Preparing Civil Society for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The Challenge

Civil society in an emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution faces ongoing internal barriers, new technology-related challenges to societal values, and missing connections across multiple conversations. Civil society organisations—including humanitarian, development, advocacy, children’s rights and community organisations—face significant challenges in responding to the emerging Fourth Industrial Revolution. These include understanding the implications of technological change for vulnerable populations, developing robust and responsible digital and technology strategies, and building related organisational capacities: digital security, talent and skills.

As the context for and behaviour of communities, businesses and governments co-evolves with technologies, efforts to provide services, protect rights, and promote the common good will increasingly depend on the ability of civil societies not just to navigate these challenges, but also to meaningfully participate in and influence the governance of emerging technologies. The nature of fast-paced technological change means that civil society organisations cannot change on their own, or in silos. Companies, donors, academia and civil society organisations themselves have significant roles to play in driving organizational and systems change towards thriving civil societies in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Knowledge sharing, cross-sector collaboration and multi-stakeholder investment will be needed both to accelerate civil society’s readiness for the Fourth Industrial Revolution and ensure that organisations across the sector can continue to effectively play much needed roles in the Fourth Industrial Revolution, including: protecting vulnerable populations, championing human rights, emphasizing participatory and inclusive approaches and providing critical services, and meaningfully participating in addressing technology governance challenges with other stakeholders.

The Opportunity

The Preparing Civil Society for the Fourth Industrial Revolution Initiative (CS4IR) is a multi-stakeholder platform to accelerate responsible technology practice and future readiness of civil society—through cross-sector learning, collaboration and investment. As part of its multi-stakeholder platform, the World Economic Forum is partnering with civil society, companies, philanthropy and other stakeholders to investigate shared challenge areas and accelerate systems change interventions needed to influence civil society readiness and impact in the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

The CS4IR value proposition includes: 

  • Providing a broader multi-stakeholder platform for discussion and cross-sector learning across ongoing expert civil society networks on innovation and technology

  • Connecting academia, philanthropy and the private sector with a network of 200 regional and global expert civil society leaders in innovation, digital and emerging technologies

  • Helping to create, contextualize and disseminate critical strategic intelligence on digital and emerging technology for broader understanding and guidance for civil society organisations

  • Building evidence for change through both accelerating existing initiatives and co-creating multi-stakeholder “prototypes” for collective action and evidence aimed to scale civil society learning and innovation

The initiative will be launching global working groups over the course of 2019-2020. Working group topics and lead organisations include:

Theme 1: Digital Nonprofit Strategy and Processes

  • Responsible Digital Transformation for Social Impact: Exploring cross-sector strategy synergies in operationalising RDT: building culture, assessing skills, and measuring intervention impact (Co-leads: Louise James, Accenture Development Partnerships; Lauren Woodman, NetHope)

  • Minimising Tradeoffs for Technology for Good Projects: Leveraging civil society leadership in human rights, ethical and participatory design to minimise tradeoffs in high impact, large scale tech for good projects (Co-leads: Sonja Betschart, WeRobotics; Rhodri Davies, Charities Aid Foundation; Mark Latonero, Data and Society, Linda Raftree, MERL Tech)

Theme 2: Protecting Vulnerable Populations from Fourth Industrial Revolution Harms

  • Group Data and Human Rights: Developing case studies of evidence of group data vulnerabilities and implications of algorithmic grouping, towards rationale for reform in policy and practice (Co-leads: Stuart Campo, Centre for Humanitarian Data; Nathaniel Raymond, Yale University; Linnet Taylor, Tilburg University)

  • Mobilising and Inspiring Action with Technology: Exploring how a changing digital public sphere impacts advocacy and mobilisation strategies for organisations promoting social activism and advocacy for global public goods (Co-leads: Nighat Dad, Digital Rights Foundation; Michael Jarvis, TAI; Sam Gregory, WITNESS; Alexa Koenig, UC Berkeley; Glen Tarman, CARE International)

  • Practical Digital Security Support for Civil Society: Accelerating learning and collaboration among platform companies facilitated by civil society on developing digital security support for at-risk populations and engaging civil society (Co-leads: Seamus Tuohy, Human Rights Watch; Daniel Bedoya, Access Now; Harlo Holmes, Freedom of the Press Foundation; Sean Brooks, UC Berkeley Centre for Long-Term Cybersecurity)

Theme 3: Civil Society Sector Transformation

  • Future of Nonprofit Work and Talent: Understanding existing models for talent procurement and building evidence for accelerating sustainable nonprofit technology talent pipelines (Co-leads: Amy O’Donnell, Oxfam GB; Chris Worman, TechSoup + additional leads)

  • Future of Civil Society: New Organisations, Models and Dynamics in the Fourth Industrial Revolution: Exploring new opportunities and power dynamics enhanced in the Fourth Industrial Revolution and building incentives to address long-standing tensions in participation, partnership, accountability and fairness (Co-leads: Aarathi Krishnan, IFRC; Kathy Peach, Nesta; Mark Viso, Pact + additional leads)

For more information and to get involved, please contact David Sangokoya, Project Lead, Society and Innovation, at