Delegates at xChange 2017

Building Leaders for the 21st Century

As EWB imagines the future of work, we are really imagining the future of leaders

When asked to imagine the ‘future of work’ many people envision a lifestyle that would be fitting of George Jetson’s world – self-driving cars, interactions with artificial intelligence (AI) systems throughout a smart home, and robotic workforces. While it may seem like a futuristic daydream, the truth is that in many ways the future is already here.

A recent report by EY on the future of work stated that we are in the process of moving from a gig economy, which saw the rise of digital platforms such as Uber and Airbnb alongside an increase of freelance labour, to the machine economy where disruption will be driven by AI and robotics through a mass displacement of labour.

As EWB imagines the future of work, we are really imagining the future of leaders. What types of leadership skills will young people need in this new economy? How do we ensure they will steward technological advancement to better serve humanity? And how do we ensure the innovations of the 21st century produce equitable outcomes for all?

We are responding to these tough questions in two ways: by investing in social ventures in Africa and by investing in young leaders in Canada.

Venturing Toward Sustainable and Inclusive Economies

EWB believes that one way to influence what the future will look like is to plant new seeds today – to support the kinds of innovative thinkers who are purposefully working to meet the needs of the people who have been left out and underserved in society.

Innovation is accelerating. This is giving more power and more opportunity to individuals and small groups to create change. But does it really give that chance to everyone equally?

By choosing to back high-potential entrepreneurs who are unlikely to have access to alternative sources of funding, by rooting for the underdogs, EWB is contributing to building a system that increases social cohesion, sustainable and equitable opportunity.

Let’s look at a striking example.

In Kenya, agriculture is the heart of the economy, accounting for 65 per cent of employment and 32 per cent of gross domestic product. This is not a unique, as sub-Saharan Africa counts 48 million smallholder farmers; however, while the cities are bustling with innovation, many farmers in the countryside are unbanked. They are left out of the financial system and dearly lack access to formal credit, an opportunity to borrow the right kind of capital, at the right time, to make the most of their activity. This affects all aspects of their lives, as some of them have to make a choice between paying school fees, paying for medicine, or paying to maintain their small business, their main livelihood.

This is where FarmDrive comes in.

FarmDrive was founded by Rita and Peris, two bold young entrepreneurs who decided to use data analytics and mobile technology to completely change the game for rural farmers. Their algorithm crunches a lot of data on farmers’ activities, from their mobile money payments, their geo-location, and their social media activity, to the weather patterns in their area. This allows them to create a proxy for the farmer’s credit score and connect farmers to their local financial institution in a fast and efficient way. Thanks to Rita and Peris, 2,000 farmers to date have been able access  loans that have allowed them to expand their businesses, hire more staff, and make the investments they need to scale up and become more efficient.

The financing gap for farmers in sub-Saharan Africa is worth $450 million. That’s why, two years ago, we decided to invest in FarmDrive and do whatever it takes to support their success. To date, Rita and Peris have multiplied our investment more than 10x in the span of 24 months. They are showing explosive growth and a transformative impact in the East African fintech sector.

These entrepreneurs are illustrative of the kind of leaders who are are pioneering better ways of doing business and utilizing technology to create an economy that is more sustainable and inclusive, now and as we enter the new machine economy.

Developing Globally-minded Leaders

As we think about the future of work and leadership, we believe the kinds of workforce the 21st century needs must be able to think through complex global challenges, be agile and creative in their approach to problem-solving, be comfortable with discomfort, and be inclusive and committed to gender equality, Indigenous rights, and environmental and community values.

Young people today need a truly global perspective, and yet, according to a study by the Global Education Task Force, relatively few Canadian post-secondary students have international experience, accounting for 11% of undergraduate students. In France, about 33% of undergraduate students do part of their studies abroad, in Germany, 29%, and in Australia and the United States, 19 and 16% respectively.

University exchanges are a great way to get international experience, but what about working in a startup in sub-Saharan Africa? Now, that’s a transformative experience.

At EWB, we don’t just offer seed-funding to ventures, we also offer capacity-building and technical expertise from embedded fellows through our Long-term, Junior and Kumvana fellowships programs. This combination of investment, mentorship and capacity-building is a win-win, benefitting both entrepreneurs and young Canadian leaders through hands-on experience and by building lifelong connections.

Additionally, our 40 university and professional chapters offer learning opportunities and practical experience advocating for policy change, contributing to building sustainable and inclusive economies, and fostering a community of globally-minded leaders.

The Future of Work Starts Now

Ultimately, EWB seeks to equip  leaders from Canada and Africa to do innovative and meaningful work, and to build sustainable and inclusive economies. New technologies like AI and robotics may be disruptive and change the future of work, but with strong, inclusive leadership, they have the potential to be harnessed and used to accelerate positive change.

Learn more about how we are building the leaders of tomorrow at our annual conference, xChange 2018, taking place in Hamilton from January 19-21.

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