Creating the inclusive economy of the future starts today

Reflections from the 2019 International Economic Forum of the Americas

Written by: Anjum Sultana

Anjum Sultana was a Delegate for the 2019 G7 Youth Summit in Paris, France representing Canada. She focused her policy contributions looking at how technology could address inequality, not fuel it. Follow her on Twitter at @AnjumSultana

This past week, I had the opportunity to attend the 2019 International Economic Forum of the Americas in Toronto courtesy of Young Diplomats of Canada, a leading youth-led national, non-partisan, non-profit organization that aims to make global diplomacy as well as global multilateral decision making processes more inclusive of youth voices and perspectives.

As a Masters of Public Health graduate who has lived and worked internationally, I have seen first-hand how critical these decision making spaces are in impacting the social determinants of health and well being. These types of international forums are essential to shaping the global discourse which in turn influence the types of policies, programs and practices societies implement. They have important effects on the environments and conditions in which people are born, live, learn, work, play, worship and age

I was interested in participating because I was interested in seeing how this community of stakeholders view some of the emerging issues challenging our society — namely climate change and digital innovations.

Driving the Global Energy Transition

Featuring moderator Shawn McCarthy (The Globe and Mail) and panelists Santiago Seage (Atlantic Yield), Mary Powell (Green Mountain Power), Manuel Pulgar-Vidal (WWF International) and Paul Browning (Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas).

One of the panels, titled ‘Driving the Global Energy Transition’ focused on how major economies around the world, and specifically in the Americas, could close energy gaps, promote energy efficiencies and provide access to clean, reliable and affordable energy for all. A clean energy transition sounds good in theory but the actual work needed to do that is not without its challenges. One of the clear challenges heard was the lack of investments and capacity when it came to storage solutions. We know how to make clean energy, and we know how to transport it, but how do we ensure energy for the long-term? A clear example that illustrates this is long-haul trucking. Our current technology does not make it possible to rely completely on clean energy for those types of routes — so we need to invest in the research and development now to make that a reality, build our capacity and streamline scaling up solutions.

However, many panelists also talked about the fact that corporations that are heavily invested in the oil and gas sector are recognizing that there will be a definite end to fossil fuel use, and are investing right now in clean energy solutions. They are making major investments now to benefit greatly down the road. Many made the point — if there are doing that now — investing in the global clean energy transition, so can we.

Another point that stuck out was the need to have resilient and reliable energy grids. The fact of the matter is — as we are bending back and reducing pollution, our planet will still experience extreme weather situations. We need to invest in climate adaption as well.

Strategies for a Digital Resilient World

Featuring moderator Tyson Johnson (CyberNB) and panelists Jamie Ellerston (Everbridge), Jerry Dixon (CrowdStrike), Tom Gann (McAfee), Kris Lovejoy (EY), Tom Goodman (Raytheon).

Another panel that struck me with its implications for the future was the one titled ‘Strategies for a Resilient Digital World’. It’s major focus was on the threat of cyberattacks — how can businesses and other entities with these digital threats that are hard to anticipate and even harder to cope with? One of the panelists really highlighted the sometimes impossible challenge of the current state and direction of digital technologies. Kris Loveyjoy, the Global Cybersecurity Leader at EY shared that technologies such as an Internet of Things (IoT) device, such as a connected security system, thermostat, electronic appliances and more, are like a three-layered cake.

The first layer is the chip itself — it’s typically made with a strong focus on performance at the lowest cost. Security isn’t its biggest priority. The second layer is the function itself — there is a focus again on best performance for the lowest cost. The final layer is the digital application itself that might be linked with an app that the consumer can directly control — there is now perhaps a focus on security but because security was not considered from the beginning, the device can become more easily compromised.

Another area that we need to become more adept at addressing threats is throughout an organization’s supply chain. In the past, other entities like vendors, were trusted partners who were not perceived and predicted to be digital threats but now those very vendors are being used as a gateway into organizations. That was a growing concern for attendees — how do we protect ourselves when the very threat can come from a trusted partner, unbeknownst to them.

Overall, I had an incredible time connecting with policy professionals, economists and futurists committed to creating a more fair world. It will be interesting to see how discussions from this conference will go on to inform policies in nations and jurisdictions across the Americas. I was surprised by the limited discussion I saw dedicated to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which have been a major topic of discussion in many of the other international forums I’ve participated in the past year or so.

Another key theme that was echoed again and again, whether it be related to climate change or digital technology, global investments in upstream solutions today will pay dividends down the line.

As Canadians go to the ballot box on October 21st, I hope this type of long-term thinking will filter into our discourse during election time and beyond!