ABOUT THE
REPORT

The United Nations emerged from the devastating conflict of two World Wars as the best idea for global citizenship that mankind had yet had. If the UN did not exist, we would need to invent it, to help sovereign states work together in pursuit of global security, justice and opportunity.

We now face a century of change like no other in history. Technology will transform how we meet our needs for peace, dignity and community. This will shatter the global political equilibrium, and shift power away from governments towards individuals. States, ideas and industries will go out of business. Inequality could grow.

Already, the internet has changed the world faster than any previous technology. The smartphone has given a superpower to much of the world’s population. For many, the web is no longer for our downtime, but for all our time. We have access not just to more information than we can process, but more than we can imagine. From self driving cars to artificial intelligence, as Nobel Prize winning geneticist Richard Smalley says – “when a scientist says something is possible, they’re probably underestimating how long it will take. If they say it is impossible, they’re probably wrong.”

And we’re only just getting going. The patterns show us – data, computer chip advancement, global temperatures, demography – that change is accelerating at a staggering rate. Sociologist Ian Morris predicts that in just a century we will go through the equivalent technological tsunami of the journey from cave paintings to nuclear weapons.

For the first time, technology gives the prospect of the world’s population having an instant, global and unfiltered means of communicating, of consuming information, of forming opinions, preferences and communities. Digital technology empowers new sources of power, increasingly enabling the individual to take control of their lives. This connectivity could unleash an unprecedented empathetic force for global development. But it could also leave us feeling overwhelmed, unable to keep up, unequal, exploited by corporate algorithms, reduced to variables to be mined as big data, and our every networked action recorded by big-brother government surveillance.

How humans manage this paradigm shift is the greatest challenge of our time. Yet we are in danger of being overwhelmed by that change. At a time when we have the tools to react globally, we are failing to use them. We have not begun to truly adapt our institutions to the new realities. And we too often mistake demolition for disruption.

If we are in the foothills of a truly global, connected, civilisation, where but the UN can debates be led to protect our basic human needs in the Networked Age? But diplomacy is hard in periods of economic and political uncertainty. What the UN represents – a system based on states, hierarchies, and the status quo – is becoming weaker. The pace of technological change means that the internet has often been something that happens to the global architecture, not a force marshaled fully in support of our collective objectives.

So the UN must innovate with urgency, or face a slow slide into under resourced decline and irrelevance.

The generation now coming to positions of influence is the first to have spent their entire career networked and online. The ideas in this report are from young, connected global citizens who want and expect the UN to remain resourced, robust and influential. We don’t have all the answers, but we offer what we believe to be the key questions for the new UNSG and his team to consider. We also hope that this report can be the start of a wide public debate on these issues – an opportunity for the UN to show it is ready to listen, and ready to lead. We consulted the public, online and offline, over several months: a chance to prove the wisdom of crowds at a global level.

How can the UN adapt its methods to the Networked Age without compromising its values? How can technology increase UN effectiveness and efficiency, build public trust, mobilise opinion and action, and weaponise compassion? How to make the sum of the parts more able to deliver on the goals set out so powerfully in the UN Charter seven decades ago?

The report concludes that we should be optimistic. As humans, we have navigated previous periods of tumultuous change. We have mastered new tools. From refugees and beneficiaries of UN help, to policy makers and curious global citizens, the UN has a more powerful constituency than it realises. They need the UN. And the UN needs them.

The UN in 2020 can deliver more for the global population it serves. It can take advantage of the huge opportunities of the Networked Age, in order to counter the growing threats of the Networked Age. We hope that this report can be part of the UN’s fight back.