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What’s Next for the Future of Work?

A version of this post also appeared in the Economist Intelligence Unit.

Around the world, ambitious, creative thinkers and doers are expanding the livelihood opportunities for populations that had been marginalised from the economic opportunities around them. Mobile technologies are giving smallholder farmers and fishermen real-time access to critical market information. New forms of self-organisation are empowering more stable livelihoods through cooperative insurance, as well as credit and savings programs for millions of informal workers. These self-employed workers are the heart of many local markets in the cities of the developing world.

Not only is technology changing the types of jobs around the globe, but it is also changing how people connect to jobs and to work.

Not only is technology changing the types of jobs around the globe, but it is also changing how people connect to jobs and to work. For example, mobile technology is spurring demand for mobile app developers; 3D printing is shaking up manufacturing and the maker movement; and broadband connectivity is making digital work possible in remote locations. But while technology-induced job churn is nothing new, the current wave is creating new kinds of markets for work and new ways to connect. Uber, TaskRabbit, and ODesk are facilitating new kinds of work relationships, and platforms such as Airbnb, Spinlister and Zipcar, are facilitating the sharing economy.

But all of this innovation and creativity may not be sufficient to address the daunting challenges facing poor and vulnerable populations as they struggle to secure their livelihoods. In Africa and Asia, societies are experiencing a dramatic increase in numbers of young people—the “youth bulge.” Developing world economies are not creating employment opportunities fast enough to accommodate this new generation. Developed economies, on the other hand, are experiencing a demographic bulge at the other end of the life cycle, with retirees exiting the workforce and relying on various forms of government and societal support. The ‘Great Recession’ has also left millions facing long-term unemployment that permanently disrupts careers, stifles skill development, and robs society of the contributions of talented workers at the peak of their productivity.

This August, The Rockefeller Foundation, in partnership with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and the Economist Intelligence Unit, will convene thought leaders from corporations, government, universities and civil society. They will envision new strategies for securing the livelihoods of the world’s poor and vulnerable populations in the face of daunting challenges and remarkable opportunities being unleashed by economic, social, environmental, and technological change.

Among the issues to be debated are:

  • The important role of employers and employer practices in reshaping livelihood opportunities for marginalised populations
  • How demographics, both ageing in developed markets and the youth bulge in developing countries, are changing the shape of the challenge and the mix of resources and talents for securing livelihoods
  • The unpredictability of how technology will change livelihoods in coming decades. Analysts point to both possibilities: that tech will destroy jobs but also open new fields. We need to design livelihood support systems that can adapt quickly given the uncertain trajectory.

The insights and action of the global public will be essential to tackle the problem, to come up with a broad range of realistic and sustainable alternatives to the way we work and live.

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