Goal 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure

Build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation.

Many emerging countries lack the core communication and IT infrastructures that are needed by large and small businesses alike. Data and the Information Technology that generates, collects, and analyzes it is critical to building a resilient infrastructure that ensures sustainable industrialization – goal 9 of the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Technologies such as mobile and cloud services provide an opportunity for smaller enterprises to adopt the latest innovations without massive investments in data centers.

Innovating an Industrial World

The poorest in the Western countries are better off economically than they were 300 years ago. We can thank the Industrial Revolution for that. Most modern countries offer some form of social security, ensuring that even the unemployed have food to eat, clothes to wear, and a roof over their heads.

Industrialization radically transformed the lives of everyday people. They left the countryside for cities in droves. Some people were looking for adventure and opportunity; others were forced to find work out of desperation. In the process, their jobs, families, and daily activities took on a whole new shape. And industrialization improved their financial status. Home ownership, appliances, flushing toilets, hot water, electricity, cars, leisure, and entertainment were part of this new world.

In stark contrast, many of the poorest countries have not yet transitioned into industrial nations. Agriculture-sector employment in sub-Saharan Africa continues to see preindustrial numbers: 61% in Kenya, 79% in Ethiopia, 80% in Mozambique, 85% in Burkina Faso, and 92% in Burundi, to name a few. In comparison, less than 2% of the workforce is employed in agriculture in the United States, with similar numbers in Canada, Britain, France, and the rest of the Western world.

Infrastructure was foundational to achieving industrialization and its resulting prosperity. At the core of the Industrial Revolution were innovations in banking and investment to help fund technological invention and production. New factories developed along rivers and near coal fields, close to the energy sources necessary to drive emerging industrial complexes. Waterways, railways, and roads connected new goods to national and, eventually, global markets. Infrastructure spurred on – and developed along with – industrialization.

The infrastructure necessary for industrialization won’t be the same for Africa as it was for 18th-century Europe and North America. For starters, we know a lot more about how to build more sustainable industrial processes today. For example, less than 20% of the roads are paved in sub-Saharan Africa, but drones may provide a new way to get goods to market. Energy is critical for production, but renewable electrical production may become the norm.

Data and the Information Technology that generates, collects, and analyzes it is critical to building a resilient infrastructure that ensures sustainable industrialization. Many emerging countries lack the core IT infrastructure needed by large and small businesses alike. However, mobile technologies and cloud services provide an opportunity for smaller enterprises to adopt the latest technology without massive investments in data centers. The rapid evolution of blockchain technology offers innovative opportunities to create transparency along business processes, be it in food or fashion supply chains or even financial services. To enable this type of digital innovation, Alphabet Inc. deployed balloon Internet in Kenya in April 2020 to provide a core infrastructure for motivated entrepreneurs.

Where in Africa is the next Thomas Newcomen, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, or Marie Curie? Whoever and wherever they are, they will create small businesses that grow into large enterprises employing thousands.

Digitalization offers the opportunity to innovate and create new business models without capital-intense corporate infrastructures. Especially in emerging countries, social entrepreneurs can leverage the latest technology to solve problems and improve quality of life in their local communities. Global corporations increasingly tap into these kinds of open innovation to accelerate their ideation speed and volume in order to meet the needs of their markets. They invite young talent to competitions to solve existing business challenges, which in many cases are related to global challenges: Plastic pollution in the oceans, gender equality, and even the focused individual Sustainable Development Goals established by the United Nations. At the World Economic Forum, SAP and Google launched a partnership to co-sponsor a sustainability contest for social entrepreneurs called Circular Economy 2030.

SAP is doing its part

Empowering entrepreneurs with the tools and support to make their dreams a reality takes a team effort between nonprofits such as Endeavor Global Inc., private enterprises such as Compartamos Banco, and SAP. With joined forces, we are making it our purpose to raise a new generation of innovators for Africa and the rest of the developing world. One example is Pakistan, where digital transformation based on best business practices and automation is creating positive impulses across almost all industry sectors: From service industries to classical production, such as agriculture, fashion, and the capital-intensive oil and gas industry.

We are committed to helping countries around the world innovate and build a resilient infrastructure for sustainable industrialization.

  • Fostering the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, SAP set up the SAP.iO Fund and the SAP.iO Foundries program in seven locations around the world. Empowering women and diverse entrepreneurs to build successful businesses is one of the guiding principles. For the 2019 winter cohort of the SAP.iO Foundry New York, eight interesting social-impact tech startups were selected from a field of more than 150 applicants. They are solving pressing problems, such as enabling autism workers to enter the remote workforce for the first time and facilitating the circular economy. Goodr, one of the winners, uses blockchain technology to manage food surplus and combat hunger. The SAP.iO Foundry Munich is the latest addition to the innovation locations.
  • Innovative solutions from SAP.iO startups help businesses succeed amid COVID-19.
    • Andjaro, for instance, provides visibility to internal employee capacity, supporting short-term secondments for companies with multiple locations within a geographical boundary. Customers like hotel chains and convenience store chains have been actively using Andjaro to reallocate employees, such as store clerks, so customers’ needs can be met even in cities undergoing lockdowns.
    • The MeQuilibrium well-being and performance platform leverages behavioral psychology, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence (AI) to support and improve employee health and wellness. The company’s COVID-19 Response Kit provides curated resources for individuals, managers, teams, and senior leaders.
    • Goodr has introduced COVID-19 Emergency Support, including an emergency one-time pick-up request option for businesses looking to donate surplus food to a local non-profit, as well as opportunities to sponsor deliveries to those who are less fortunate.
  • Sarawak Energy Berhad is one of the leading hydro energy producers in Southeast Asia and is managing a large fleet of vehicles to keep up with their customer operations. Using the SAP Moving Assets solution, the company gained a complete view of fleet usage that has helped them optimize fleet management and productivity, as well as fuel consumption and driver safety. Developing countries have rarely had the opportunity to leapfrog several generations of industrialization and innovation, as they do today. Technology-enabled process automation offers the opportunity to profoundly upgrade efficiencies in resources utilization and the ability to access unprecedented market opportunities.

With the increasing incorporation of machine learning and AI into standard business processes, responsible digitalization requires a guiding compass. Which technology applications are to be supported by SAP, and where may these applications conflict with our values?

SAP’s nine guiding principles for AI provide the foundational framework for our application innovation. In close discourse with the SAP AI Ethics Advisory Panel, made up of a group of external experts from various related fields, our principles will continue to evolve over time.

Together with the European Union’s High-Level Expert Group on Artificial Intelligence, we furthermore shared insights and took the dialogue further in a free online course on openSAP: “Creating Trustworthy and Ethical Artificial Intelligence”.


Goal 10: Reduced Inequalities