Using technology to address development and resource challenges

Dr. Herbert Heitmann, executive vice president of external communications for Royal Dutch Shell, discusses how development needs to utilize technology to effect greater results.

Today, one in eight people on the planet are undernourished.780 million people around the world lack access to clean water – that’s more than 2.5 times the population of the United States, and our current energy consumption rate of 13 trillion thermal watts, is straining the environment and depleting our energy resources. In a world of 7 billion, our resource scarcity has already reached unprecedented levels.

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The mPowering Action Mobile Recording Studio where performing artists will be able to record musical content for mPowering Action. Photo credit: Jessica Jennings

By 2025 the world population will surpass 8 billion, and we are projected to reach 9 billion by 2050. The possibility that our growing population soon might face even more significant challenges on every day resources — food to nourish, water to drink and energy to sustain industry — is simply not acceptable.

As global citizens, we must think about how individual actions can help preserve our world today and for future generations. We have long relied on traditional aid and development models, which have provided valuable assistance in the past but can be challenging when facing the demands of an ever-modernizing world. Many programs lack a comprehensive approach to providing aid and end up falling short in their implementation.

In a technologically dependent world, where  nearly three quarters of the world has access to a cell phone, the global development community must follow this trend by turning to more technologically-driven platforms for development aid. Mobile technology can help everyone not only forge global relationships and break down barriers, but it also gives people around the world a voice to address the issues that affect their lives on a daily basis and empower people to broadcast it.

But, in a world where news and information can be delivered in 140 characters or less, how do you break through and incentivize people to engage in these types of global change programs? People may have the technological resources to create and foster change, but they’ve never had the incentives to take these ideas and turn them into actionable solutions on pressing development issues – until now.

In February, we helped launch mPowering Action — the first-ever mobile platform that provides information and resources to people under 25 in every corner of the world through the palm of their hands, their TVs and their computers, utilizing the power of free exclusive content by some of the biggest Grammy award winning names in music as incentives for engagement.


 Musicians Justin Timberlake and Timbaland join mPowering Action, a global mobile youth movement at Grammy Week launch, featuring performances by Timbaland and Avicii at The Conga Room at L.A. Live on February 8, 2013 in Los Angeles, California. Photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images.

For the first time in history, mobile technology and the universal power of music will help facilitate change to young people and their communities, in an easily accessible and measurable way.  Youth who download the app and take action by voicing their concerns about the biggest resource challenges facing their communities and their lives. For instance, a 14-year-old girl in India will be able to listen to exclusive content by one of her favorite artists while finding out where she can obtain a cookstove to provide clean cooking solutions to her family. Similarly, after downloading a song, a 16-year-old boy in Brazil will be able to access information about job training seminars in his local community, and the 11-year-old AIDS victim in Nigeria will be able to know where a HIV/AIDS clinic is located in his region.

Through engaging with the app and voicing the issues that matter most to them, users will be informing partners where they live, the issues that matter most to their lives and whether they actually use the information and resources provided to them. So often in development, money is spent but full global impact is difficult to measure; however, the mPowering Action platform will allow end-users to voice exactly what they need. For us at Shell, we are excited by the ability to collect data to better inform us of the impacts of our socially responsible programs, such as the Clean Cookstove Alliance, and our global resource contributions.


Representatives from Shell, the entertainment industry and the United Nations Foundation celebrate mPowering Action at a Grammy-week launch party; Dr. Herbert Heitmann (Center) displays a Cookstove from the Clean Cookstove Alliance. Photo credit: Jason Merritt/Getty Images for Tribal Brands

A population of 7 billion and growing represents an opportunity for 7 billion people to come together to innovate and take actions toward improving the environment, education, healthcare and society as a whole. In a technology-driven society that moves at an ever-quickening pace, we must embrace change to help address key development challenges and support technology platforms like mPowering Action that influence and incentivize development on a global scale in the palm of our hands. As a global community, it is our responsibility to work together to help pave a better path for future generations.