The holiday season is not only a time of celebration, but of contemplation of things past, present and future. It's crystal clear that in this age of global pandemic, probable climate catastrophe and digitization and artificial intelligence that the world is at a global inflection point.
What we do now will determine what kind of future we will have, and indeed even whether we will have any future at all. Unless we can unleash our collective energies for good, I fear we are doomed. That's why a recent talent summit in Helsinki was so timely and important.
A mere generation ago, when our lives were less complex, the UC Berkeley economist Michael Goldhaber worried about the effects of the attention economy where for the first time in history, thanks to technology, society went from having too little information to drowning in an ocean of data overload. Today, thanks to Information and Communications Technology (ICT) and AI, we've gone to the next level of data mining and massaging huge stores of information. Today the old saying "knowledge is power" has never been more true or more consequential.
Whether we can rise to the challenge or not is a "known unknown" but a "known known" is that to have an opportunity to do so, a whole-of-society approach is needed. As the noted Spanish philosopher Jose Ortegay Gasset said a century ago: "Nations are made and go on living by having a plan for the future".
More recently, last June, an OECD policy report by Laura Kreiling and Caroline Paunov points the way forward. They argue for 21st century knowledge co-creation, a win-win partnership of joint production of innovation between industry, research, and civil society including government, that can lead to societal transitions to more sustainable, inclusive and resilient futures.
Such partnerships in fact exist and are bearing fruit, but more are needed. Under the European Union there are a number of high budget initiatives that promote co-creation such as the EU Digital Compass 2030 and its Digital Decade program.
As part of these efforts, the 2021 Digital Decade plan is designed to address the critical shortage of ICT professionals in Europe with the goal of ensuring basic digital skills among 80% of the EU population enabling them to add 20 million ICT professionals across the EU by 2030 and at the same time eliminating a vast digital divide between men and women. This is an urgent task since the November, 2021 Digital Economy and Society Index, showed that few EU countries are on track to meet the digital skills goal, while basic digital skills in the others remain woefully inadequate.
A number of private sector companies are also aggressively pursuing the same goals, together with the European Commission, universities and other stakeholders. These include Allianz, Huawei, Nestle and SAP.
And that brings us back to the Helsinki Talent Summit, sponsored by Huawei and which included more than 80 students and entrepreneurs, together with representatives from startups, NGOs, consultancies and universities from around Europe. Solving these future challenges including the digital skills gap, dearth of ICT Talent, equality and sustainability were in focus during the seminar.
I was especially moved by the dynamism and passion of the opening speaker, Finnish MEP Sirpa Pietikainen who set the tone saying that "the future is determined by the people who want to overcome the obstacles and by people who create bold and brave innovations". It reminded me of the quote by the Austrian management visionary, Peter Drucker, who famously said that "the best way to predict the future is to create it".
MEP Pietikainen spoke directly to the female attendees, telling them that "girls and young women, you are needed. The whole world of electronics and digitization is very male-dominated. This one-sided participation doesn't serve everybody's needs".
Some of the attendees had done just that, including Yesika Aguilera, a Forbes 30 Under 30 designee, co-founder at the Tespack & Clocky App, who said: "I am really happy to see companies like Huawei trying to involve and empower startups and the youth to make a positive impact and be part of the solution. The agility and new innovation perspectives of startups and the youth go hand in hand with the experience, capital and know-how of large enterprises."
The MEP's comments were later amplified by serial female entrepreneur Moon Jérin, co-founder at Vlinder and VP of Marketing at Vow Currency, who said that "more women don't get into high tech because the way to the top ranges from challenging to impossible. If they enter a male-dominated industry, most competent women now demand proven track records, not promises. It's imperative that we address this problem by eliminating the toxic culture, not merely the talent imbalance."
Huawei's efforts to lead by example are indicative of how Corporate Social Responsibility is driving change in the 21st century. To address the male-female imbalance and to give women an equal opportunity to succeed, the company created their Women's Developer Program to help women better leverage their talents, and provide opportunities to demonstrate their leadership abilities. Such programs promote an environment where, as Yale engineering professor Dr. Anissa Ramirez once observed, promotes "creativity, the secret sauce to science, technology, engineering and math".
Having a gender-neutral environment is only one goal. Over the past decade, Huawei trained more than 30,000 ICT professionals in Europe through programs like Seeds for the Future scholarships and over the next five years will invest about 35 million euros in cultivating local talent, benefiting a half million people.
One of the "seeds" present in Helsinki was 22-year old Ukrainian student-entrepreneur Denys Kurylov who worked on a Tech4Good project, Ukraine Green, that addresses waste management challenges that support UN Sustainable Development Goals, while helping Ukrainians sort waste in an eco-friendly way.
He said that thanks to that program he "realized that even students can have an impact and are more than capable of creating great projects with the support of tech companies." Inspired by that fact, he and his Ukrainian team are currently preparing for Huawei's global start-up competition with the potential of finding investors. "This program helped me cultivate leadership and cooperation skills with people from diverse backgrounds. I'm now not only more familiar with building business models, but have met many brilliant people. This has allowed me to understand in which field I want to further develop."
The choice of Helsinki in December had nothing to do with Santa Claus, but was a nod to Finland's high level achievements in this area. The Nordic nation ranked first for digital skills human capital among the EU member states in the DESI Index. Its proportion of ICT graduates is almost double the EU average, and almost twice as many Finnish enterprises provide ICT training.
According to billionaire Indian female entrepreneur, Roshi Nadar "to make a difference, you have to have large aspirations." Everyone at the Helsinki Talent Summit seemed to precisely mirror her observation.
|Dr. Harvey Zodin|
After a distinguished career in the US government and American media Dr. Harvey Dzodin is now a Beijing-based freelance columnist for several media outlets. While living in Beijing, he has published over 200 columns with an emphasis on arts, culture and the Belt & Road initiative. He is also a sought-after speaker and advisor in China and abroad.
He currently serves as Nonresident Research Fellow of the think tank Center for China and Globalization and Senior Advisor of Tsinghua University National Image Research Center specializing in city branding. Dr. Dzodin was a political appointee of President Jimmy Carter and served as lawyer to a presidential commission. Upon the nomination of the White House and the US State Department he served at the United Nations Office in Vienna, Austria. He was Director and Vice President of the ABC Television in New York for more than two decades.