The unprecedented rapid growth of technology in the last decade has not escaped the attention of the spectrum of global stakeholders, especially policy and decision makers. This development arouses many questions: How to reframe the educational system to teach young children about artificial intelligence? How to establish effectively smart cities? How to adapt to the new industrial era being dubbed “Industry 4.0”? These were among the main questions discussed at the European Public Policy Conference this past March in Madrid, under the specific theme “Syncing Societies”. As an attendee and presenter at the conference, I, Jean de Dieu Cirhigiri, spoke on a mobile application that I am currently introducing in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which connects rural farmers and cities households by creating affordable fresh food markets, alleviating Congolese youth unemployment in the process.
After the formal launch made by the former President of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), Mr. António Da Cruz, a panel of professionals, from both inside and outside the European Union (EU), discussed the initiatives, progress, challenges, and sustainability of existing smart city models. Although the steps towards smart cities are relatively new, initiatives have been developed across the globe, but are facing strong challenges that hinder effective implementation. Ayona Dutta, an activist in gender and smart cities, illustrated this with an example of a program aimed toward controlling violence abuse via camera devices in India, which did not produce positive feedback, despite its convincing design.
Drawing from an interdisciplinary approach, the sessions also included a discussion on the intersections of technology and society from different CEOs and businesspeople in the global technology industry. Among them, Georgios Griodoriadis, the founder and CEO of Baresquare, a digital analytics company, introduced the discussion on the linkages between policy-making and current technology, including artificial intelligence. This discussion led to triggering questions, such as: Is tech reinforcing inequalities? Can tech align with human goals? Is tech an existential threat to humanity? The efforts of finding answers to these essential questions fueled the panelists and the curiosity of public policy students.
As part of the Youth Forward Congo1, an organization that I co-founded, I also introduced a mobile app called Vijana, which can take steps towards reducing inequalities of rural farmers and urban households and curbing youth unemployment in my hometown of Bukavu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “Vijana” in the Swahili language refers to youth, and the idea behind the app is for the youth to directly contribute to the community. The app seeks to create the market for rural farmers that have been suffering for decades from a deficiency in added value of their products, and, at the same time, to facilitate access to affordable and healthy foods for urban households. Additionally, the project will reduce unemployment of the Congolese youth in two ways: the performance of research and administrative jobs, and the creation of incentives for them to participate in the production, as well as distribution, phases.
A new industrial revolution is no longer the future; it is already here. It is crucial for policymakers to understand the essence of this transformation and how to positively approach it. Although much remains to be done, this conference helped me in understanding the urgency of action and achieving a broader perspective. Additionally, I am certainly hopeful that the Vijana mobile app will have the European Public Policy Conference as an important part of its origin. I would also strongly recommend to my readers to participate in conferences, workshops, and other programs that create an environment of speaking with and listening to others, as part of the learning process and developing a meaningful network.