolution also brought with it pain, particularly as the mix of skills required by the labor force shifted and people struggled to keep up.

And now we are on the brink of a fourth revolution – one that builds on the third, in which technology is fused and the barriers between the digital, physical and biological are eroded.

The first two industrial revolutions occurred somewhat gradually, allowing time to create relative socioeconomic balance. But the third industrial revolution was rapid – so rapid that there wasn’t sufficient time for skills across the global workforce to catch up. The result has been that a small, highly skilled group with access to capital has benefited the most, and millions have been left behind.

Today, we’re entering the fourth industrial revolution – which is poised to occur even more rapidly.

What this all means is that there is a unique and critical role for nonprofits and other social good organisations to play in the fourth industrial revolution. If you’re part of the social good community, it’s crucial that you know about these trends, and how your organisation will respond to and leverage them.  You’ll likely sense an increasing demand on the sector not just to understand, but to seize opportunities to embrace, adapt, and respond to this change.

In the Goal 17 Partnership Space at the World Economic Forum this year – an epicenter of sustainable development collaboration around the Sustainable Development Goals – one of the clearest trends emerging was deeper partnerships across the entire social economy. (I’ll follow up with more on trends for social good organisations in my next post.)

Deep partnerships – the type of outcome-oriented relationships we at Blackbaud (the tech company where I serve as Chief Product Officer)  have come to refer to as radical collaboration – have the potential to dramatically alter the course of the fourth industrial revolution, for good.

The timing has never been so urgent, or come with such great potential. At this year’s WEF, I was inspired and refreshed to hear so many public corporations are serious about leveraging their position to ensure that the fourth industrial revolution brings with it real benefit for people around the world and so many social good leaders are eager to partner.

If you’re just beginning to consider how your social good organisation should respond to this transformation, I’d encourage you to start with five questions – perhaps at your very next planning meeting:  

  1. Is your partnership model one that embraces radical collaboration? Are you pursuing deep and meaningful outcomes-based partnerships not only within the social sector but across the entire social economy? The fourth industrial revolution will require deeper partnership than ever.
  2. Are your partners bringing expertise to the table in terms of how shifts in the fourth industrial revolution will impact your work? Do you have a plan for how your program delivery will shift? Even your mission?
  3. Do your strategies embrace the data sciences? Tools like AI, big data and analytics will be leveraged across the private sector in the fourth industrial revolution. Are you ensuring that you are also taking advantage of the potential of these tools to further your social good mission?
  4. Have you aligned your work to the Sustainable Development Goals in order to stay relevant, capitalize on opportunities (ex. funding, innovation) and more? As the fourth industrial revolution drives opportunities for partnership, common language will play a critical role – and mapping your goals to the 17 wide-ranging Sustainable Development Goals is a powerful and easy way to ensure you’re ready to join the conversation.
  5. What role can you play in helping the world embrace disruptive, yet responsible innovation?

The fourth industrial revolution is coming, and it will undoubtedly change the world. For those of us in the business of changing the world for good, the challenges are urgent and the opportunity is enormous.  How will your organisation respond?

This article was originally posted at


Kevin McDearis