WEF Technology Pioneers: Initiating global change

A logo of the World Economic Forum is seen on the third day of the Forum's annual meeting on 19 January, 2017 in Davos. (Fabrice Coffrini / AFP Photo)

The impact new technologies have when it comes to initiating change in the world has never been more apparent than during the last two decades. Ever since the advent of Web 2.0 in the early 2000s, technology has advanced rapidly. Within that time span new technologies have revolutionised all aspects of our lives. People are now more connected, work has become a lot easier and transactions have become seamless.

As the world continuously shifts because of these new developments in technology, the World Economic Forum (WEF) continues to play an important role in documenting and encouraging global change. Best known for its annual meeting in Davos, the WEF is an international body that is committed to improving the state of the world by engaging various leaders in society.

In 2000, the WEF launched its Technology Pioneers community, a global community of startups and growth-stage companies with the potential to significantly impact business and society through the design, development and deployment of new technologies.

Every year, the Technology Pioneers community recognises around 30 early-stage companies and incorporates them into the WEF’s initiatives, activities and events. Previous companies that have been selected to be in this prestigious community include Mozilla, Airbnb, Google and Spotify among others.

Being recognised and selected by the community is no easy feat. Potential Technology Pioneers are evaluated against three criteria. Firstly, innovation. The company needs to be truly innovative in the development of new technologies. Secondly, the company needs to have the potential to make substantial long-term impact on society. Finally, Technology Pioneers need to have the visionary leadership necessary to achieve success.

Source: World Economic Forum

2018 Technology Pioneers

This year, the community has recognised 61 companies from across the globe. The 2018 list of companies inducted as Technology Pioneers is the most diverse selection yet. Of all the companies recognised for their potential in changing the world, a majority come from outside the United States. In fact, many of these companies hail from emerging markets such as Indonesia, India, Kenya and Brazil, debunking the notion that the United States is the epicentre of technology-based innovation.

This year’s Technology Pioneers are from different industries, ranging from fintech to manufacturing. Despite that, they all share a common vision, a strong desire to change the world.

“Technology and start-ups are not just about computer software, consumer apps and social networks,” said Fulvia Montresor, Head of Technology Pioneers at the WEF. The 2018 Technology Pioneers reflect this statement perfectly. With the global landscape changing rapidly over the past decade, society now faces a new set of challenges. Many of the 2018 Technology Pioneers are involved in taking on these complex societal challenges.

“Technology Pioneers 2018 are tackling complex challenges such as environmental sustainability, efficient energy use and access to healthcare,” explained Montresor.

A prime example of this is Agrosmart from Brazil. Agrosmart aims to improve productivity and boost production in agriculture by using data via a platform which connects farmers to their crops. ME SOLshare from Bangladesh democratizes energy by developing peer-to-peer microgrids. However, not all Technology Pioneers have to be developing complex, earth-shattering applications using cutting-edge technologies. For instance, OnlinePajak from Indonesia – the only Southeast Asian company on this year’s Technology Pioneers list – has developed an app that simplifies corporate tax collection. In 2016, the app collected US$202.4 million in tax from 300,000 corporate taxpayers. Sometimes, developing something simple can do the trick too. The technology deployed may not be as revolutionary as the previous two companies’, but its impact on society is just as big.

The newly selected Technology Pioneers will meet at the WEF Annual Meeting of the New Champions 2018 in Tianjin, China. Some of them will also participate in the WEF Annual Meeting 2019 in Davos, Switzerland. As leaders of innovation, they will be supported by the Forum’s new Centre of Innovation and Entrepreneurship and contribute to fostering the innovation ecosystem and delivering critical mass to solve global challenges.

The WEF Technology Pioneers would stand to benefit from the platform provided to them. It will introduce their companies to leaders from various sectors from all over the world, which would be instrumental in developing them further.

“The next step is to help these Pioneers bring their solutions to complex world-critical problems to global markets and to take action for the public good,” said Cheryl Martin, Head of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Member of the Managing Board at the WEF.

As the world ushers in Industry 4.0, technology will continue to play a large role in all our lives. The ubiquity of technology today will probably see companies mushrooming across the globe, trying to cash in on the many opportunities available. While this may be the case, it is refreshing to know that the WEF Technology Pioneers initiative would continue to shine like a beacon of hope for mankind; reinforcing the belief that startups are not only preoccupied with wanting to become unicorns but that they also have the desire to bring about positive change in our world.