As countries work towards the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the importance of innovation as a leading driver is growing. Systematically trying out new ideas to create value, govern, and organize society to the benefit of all is essential to find out what works and what does not. These ideas are especially important to address potential challenges and trade-offs, such as the need to reduce poverty while protecting the environment and sustainably using valuable resources.
Innovation Matters is a new UNECE podcast series that explores how innovation, or experimentation with ideas to create value, is changing our world and could drive progress towards the SDGs in the UNECE region and beyond. The series is launched today as countries convene for the 15th session of the Committee on Innovation, Competitiveness and Public-Private Partnerships.
Innovation is transforming our societies swiftly and affecting a range of sectors and segments of society. Some foresee within the near future a radically different world where large swathes of economic activity have been automated, where autonomous, electric vehicles have made our cars obsolete, and where physical barriers to work have almost disappeared. These possibilities create enormous opportunities, but also pose challenges, especially for UNECE member states with economies in transition. People are increasingly worried about rising inequality, the decline of steady employment and perhaps even most low- and medium-skilled jobs, and concentration of power and influence among so-called tech giants. As the COVID-19 pandemic has alerted us to risks ahead and constrained the already limited financial resources that many UNECE countries have, countries face, now more than before, the imperative to promote innovation and to do so efficiently.
This podcast series aims to help policymakers and other stakeholders better understand how innovation is transforming our world and what potential opportunities and challenges lie ahead. The episodes engage leading experts on a range of different topics related to innovation.
Explore the “platform economy” in episode 1
Ensuring sustainable development requires balancing several potential trade-offs. One of these is between the need for economic growth and poverty reduction on the one hand, and environmental sustainability on the other. SDG 12 on sustainable production and consumption embodies the imperative to move towards a circular economy and offers an avenue to foster synergies between environmental and economic policy objectives.
The platform economy could be one solution, as highlighted by a recent UNECE policy brief on using platforms to enable sharing and progress towards the circular economy, which shows how sharing, renting, and digitizing – rather than owning – a wide range of physical assets is becoming easier. Digital platforms can aggregate supply and demand, instil trust, and guarantee transactions. These platforms can open convenient options to access what we need when we need it - from power drills to cars. As the expert guest in the first episode of Innovation Matters, Professor Michael Munger of Duke University, points out, we may be witnessing the beginning of a development that will fundamentally transform how we consume, produce, and interact.
Making the most out of these opportunities will not be automatic or easy. For example, creating opportunities for jobs and entrepreneurship on the production side will require paying extra attention to building the skills and institutions that enable and promote innovation. Regulatory barriers and the need for platforms to assemble a critical mass of supply and demand to offer services that can replace ownership raise many questions. Issues could arise around data privacy, monopolies, and transparency that existing approaches cannot address properly without substantial, negative trade-offs. Social safety nets need to adapt to a world with increasing inequality, with rising job insecurity.
These issues are at the centre of the first episode of Innovation Matters. Professor Munger is one of the most distinguished experts in the area. Based on his book “Tomorrow 3.0”, he lays out the enormous potential of platforms to bring together potential supply and demand in manifold ways, making it possible for people to share and exchange in ways that were unthinkable just two decades ago.