What is the Fourth Industrial Revolution?

Fourth Industrial Revolution at World Economic Forum

The World Economic Forum (WEF)’s 2016 topic earlier this year was Industry 4.0.  Like the three previous, the global impact of the fourth industrial revolution has potential to raise income levels and improve qualities of life, though this time for populations globally. This article will first discuss these industrial revolutions.  Then it will address how nonprofits like Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU) and ethical fashion companies like Mazuri Designs are impacted by the changes we are seeing.

Previous Industrial Revolutions

The first industrial revolution did just that - it revolutionized industry for the first time by introducing factories. It began in what's known at the islands comprising Great Britain and later spread to other areas of the world. This era also brought efficiencies of speed and scale that increased production and lowered costs.

The next industrial revolution had a major effect on transportation systems, bringing railways, roads and modern-day ships to move goods for sale.

The most recent revolution was about technology, the digital-age, data, the internet.

Internet of Things Big Data

The industrial revolutions that have so far impacted our lives spread slowly. Entire areas of the world had remained untouched. In 1995 1% of the world had an internet connection. As of 2016 40% did and with the costs of technology and internet access dropping its becoming more accessible to the world's poor, bringing millions more online and connected leveling playing fields in ways previously unseen in history.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

WEF Founder Professor Klaus Schwab chose the concept of a fourth industrial revolution for this year’s meeting stating “It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

Where 3.0 was concerned with producing products at the lowest prices, 4.0 is about machine self-awareness and self-productiveness, providing real time data on factory statuses’ and near-zero downtime efficiencies.

Work Environments

Operating teams are changing, as technology is allowing for more and more freelancing and telecommuting. Distance workers today account for a growing percentage of the workforce, and is a trend that will continue for decades to come. Global platforms and business applications now make it easy to track progress and maintain accountability.

According to a Jan 2015 global research study on digital, social and mobile use, 42% of the world’s population has internet access, an increase of 21% over 2014. Access to education, jobs, customers, and goods increases around the globe annually, allowing formerly isolated communities to participate and expand their worlds.

As our lives become focused on data collection and optimal efficiencies, a way to prepare for the shift in business is to be good at those qualities that make us uniquely human like inspiration, belonging, and creativity. In this way we can reinforce and highlight essential sources of the value created by and within communities that is often completely overlooked in economic measurement.

The Impact on Nonprofits and Global Artisan Groups

Industrial revolutions impact more than the ways things are made and people's consumption of them, social and cultural landscapes are also impacted. And social is of increasing importance to the up and coming generations who use Facebook, WhatsApp, and Pinterest, among other apps, to shop for goods once only found in brick and mortar stores, and to form communities online with shared interests regardless of where they live.

In 2012 GUIU began with our Executive Director in Uganda where the programs are implemented, and our Deputy Director living in Norway.  Our team has experienced growth both locally and internationally.  Using WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, Asana and email to collaborate.

Girl Up educates and empower adolescent girls through trainings on sexual and reproductive health and rights, girls education, financial independence, goal setting, and leadership, able to benefit from a diverse roster of talent that's not limited by boundaries.

Mazuri Designs fair trade fashion and Girl Up Uganda girls leadership

And our engagement with international donors benefits from their being able to follow us digitally, providing them regular updates on our programs and lives impacted, connecting with them emotionally in a way that printed quarterly newsletters could not.

Mazuri Designs was founded by GUIU from requests to learn a skill they could earn money from.  Only through technology is Mazuri able to exist.  Our head seamstress and other tailors work out of their Kampala workshop.  Online sales and marketing is handled by a volunteer in the US.  We communicate, share updates, get photos, determine production schedules, pricing, etc all via technology. It’s challenging, but possible.

Because of the internet our tailors have access to opportunities previously unavailable. They can be discovered by people wanting to volunteer their skills to help Mazuri build their business, and products can be sold to an online market who has disposable income to buy fashion for fun, and interest in supporting an organization that fairly pays its workers. Mazuri customers are allowed the ability to join a movement that thinks of people AND profit.  They also get exposure to a different culture and interact with the brand in authentic and uniquely human ways.  

mazuri seamstress workshop uganda

A quick Google search shows shops selling products from impoverished communities around the world, managed by web- and marketing-savvy folks bringing artisan groups and their cultures’ stories and products to the connected marketplace.  Technology creates a playing field for those previously excluded.

Changing Social Landscapes

Industrial revolutions don’t just change the ways things are made and how we consume them, they change social landscapes. A shift is happening towards more shared (ex. Lyft) and more conscious (ex. B Corps) exchanges.  With the Bangladesh clothes manufacturing factory tragedy inspiring the hashtag #whomadeyourclothes as an example, we are living through a mindfulness evolution made possible by the ubiquity of social media and people’s individual voices being heard.

For organizations like Girl Up Initiative Uganda and Mazuri Designs, working cross culturally, across time zones, and remotely would once have been a collection of almost insurmountable obstacles.  Now it’s becoming more the norm. 

Where That Leaves Us

With GUIU and Mazuri we are, industrial revolution-wise, at the beginning of the third. Internet connections are, well, sometimes complicated. Seamstresses may not know how to use computers or email to communicate.

Working in a community, culture, and economy with potentially less widely-advanced knowledge or access to online connectivity, there are many opportunities for efficiencies to develop over time. As industry continues to advance into this fourth stage, we are all caught up in its wake that pushes us forward with it.