By Andrew Bourne, Regional Manager, Zoho Corp.
We live in a world beset by inequalities. Whether they’re related to income, gender, race, or background, you don’t have to look far to find them. South Africa, for example, has the highest level of wealth inequality in the world. According to a World Bank report, just 10% of the population owns 80% of its wealth.
As the report notes, wealth inequality affects access to opportunities, including education and employment. It also puts limits on intergenerational economic mobility, which results in persistent consumption inequality.
The gender pay gap, meanwhile, remains a global problem. According to a report from the World Economic Forum, the gap is closing so slowly, it’ll take another century to reach parity.
There have been many solutions put forward for addressing the various forms of inequality, most of them policy-driven. While those kinds of interventions are undoubtedly important, other forces are needed to drive equality. Now, more than ever, technology is stepping into that role.
Remote work and the rural divide
The events of the past two years have shown us the potential of technology to reduce inequality. As organisations around the world were forced to adopt remote working models, many people moved from cities to smaller towns and villages (in some cases to be closer to family, and in others, for a slower pace of life).
Around the world, this helped revitalise areas that were once losing all their young people and skilled workers to major cities. Skilled workers bring income and opportunities, which have a cumulative effect on reducing the urban-rural divide. Even as some companies mandate a return to the office (either on a full-time or hybrid basis), many others are choosing to remain wholly remote, allowing small towns and villages to keep thriving. Other organisations, meanwhile, are building smaller satellite offices to service workers in these areas (This is an approach we’ve adopted at Zoho in some markets.).
That’s not to say that remote and hybrid work present a panacea to inequality. In fact, some experts fear that it will exacerbate gender inequality (but that’s as much about mindset shifts as anything else). The positive impact of remote work on smaller towns and villages should, nonetheless, act as a powerful reminder of the potential technology has to drive equality.
Improving access and opportunity
Technology can open up opportunities for people who previously wouldn’t have had access to them. Provided they have connectivity (admittedly, this is still far from a given) and a capable device, a child from a low-income family can access almost all the same online resources and information as someone from a wealthier family. Similarly, tools like screen readers mean visually impaired individuals can access those same online resources, while automated closed captioning helps hearing impaired individuals participate in online conference calls.
Of course, it’s not just a matter of putting technology in people’s hands and hoping for the best. While technology is more intuitive than ever, there still needs to be a basic framework in place to ensure people of all backgrounds know how to use it.
Technology can also act as an equality driver for businesses. Using low-code tools, for example, even small businesses can create the kind of consumer-facing and internal applications that would’ve previously required enterprise-scale budgets to build. These businesses can access increasingly sophisticated customer relationship management (CRM) tools to help build customer loyalty and revenue. Given that South Africa’s National Development Plan (NDP), envisions 90% of South Africa’s new jobs coming from small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by 2030, it’ll be vital for these businesses to be aware of such technologies and understand how to benefit from them.
Taking the right approach
There are very clear ways technology can help reduce many of the most urgent inequalities faced by the world today. But it can only do so if it is made available to as many people as possible, and if they’re equipped with the skills they need to make the most of it.
It’s important to remember that technology isn’t the solution to inequality in and of itself. It should, however, be part of any initiative aimed at improving equality.