* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Every year the Global Opportunity Report turns five pressing systemic risks into 15 positive opportunities that work towards delivering on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). From using technology to track conflict-free natural resources, to providing educational tools to children in warzones, all opportunities have been analysed and tested in a global survey by 5,500 public and private sector leaders. The results reveal strategic insight on where particular markets can be expected to mature, and who will take the lead in taking action on these opportunities. Released today, these five new market trends emerge from the survey reveal how businesses have the potential to shake things up in order to create a more sustainable and equal future.
1. Digital technologies unlock complex markets
Seven bloody years is the average length of a civil conflict. And worldwide, 50 percent of children who are out of school are living in these war-torn zones. In order to deliver on the fourth SDG – ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning – we need to enter these high-risk places and tackle complex markets. Luckily, business leaders told us that they are ready to play a role here by delivering digital learning to children trapped in conflict zones.
It is an opportunity that is rated second highest on this year’s hit list. This means leaders believe that it will deliver positive impact, and more importantly, that we actually have the capacity to pursue it.
The report shows that the business world is ready to develop online educational products, and in doing so the world can come a step closer to fulfilling the basic human right of education for all, while also granting children a sense of normality, familiar routine and hope for the future.
Online learning products and services in this opportunity space come in a variety of forms. Online programs enabling students to access lectures; well-stocked libraries via a smartphone; and child-centered educational games can all be applied in conflict zones. These solutions are a result of innovative thinking: studies show games can be as effective as traditional learning tools in delivering educational outcomes, and games can also provide immediate feedback to children on their results through video or visual elements. But most of all, this can be a fun way to learn in difficult times.
By 2020, global spending on education is expected to double to 8 trillion USD. Learning through mobile devices may make up as much as 70 billion USD of this market through specialised product offerings.
Regionally, respondents in India rate this as the top opportunity, while leaders in China and Europe are more skeptical, ranking this opportunity 10th and 11th, respectively. Looking at the opportunity through a gender lens, men show greater support for this opportunity than women.
2. Markets are under our feet
We treat our soils like dirt. Globally, 40 percent of soil used for agriculture is either degraded or seriously degraded; meaning 70 percent of top soils – the layer where plants grow – is gone. This year’s most promising opportunity in the eyes of the leaders in addressing this risk is the use of microbes in agriculture.
While that might not sound particularly flashy, bacteria and fungi present an opportunity to reduce the need for chemical fertiliser and to rejuvenate tired soils by increasing the content of plant-available nutrients. To put it simply, this is “good” bacteria, and just as good bacteria promotes human health and well-being, bacteria and fungi enhance plant vigour and productivity making them fighting fit, and are thus a rapidly developing part of agricultural biotechnology.
Microbial products come in different forms and are designed to foster healthy soils that are rich in plant-available nutrients. The market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.14 percent from 2016 to 2021, to reach 5.07 billion USD by 2021.
One of the main drivers of this market for agriculture is the increasing global food demand. According to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), global food production must increase by 70 percent between now and 2050 in order to feed the mouths of the world’s growing population.
From the survey results we can see leaders believe this market will mature the fastest in Europe, and they have a strong belief in the economic and technological capacity which can push this market forward.
3. Markets to secure vital infrastructure
We are entering an era of the Internet of Everything. In this world, combatting cyber-attacks is almost an impossible task, but that also means it can be turned into an attractive market opportunity. Most often, you are not attacked by a person but rather by a thinking machine. But machines can fight back, and this is opening an opportunity space that can prevent or counter attacks using artificial intelligence (AI).
Products in this opportunity space are systems and software capable of acting intelligently and doing things normally done by people. These include immune system appliances that monitor a network’s data and provide instant notification of an attack by leveraging machine-learning algorithms, as well as other products that are able to predict future attacks.
In 2015, the global market for AI was worth 126.24 billion USD and is projected to reach a value of 3,061 billion USD by the end of 2024, and is anticipated to exhibit an impressive 36.1 percent CAGR in the same period. Several factors are driving the demand for AI-based cyber security products. The ubiquity of the Internet and the constant need for employees to be online is contributing to the increased vulnerability to cyber-attacks, as is the fact that ever-more physical items are connected to the Internet of Things. Furthermore, AI-based security solutions are also able to make up for the shortage of cyber security professionals.
4. Tech disrupt inequality
Tech has done little to make the world a more equal place. Now Blockchain is promising to change this, by allowing value to be transferred without an intermediary such as a bank, and by granting people control over their own digital identity.
Simply put, blockchain is an open source digital ledger that acts like an accounting book and tracks all transactions. Everyone owns it but no one individual can make changes, which makes it almost completely tamper-proof. Blockchain allows people to prove their identity, enabling them to record transactions, and therefore enter the global economy.
Relatively new to the world, blockchain is an immature opportunity space, with means that there are many competing versions of a blockchain future. While it is no longer just a theory, it is still a long way from being adopted across the board. Predictions point to mainstream uptake in 2025, but the way things are going, it may arrive much faster.
Blockchain applications include payments, exchanges, smart contracts, and digital identity. Applications for remittances are also emerging and promising to significantly decrease their cost, which is currently the second-largest source of external financial flows to developing countries.
Other blockchain-based potential products in this opportunity space are peer-to-peer lending platforms and peer-to-peer insurance platforms. The blockchain technology market is estimated to grow from 210.2 million USD in 2016 to 2,312.5 million USD by 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 61.5 percent.
While leaders in the survey do not perceive that the capacity is readily available to pursue this opportunity, those in Sub Saharan Africa seem ready for blockchain to support financial inclusion, as leaders here rate it significantly higher than those we asked anywhere else in the world.
5. Innovating informal housing
Improving living conditions in slums by focusing on upgrading housing has the potential to transform these informal communities into healthy and safe neighborhoods, while spurring innovation in architecture, design, and engineering markets.
This is an untapped market for business to enter, and the survey shows that business do not see a strong case in this market compared to other opportunities in the Global Opportunity Report. Hence, this is a market for brave and innovative frontrunners to develop, thereby helping the world to deliver on a number of the SDGs, such as those on sustainable urban communities, on inequality and on poverty.
Slum residents are innovative and entrepreneurial by necessity, having created homes and infrastructure from seemingly impermanent materials and scarce resources. Hence, when developing and deploying solutions for housing in slums, there is an opportunity for mutual learning and innovation rather than a one-way exchange of products. This process of mutual listening and learning has the potential to foster innovative solutions relevant to the global market, combining resilience and affordability – a winning formula in any market.
Market reports on the slum housing market are virtually non-existent. However, with 828 million people around the world residing in informal settlements, the number of potential consumers is clear. Furthermore, with the urban population set to double to around 6.4 billion people by 2050 and housing supplies nowhere near meeting the growing demand – change is needed.