Technology Meets International Development: World Economic Forum

Without question, how we interact with our mobile phones and devices has shaped the creation of a more globalized, interconnected international community. In a world dictated by social media - status updates, tweets, and live streams, particularly - news and current events reach our fingertips almost instantaneously. Social, political, and economic concerns rise quickly to the surface. Activist groups and advocacy campaigns have the ability to spread their messages with greater efficiency than ever before.  To anyone aware of how our world is shrinking every day, this comes as no surprise. However, new innovations in the mobile space have led to creative dissemination of information. In an unlikely partnership, augmented reality and the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals have crossed paths. Let's break down the specifics: 

The World Economic Forum is an annual gathering comprised of the globe's most influential business leaders, politicians, academics, and religious figureheads. This collective congregates in Davos, Switzerland, and focuses on creating enduring partnerships to drive global progress. From 2000 to 2015, this progress was measured by the yardstick of the UN's Millennium Development Goals. In 2016, those goals were augmented and dubbed the Sustainable Development Goals - as opposed to the previous 8, there are now 17 points of emphasis. With execution in mind by 2030, these aims focus on improving necessities of life such as education, healthcare, energy efficiency, economic growth, overall equality, and institutional integrity. The mission of the UN is to ultimately create a global community more prepared for foreseen and unforeseen challenges in the future. This overall improvement across borders serves to foster the development and health of the world moving forward. 

Enter Niantic, Inc., creator of the popular augmented-reality mobile game, Pokémon Go. Built upon the concept of encouraging players to explore their surroundings, the game has amassed an active player base in the tens of millions. Accordingly, the average user spends more time daily playing than browsing apps such as Facebook and Snapchat. The response and growth in the AR space has been huge. Using these virtual surroundings, the player navigates the real world around them using an in-game map, loading game elements based on geographical location. The overarching principle is that such a style of gameplay gives the physical world a new significance, and plays to the imagination. How does this relate to the proceedings of the Forum?

Gameplay is facilitated largely through the use of virtual landmarks named "Pokéstops." These stops are tied to specific locations in the real world; the fountain at the park? Pokéstop. The community park down the road? Full of them. These points are denoted by a rotating disc within the game. When selected, these disks expand to reveal an image of the landmark represented (often complete with descriptive text). When considering these factors altogether, the relevance becomes more clear. 

As previously mentioned, the World Economic Forum is focused on collaboration and global betterment. It has often been questioned how corporations and organizations can contribute effectively to worldwide prosperity; healthy amounts of skepticism have accompanied optimism. Niantic has sought to operate while keeping aims of global improvement in mind. CEO John Hanke has expressed his desire for both the game and company to be "a force for good in the world." Building upon this statement, Niantic placed 17 pokéstops within and around the Forum's meeting venue - in partnership with the organization. Each of these stops was adorned with one of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, alongside an informative graphic. These landmarks in the game had thus transcended their traditional purpose, serving as beacons of awareness and education for the public.

Both the Forum and Niantic hoped that by implementing these graphics, the mission of the United Nations could be articulated clearly to whomever may be unaware. A simple visual can help make a message powerful, and "marketing" development initiatives has potential to drive curiosity. Perhaps most importantly, it is a message that most all players can understand. Knowing the majority of players are younger, it is important to spread awareness now; in the eyes of the UN, the Forum, and Niantic, younger generations are poised to spur change moving forward. The practice of using mobile gaming technology to create a social movement is largely new territory. However, it is widely expected that technologies such as augmented reality will grow in popularity. It will be insightful to monitor the impact such initiatives have on development and human rights advocacy. Moving forward, it can only be surmised that these possibilities will be even greater; the prospects are very exciting, indeed.