Contributed by Janice Nason in support of Girl Up Initiative Uganda.

The theme for the World Economic Forum (WEF)’s 2016 is Industry 4.0 or the fourth industrial revolution. Whereas the three previous industrial revolutions improved manufacturing, while still relying on human involvement, the fourth industrial revolution promotes the computerization of manufacturing so that by connecting machines, work pieces and systems, businesses can create intelligent networks along the entire value chain. These changes affect everyone today, and the way this revolution affects nonprofits like Girl Up Initiative Uganda and ethical fashion companies like Mazuri Designs are a little different. 

The First Three Industrial Revolutions:

The first industrial revolution introduced mechanized production creating the factory system, increased the use of steam power, and improved waterpower efficiencies. Where things had been made slowly by hand and reliant on the power of animals, now speed, efficiency and scale are possible.

The second brought electric power, mass production, and mass distribution, which led to the production of iron and steel, the use of coal, and the introduction of railways, road systems, and the modern ship industry. The later three were major players in advancing industry and society.

The third centered on the digitalization of technology through the introduction and sophistication of computers. This gave us the internet, the quantified self, the arrival of Big Data, and the beginning of the Internet of Things. 

Previous industrial revolutions advanced slowly, leaving entire regions of the world unaffected. Change now is fast and widespread, reaching everyone with access to a modem or wifi signal and a digital device.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution:

WEF Founder Professor Klaus Schwab chose the concept of a fourth industrial revolution for this year’s meeting stating, “It is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres.”

By 2020, the fourth industrial revolution will bring advanced robotics and autonomous transport, artificial intelligence and machine learning, advanced materials, biotechnology and genomics.

4.0 is about machine self-awareness and self-productiveness, in addition to providing real time data on factory statuses’ and near-zero downtime efficiencies. In contrast to 3.0, which was concerned with producing products at the lowest prices.

The Impact on Nonprofits and Global Artisan Groups:

Industrial revolutions don’t just change product production and human consumption, they change social landscapes and how society works with one another. For example, the third industrial revolution drastically changed the work environment. During this period, operating teams changed, as global platforms and business applications made it possible to track progress and maintain accountability from remote locations. Today, remote workers account for a growing percentage of the workforce. This trend will continue for decades to come.

Nonprofits like Girl Up Initiative Uganda (GUIU), were not possible before 3.0. In 2012, GUIU started with programs being implemented by our Executive Director in Uganda and our Deputy Executive Director who lived in South Africa and then Norway. Today, the team has grown, connecting local and international stakeholders using WhatsApp, Facebook, Skype, Dropbox, Asana and email, to collaborate across borders.

The work that GUIU conducts strives to accomplish includes: educating and empowering adolescent girls through trainings on sexual and reproductive health and rights, girls’ education, financial independence, goal setting, and leadership, benefits all delivered by a diverse group of dedicated feminists with boundary-less talent.

Image: Girl Up Initiative Uganda

Girl Up Initiative Uganda’s engagement with individual donors, who are mainly from the US, is enhanced by their ability to follow the organization digitally. Donors can receive regular updates on progress and impact through social media platforms.

Industrial Revolution 4.0 focuses on the new developing relationship between manufacturing and technology. There are also smaller, but growing trends for conscious and ethical consumerism. This allows consumers to know where their products come from and who made them, thereby making companies accountable. Mazuri Designs is exemplary in this, having ethically sourced materials and treating their employees well.

Mazuri Designs was founded by GUIU in response to requests from unemployed young women, who wanted to learn an income generating skill. GUIU developed the business so women could sell their African-inspired clothing and accessories both locally and internationally.

Technology has enabled Mazuri to expand its reach. The head seamstress and other tailors work out of the Kampala workshop, while the website, marketing, and distribution volunteers live in Chicago. Digitally they are able to communicate, share updates, get photos, determine production schedules, and pricing. The third industrial revolution also enabled Mazuri to build an online presence and sell products to an international market of consumers, who are interested in supporting a local Ugandan business that fairly pays its workers.

Image: Girl Up Initiative Uganda

The challenge now, with the fourth industrial revolution, will be to ensure the digitization of production benefits workers and consumers around the world. While 4.0 is an exciting step towards optimal efficiencies, global consumers must not become blind to those qualities that make us uniquely human, such as consciousness, creativity, and intuition. These characteristics cannot be found in robotic machinery.

As society transitions to a mindfulness evolution made possible by the ubiquity of social media and individual voices with global platforms it is our responsibility as global citizens to use our consumer power to choose whether we want our economy to move further towards efficient mass production or towards a more shared and conscious economy. 


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