Singularity University and the Prosperity Global Grand Challenge

Darlene Damm
Sep 2, 2019

Prosperity is one of Singularity University’s global grand challenges. In particular, we believe in creating a world with equitable access to economic and other opportunities for self-fulfillment where all people are free from poverty and able to thrive.According to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, over 700 million people, or 10% of the world’s population, live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 per day. The majority of people experiencing extreme poverty live in Sub-Saharan Africa, although poverty also impacts people in wealthy regions. For example, more than 12 percent of the US population lives in poverty. Poverty has a major impact on many other global grand challenges, including access to food, water, energy, healthcare, learning, and more.Poverty and prosperity are also closely intertwined with the future of work, the future of business, and the future of economies, challenging us to rethink the relationship between how we meet our basic needs and find purpose and meaning in a world of increasing automation.As our Vice Chair of Global Grand Challenges, I tend to think about the prosperity global grand challenge in two different ways—first, we need to understand how exponential technologies can help us increase prosperity over the long term, and second, we simultaneously need to think about how we can help solve our immediate challenges.

How exponential technologies can help us solve the prosperity challenge over the long term

One of SU’s core theses is that exponential technologies, through their price/performance curves, can create a world of abundance. As we digitize industries like food, shelter, energy, learning, and more, technology should dramatically lower the cost of products, goods, and services in these industries. Peter Diamandis, Executive Founder and Director of SU, suggests that we may have a future where everything from food to cars to shelter will eventually all cost $1 per pound if they are digitized. We have already seen this demonetization trend in the learning global grand challenge with the digitization of education, in the health global grand challenge in areas such as DNA sequencing, and in the shelter global grand challenge with such innovations as the ICON New Story 3D printed house.But how do we know if this trend will eventually make basic goods and services truly affordable to everyone? After all, income inequality is rising rapidly in many countries around the world.A few things to keep in mind include making sure that everyone truly has access to these new services—for example, if one does not have access to electricity or the internet, one cannot access these affordable high-quality services. Second, the business and economic models for these new services is important. If an innovator is using new technologies to dramatically improve a product, service, or industry, the financial gains resulting from that improvement need to not only benefit the innovator but also the customer in terms of lower prices and workers in the form of higher wages or stocks and ownership of the company. Companies like ReGen Villages that are creating tech-infused communities with new technologies to generate food, water, and energy onsite allow excess goods to be sold outside the village to pay community fees, mortgages, or possibly even generate life-long incomes for residents. This abundance-based business model shares the benefits of technology with customers, creating more value for everyone—and a more competitive business model.Third, new technology companies that are entering legacy industries should consider how to partner with legacy companies rather than displace them. Currently, we are observing a number of new tech companies that are using technology to create high-quality vegetarian meats as well as cultured meats. These companies are a threat to the existing livestock industries and are on track for displacing them. However, that need not be the case. The tech companies could partner with the legacy companies that may not have access to the technology but have deep knowledge of the market, customers, value chains, and players in the industry. Together, new and legacy companies could form new companies or partnerships. Policymakers or nonprofits might set up think tanks or innovation programs specifically aimed at creating win-win ventures between technology and legacy companies, not just in the meat industry, but in all industries that are likely to be disrupted. This could go a long way in preventing technological unemployment for certain groups of people and economic downturns in cities and regions that depend on legacy industries.

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How exponential technologies can help us solve the prosperity challenge in the short term

In the short term, exponential technologies can also play a role by creating services that provide access to opportunities for people in poverty. Over the last decade, companies like have pioneered solutions for poverty through small digital peer-to-peer loans. Groups such as the World Poverty Clock are using big data collected from international organizations and the predictive power of artificial intelligence to analyze poverty rates in real time at the country level, helping policymakers and leaders make better decisions. The Millenium Villages Project uses satellite data to assess poverty at the village level. And groups such as the ixo Foundation are using blockchain to automatically release project funds when social organizations achieve their impact goals.

Our Faculty are working on the prosperity challenge

At SU, we have a number of Faculty working on the prosperity challenge from different angles. Anju Patwardhan , Nathaniel Calhoun, Dr. Wolfgang Fengler, Dr. Banning Garrett , Elie Losleben, Ignacio Pena, and Mandy Simpon examine how exponential technologies can help level the playing field for those in poverty and promote financial inclusion. Amin Toufani and Elena Toufani explore how exponential technologies are transforming our overall economies, business models, and financial systems. Gary Bolles, Muriel Clausen, and Anne Connely focus on the future of work. Nichol Bradford explores the future of well-being and human thriving in our technological future.

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SU Portfolio Companies and alumni are helping to solve the prosperity challenge

We also have a number of startups working to solve the prosperity challenge. Golden Financial helps families manage their senior family members’ finances. ixo Foundation helps foundations, governments, and social organizations disburse payments to other social organizations once specific success indicators are met. Kashio helps companies manage their payments and collections in Latin America and focuses on serving both the banked and unbanked. Oppticity is building an evidence-based skills map to help people connect to meaningful work in a world of technological change. Project Everest Ventures connects local communities in emerging economies with training and solutions to help solve the UN Sustainable Development Goals.Are you working on solutions to address the prosperity challenge? Join our community and start logging your impact goals in our app. While there, connect and start conversations with others who share your interests. Learn more about steps you can take to help solve the prosperity global grand challenge and get an update on our progress in solving the other GGCs by downloading our free report, “2019 State of the Global Grand Challenges Report.”