Interview with Sustainability Summit 2014 Host, Sophie B. de la Giroday

Sustainability Summit 2014 – Abu Dhabi, February 24-25
“A world-class event for those driving change
in our societies and economies”

Interview with Sophie B. de la Giroday
President of Wise Media and Host of the Sustainability Summit




What originated the work of the Sustainability Summit?

There is today an urgent need to develop a new vision regarding sustainable development. As a matter of fact, in our interconnected societies and intertwined economies we carry unprecedented responsibilities on an individual and local scale with respect to the consequences that a greater circle of stakeholders, if not mankind itself, will enjoy or suffer. And vice-versa, we are affected by what happens in other countries, in different segments of our society and economy way more than we were in the past. We all know about the story of the butterfly wing capable of influencing a storm on the other side of the planet. But now, with mass digitization of communications and identities, we see propagation and exponential multiplication of influencers at increased speed and reduced cost. As citizens, we live, use, pollute, nurture our expectations, as well as think at the magnitude of a soon to be population of 10 billion interconnected individuals, only to mention our physical personae. Governments and industry must address this evolving scenario appropriately, to create wealth while containing risks.

Is there a sustainability-oriented generation advocating for the paradigm shift towards sustainable development?

Sustainability was broadly debated throughout the last decades – particularly with respect to green issues. This has contributed to awaken an overall sustainability consciousness, which nonetheless needs to be repositioned in light of a development oriented thinking, instead of the typical cut-back, reversal approach that has become popular. Society evolves and goes ahead. There is no turning back from globalization and digitalization, as progress is a natural aspiration and trend in our civilizations. This is why the intent of the Sustainability Summit is to debate resources, policies and technologies, in order to formulate a comprehensive vision about how to leverage opportunities for responsible development and sustainable growth.

In what way can the efforts of policy makers, industry leaders and technology players be harmonized?

As always, sharing a vision and building consensus are paramount when driving change and innovation. Thought leadership and informed decisions within government, local administrations, industry and enterprise are key to business growth and societal advance. This is why the Sustainability Summit aggregates a diverse community of decision makers and experts contributing to this vital exchange. It is not only a matter of being experts in terms of knowing how to integrate a solution, nor to be experienced in problem solving, or driven by good-will and laudable intentions. Titanic efforts often fail, when they are not as well addressed as they could be. What is necessary is to share experiences, exposing the programs that work, the policies that result in what was actually intended, the solutions that better respond to a specific need. This to avoid the entropy, if not disruption, brought about by unanswered questions or decisions based on assumptions that are incomplete or wrong.

How do innovation and technology contribute to programs supporting sustainable development?

There is no doubt that governments and private organizations alike have strived relentlessly to support and streamline progress via programs and policies for more sustainable development, often landing success stories by embracing the adoption of smart and technology-driven innovation. Despite technology offering a leverage which sometimes increases the social divide – for instance when it supports a severely unequal distribution of richness – it can and does offer the contrary, when it is used to compensate social inequality, even-out the spikes that hurt in the social texture of wealth distribution, as well as address what is not welcome and unlawful.

Most recently, we witnessed progress made in Asia, fighting hunger, corruption and fraud through gigantic poverty mitigation and democratization programs leveraging multi-biometrics; new approaches were explored in Latin America fighting city crime, with urban sanitation programs carried out by the military and police leveraging intelligent video surveillance; we saw international organizations and even corporations fighting labor exploitation throughout entire supply chains by creating policies to enforce laws down to their very roots. Everywhere and in all contexts there is indeed an effort to implement systems that increase transparency and establish accountability. The goal is to support efficiency, social equality, security and legality. In this respect, digital identities, biometric authentication, smart surveillance and technologies analyzing big data play a key role.

Computational power has skyrocketed: volumes of data to be processed – even lacking in structure – no longer pose a limit to our possibilities, as we can see in the case of some huge and groundbreaking programs carried out to support economic development. The Indian national UID program, for instance, brings a statistically secure eID and a personal bank account to the fingertips of even the most remotely and underprivileged members of a population of 1.2 billion. Each and every individual enrolled in the social inclusion program can thus biometrically assert his or her identity digitally, regardless of their possessing a smartphone or being alphabetized. Residents can be issued relief funds in the context of a trust model meant to eradicate fraud and the weak link of the corrupt intermediary altogether.

What are the key trends observed and anticipated expectations?

Today’s success in leveraging technology and big data could and should inaugurate a new season where hope and vision are transformed into action, via intelligent sourcing and delivery models. By securing and governing transactions, technology connects governments in a one-to-billion scenario of simultaneous individual, trusted relationships. Crime and fraud can be fought in an all new way. But we also need to get to grips with what happens legally in the age of the Internet giants and mass profiling, with our personal information scattered and sometimes surveilled. Thinking about our future, prudent utilization of powerful instruments will be a key issue.

What we want is for technology to continue opening the doors to great opportunities. The possibility to analyze big data can be integral to a more rational and responsible approach to resource allocation and management. Having access to statistically sound information that is numeric and factual, rather than opinion-based, is the true necessity of those deciding about how to address the needs of today‘s liquid, multicultural and rapidly evolving society. The global village we live in and ubiquitous access to the Internet generates the most vast spectrum of internal and external influencers ever seen in our societies. This calls for the powerful instruments to support and secure the individual communications between government and citizens, enterprises and employees, businesses and consumers, service providers and users. All this in a scenario where governments and organizations are held more and more accountable for the individual’s well-being and dignity, wherever there are transactions in the physical and digital worlds.

How does the platform of the Sustainability Summit address this?

The Summit’s take on sustainable development is in fact unique. It is to do with leveraging big data and modern ICT instruments, such as digital identities, in order to improve the efficient and lawful operation of global supply chains, control migration flows, increase urban security and mobility, offer public services that work. Governments and organizations need to modernize their approach to decisions and resource management by planning on the basis of real information and statistics rather than opinions. This extends to economic development and social inclusion programs, with poverty mitigation and labor optimization at top of mind in order to create the basis for stability and real wealth.

What decision makers need to grant at an international, regional and local level is in fact leadership, direction and a comprehensive vision also for the medium and long term. Democratization, Education, Employment, Healthcare, as well as Security, Mobility and Accountability within all vertical contexts are key aspects of today’s most important investigations. To discuss these matters at the highest level, we prepare for a major and memorable edition of the Sustainability Summit in Abu Dhabi on February 24-25, bringing to life the new format of our cardinal event of the year. This also sees us already looking ahead towards 2020 – the year of the World Expo in Dubai, when new goals will be reached as we join efforts worldwide to foster our investigation on sustainable development in all areas.