The Future of Government: Adapting to Seismic Changes Ahead

The World Government Summit, which recently took place in Dubai from February 8-10th, was a unique opportunity to understand, reflect upon and brainstorm solutions regarding the challenges that the public sector faces today. Unsurprisingly, many of these challenges are closely linked to the private sector.

Many believe that we are in the midst of a fourth industrial revolution, and that seismic changes are underway. From artificial intelligence and robotics to bioengineering and nanotechnology, several disruptive technologies are growing exponentially in tandem. The fourth industrial revolution is only at its nascence but is already transforming governments, businesses and entire populations. Prof. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Chairman of the World Economic Forum, who gave the opening plenary at the World Government Summit, believes the fourth industrial revolution will impact all sectors. He also called upon the public sector to ensure that the fourth industrial revolution benefits humanity, citing the unique role of government to protect the rights of citizens.

As technology changes the lives of so many of us at an unprecedented rate, over a billion people on the planet are living without access to electricity. Dr. Mahmoud Mohieldin, Senior Vice President at the World Bank, reminded participants during a session on the Sustainable Development Goals, that this divide will create a greater gap between the global south and global north. The rise in inequality is apparent in other ways as well, with Mohammad Yunus, Founder of Grameen Bank, mentioning that 0.1 percent of the top 1 percent of the population holds all its wealth in the United States and claiming that economic inequality could -- and will -- be the most destabilising factor for governments in the coming years. As human jobs continue to be displaced by artificial intelligence, this trend is expected to continue and impact white collar as well as blue collar employees.

In spite of these destabilising elements, it was encouraging to see that many governments are embracing this juncture and seizing opportunities to engage a growing population of youth, those who will be most impacted by these changes and will live in a dramatically different future. The government of the United Arab Emirates recently appointed a Minister of Youth who is 22 years old. The Nigerian government is engaging youth to gain support for the Sustainable Development Goals through social media. And Kathy Calvin, President of the United Nations Foundation, ceded her plenary speech to a 15-year-old activist from Ethiopia.

Governments are also looking to the same disruptive technologies to provide the keys to solving systemic societal issues. Big data, smart cities and universal access to Internet are being explored by many local and national governments as opportunities to solve challenges around healthcare, pollution and education. And government are increasingly bringing citizens into the fold of decision-making, from civic crowdfunding projects in London to the creation of pocket parks from abandoned parking lots in Mexico City.

This is an exciting time it is for the public sector, and for all sectors. Governments understand that they need to make dramatic shifts in order to prepare for a future that will drastically vary from the present. Many of them are clearly rising to the challenge. It will be interesting to see how other sectors embrace and adapt to these shifts, making the most of the changes ahead.