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SIGEF 2018: Building a Sustainable, Inclusive Future

by Benjamin Cheah

Sustainability, inclusivity and innovation were the watchwords of the Social Innovation and Global Ethics Forum (SIGEF) 2018. Held for the first time in Asia, the conference was organised by Horyou, which aims to connect a global network of changemakers.

“Innovative technology is a powerful tool to channel private funds, boost the economy, drive sustainable development, and push forward social inclusion to create a better world for all,” Mr Fabrice Filliez, Ambassador from Switzerland, said.

Yonathan Parienti, founder and CEO of Horyou, affirmed this belief in collaboration and technology.

“We can leverage technology… to build a future benefiting all. Creativity and entrepreneurship can be a strength for good,” he said.

Yonathan Parienti, founder and CEO of Horyou

SFC Founder and SIGEF host Mr Hisata Kazuhiro added, “There are so many issues in the world… so many challenges. We should come together to tackle these challenges, share like-minded ideas…and go forward.”

Smart Cities, Sustainability and Inclusion 

SIGEF kicked off with a panel on smart cities and how technology can promote sustainability and inclusion, focusing on leveraging technology to serve human needs.

Mr Andy Sim, Director of Digital Innovation at the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre said, “We need to think beyond ‘smart city’. We’re all going to be smarter, but unfortunately we’re going to be less human.”

Mr Sim emphasised the necessity of looking at the human aspects of cities and how to use technology to build a caring and inclusive society.

“A smart city should not be a concrete jungle,” Mr Damian Tan, Managing Director of Vickers Venture Partners, agreed, arguing that smart cities should meet human needs.

“Smart cities should compete with each other to bring you in. They have to win your heart.”

Mr Thuc Vu, CEO of Omnilabs, discussed the fundamental problem of relying on consumer robotics to revolutionise society and why their impact and presence was limited.

“Most robots out there are way too expensive, and the value that they deliver to the end consumer is way too little,” he said. “There must be a different way to develop these robots with specific targets in mind to improve the quality of life for the end consumer.”

Taking the big picture approach, Mr Jan Ordus, Associate Professor at ESSEC Asia-Pacific, outlined the difficulties of companies and countries face in creating smart city initiatives.

Companies tend to work in silos, he said, and should find a way to look beyond the boundaries of their own work. Countries in turn face the digital divide, in which there is inequal access to technology in society.

“If technology is not seamlessly integrated in daily life… some people would not benefit,” Mr Ordus said.

During the panel discussion, the panellists identified issues hindering the creation of a smart city, among which is timeframe.

“The problem is that governments are voted for 8 years, 4 years, and to build a smart city, you need… 25 years of planning,” Mr Tan said. Long-term projects ran the risk of being cancelled following changes in government.

“Smart cities need an investment from the government, in a vision that would be sustainable for a long time. That’s very hard to do,” he added.

Social Inclusion through Fintech and Blockchain

Speaking in Japanese, Mr Hisata delivered a presentation on the promise of blockchain platforms and how it can revolutionise financial technology, specifically in the area of cryptocurrency.

“In the past, data was managed centrally. Blockchain [technology] will enable decentralised data management, making it safer and better,” Mr Hisata said.

SFC Founder and SIGEF host Mr Hisata Kazuhiro

He identified three possible use cases of cryptocurrency and blockchain-based fintech: helping the unbanked gain access to financial services through handphone-based cryptocurrency platforms; remitting money across borders faster and more cheaply than traditional remittance services; and facilitating micro-donations and micropayments.

Emphasising the conference’s theme of social inclusion, Mr Parienti highlighted the difficulties entrepreneurs face in obtaining funding, and discussed how his company’s cryptocurrency, HoryouToken, will enhance social inclusivity.

Between 0.01% to 0.1% of the value of transactions on the HoryouToken platform will be transferred to a cause of the user’s choice. This, Mr Parienti said, would allow users to become a force for good by supporting causes hosted on the platform. Called Proof of Impact, the goal is to create links between people.

“Our vision [is that] everyone will be a force for good,” Mr Parienti said.

Panellists discussed the role speculation and greed played in the cryptocurrency space, with speculators and investors buying into cryptocurrencies to gain large profits instead of contributing to society.

Mr Kenneth Bok, Director of blocks, said, “Speculation is human nature. But it’s not a good thing or a bad thing. Speculation accelerates ideas to the forefront.”

He pointed out that speculation brought Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies to the forefront of public consciousness.

Mr Parienti took a different approach, emphasising concrete use cases. The value of a cryptocurrency lies in its potential applications, he said, and with it the potential for mainstream adoption.

The panellists also highlighted the need for government regulations, clear guidelines, and public education. Despite these issues, the panellists remained optimistic on the future applications of blockchain in fintech.

“New technology and services will appear in the future. The strengths of current and new services should be improved. Depending on how we use them, many applications are possible,” Mr Hisata affirmed.

The Future of Renewable Energy

The conference closed with a lively discussion on the future of renewable energy.

The panel agreed on the necessity to accelerate adoption of renewable energy. Noting that renewable energy was now cost-competitive with fossil fuels, the panellists claimed that the renewables sector is steadily growing and is projected to overtake fossil fuels within 25 years. They also claimed that renewable energy is quicker, cleaner and cheaper than traditional energy sources. The main point of divergence lay in how far renewable energy could go.

Mr Assaad Razzouk, Chairman and CEO of Sindicatum Renewable Energy, spoke in apocalyptic terms, claiming the world must switch to renewables or “we are all going to die”. He argued that renewables were superior to fossil fuels in many applications, including cars and short-haul flights.

In contrast, Mr Vincent Bakker, CFO of Positive Energy Ltd., stated that petroleum remained a “convenient” source of energy for fields such as aviation. He also argued that renewable energy facilities such as solar panels were more useful for rural areas without access to the main power grid, saying that “some power is better than no power”, and pointed out that renewable energy facilities would occupy a great deal of space in urban areas.

Panelists touted blockchain technology as a means of driving adoption of renewables. Mr Rowan Logie presented the Swytch blockchain platform, designed to incentivise all stakeholders, including individuals, corporations and governments, to shift towards greater adoption of renewables by awarding tokens to stakeholders who support sustainability through their actions.

In addition, blockchain platforms could be used to help small and medium enterprises to expedite the adoption of renewables, and to build a decentralised power grid covering large and small customers and suppliers spread out over hundreds of kilometres.

“Blockchain represents a new kind of capitalism that can revolutionise the sector,” Mr Logie affirmed.

Towards a Sustainable and Inclusive Future

Other panels in the conference covered a wide variety of topics focused on building sustainable, inclusive futures. These included the growing use of impact investment to drive pro-social outcomes, how medical innovations could disrupt the existing healthcare sector to provide better quality of life to all people, assessing corporate and government actions to meet the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and advocating gender equality and diversity in the workplace.

In his closing remarks, Mr Parienti thanked the speakers and exhorted the participants to continue pursuing their passions and projects to build a more inclusive future.

“We are at a time when we need to bring some light,” Mr Parienti said. “We are dancing close to the precipice, but humanity has never shown [an] inability to sustain and to find the way to continue its journey on this planet.”