Human Capital: Investing in the Potential of People

October 4, 2018 at Paris, France

Human capital is a nation’s most valuable asset, and the key to its future growth. However in a world of disruptive change, we need to develop people in new ways – education, healthcare and work – in order to ensure a better human future.

“The world is endowed with a vast wealth of human talent. The ingenuity and creativity at our collective disposal provides us with the means not only to address the great challenges of our time but also, critically, to build a future that is more inclusive and human centric” says Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum

All too often however, human potential is not realised. It is held back by short-termism, by a blinkered focus on partial solutions, or by inequality. The World Bank’s Human Capital Index claims that the world has developed only 62% of its human capital, leaving much of the talent and dreams of people across the world unrealised.

This matters because human capital is an investment – in all of us – our personal health and achievement, as well as the sustainability and wealth of our society. If we don’t invest then we decline. And in today’s world of change, if we don’t invest then we decline dramatically.

Whilst the last century has seen huge improvements around the world – in reducing poverty and unemployment, improving literacy and health – the years ahead will see new challenges. Challenges to the dreams to which we aspired. What will happen to jobs, to the aging populations, to small businesses, to emerging countries, to local cultures?

New technologies of the “fourth industrial revolution” – robots and machines, genetic engineering and artificial intelligence. New social challenges from the environment to inequality, to knowing who to trust. They all challenge life as we know it, and our potential.

Yet we live in the most incredible time.

The next 10 years will see more change than the last 250 years. From self-cleaning clothes and digital personal assistants, DNA profiling to automated cars, intelligent machines to missions to Mars. None of this is new, yet we approach it with trepidation. Do we need and want this change? Change is inevitably scary and disruptive.

Visions of the future of work are often dominated by the jobs that will be lost. The future of healthcare is devoted to the rising costs of treatments. The future of education is driven from the perspective of the need to learn more. Yes robots will likely take 20% of today’s jobs, medicines will become more expensive, and education will be become ever more crucial.

But the real opportunity is to be more human.

Machines enhance our ability to work, like the exoskeletons worn by the dockyard workers in South Korea. Machines enhance our about ability to learn, like the millions of children taught online across Africa. Machines bring us new forms of social interaction, infinite access to the best entertainment, and to achieve more in sports. To unlock our strengths and talents.

In 2025 the majority of children in Sweden will teach each other through peer to peer education, rather than in classrooms by teachers. Collaborative learning is more effective, and motivating. Learning is more about how to think, how to find information when its needed, rather than the old limiting world of text books and exam papers.

In 2025 the majority of health treatments in the UAE will be delivered through a mobile phone, predictive to the needs of individuals before they ever become ill. The constant online tracking of the body enables the proactive treatment that reduces illness, and reduces the costs of expensive hospital care and more expensive medicines.

In 2025 the majority of workers in Kenya will be freelance individuals working around the world, independent of distance or background. They will apply their human, emotional, creative skills to solve ever-more complex problems. They have the hunger to keep learning throughout their lives, and the open-mindedness to see things differently.

Whilst efficiency might be achieved through automation, progress is achieved through people. People with the creative talents, the emotional engagement, and intelligent judgements to achieve progress. In some ways the technologies enhance our capability, to be faster and smarter, to achieve more. You could call it, to be superhuman.

Human capital is the investment to achieve a better future. For every one of us as individuals, but even more importantly, for us collectively. It is the investment that allows us to unlock the potential of these new technologies, to solve the big problems of a fragile world, and to resolve the tensions of fragmenting societies.

Developing human capital – most importantly through talent, vitality and achievement – is the pathway to progress. New ways of learning are a starting point, but not enough. New ways of living and working take us further. When we connect these forms of human capital we get a multiplying effect. When we do it together, we can amplify the benefits even further.

We see the benefits all around us, every day. New ideas. Growing businesses. Architectural beauty. Sporting achievements. Healthy bodies. Smiling faces.

Developing human capital is the way to create a more creative and thoughtful, more equal and accessible world. The way in which people live together with more freedom and tolerance, and the way in which nations sustain growth and economic wellbeing.

Human potential moves the world forwards.

Building a better, brighter future.

Continue reading Peter Fisk’s new manifesto for humanity, launched in Paris today.