The Coming Revolution In Human Empowerment – Part I

Tech Industry

Something’s happening, but you don’t know what it is, do you Mr. Jones?

IN THE 1960’S WE SPOKE OF “POWER TO THE PEOPLE.” Ex-Beatle John Lennon memorialized this phrase in a song of the same name as protests spread worldwide against inequality, authoritarianism and conflict. But peace marches and rock songs alone do not a revolution make.

In the 2020s, we will be able to put paid to some of these core aspirations. A diverse portfolio of technological innovations are coming together to provide the tools and resources for what I call the emerging human empowerment revolution. I recognize that the term “empowerment” comes with baggage so let me state at the outset that I share the definition proposed by social scientist Robert Adams: “the capacity of individuals, groups and/or communities to take control of their circumstances, exercise power and achieve their own goals, and the process by which, individually and collectively, they are able to help themselves and others to maximize the quality of their lives.”

Here I am not referring to mere incremental improvement and new features sets, but rather a sea change of profound and uncharted dimensions. At its core, it is about how the individual, not the institution, will increasingly be the locus of agency. Individuals will increasingly be able to take the initiative on their own behalf. Skill development and opportunity seeking will become hyper-personalized and efficient. AI and data science ethically used and properly deployed will grant the empowered individual a transformational degree of customized, relevant learning, curated life pathways, and power over their circumstances.

This revolution will have profound implications for broad societal agendas and institutions. Because of its complexity, I have divided this writing into three parts – in this piece, I set the table in describing my core thesis. Part II examines the dynamics underlying the power shift from institution to individual. Part III reviews some of the emerging technologies that are enabling this human empowerment revolution.

First, let’s consider the modern corporation. It’s no secret that those responsible for corporate human capital development, aka HR professionals, face tremendous

challenges. These include finding, attracting, developing and retaining talent in an era informed by the great resignation, hybrid workflows and the rise of the independent entrepreneur/free agent.

Then there are those responsible for regional and national human capital development who need innovation at scale. Their challenges include up-skilling to achieve social equity, re-skilling to move people to sunrise industries, making public education relevant and attuned to 21st century needs, supporting meaningful lifelong learning, and translating all of this into smart labor policies and relevant workforce investment.

Those responsible for professions will be equally affected. Take the example of nursing, a profession both in short supply and also challenged as to its desirability as a career. The ability of an empowered nurse to increase their upward mobility, to upskill meaningfully and to navigate their path to better opportunities will give them greater agency and arguably more satisfaction. It will also be key to an employer’s ability to attract, retain and develop this kind of professional talent.

Finally we come to those responsible for large-scale, societal agendas. We are witness to an ever widening gap between the needs of global civil society and its capabilities. Thus society’s ability to connect individuals with the knowledge and tools that enable meaningful engagement with societal challenges is more important than ever. For example, the UN’s SDG’s provide an excellent guide to the needs of global civil society, yet the vision of being able to put relevant learning, tools and

opportunities into the hands of a global cohort of empowered individuals, whether they be high school students or civic minded citizens, remains a promissory note at present.

Against this backdrop, I believe it is appropriate now to refer to a human empowerment revolution. This in turn will be driven by an emerging human empowerment industry – an assortment of technological innovations leading to businesses, services and professional platforms that address the needs of humans to fulfill their potential. This can take the form of learning, skill acquisition, timely advice, access to information, support of a community and more. Relevant stakeholders in the human empowerment industry are a motley crew that includes teachers at all levels, coaches, facilitators, therapists, HR professionals, labor policy officials and more.

The dimensions of the human empowerment industry are enormous: The global human capital management market is expected to reach $43 billion by 2028. The global training market is projected to reach $417 billion by 2027. The US education industry is set to generate revenues of $2.3 trillion and the global education and training market is set to reach at least $10 trillion by 2030. The ed tech market is expected to reach $605 billion by 2027, while some outliers like the online psychotherapy services market is projected to reach $23 billion by 2028. Business coaching was $11 billion in 2022 and the personal development industry was valued at $39 billion in 2020. So any way you look it, we are talking about a massive market.

These elements of the human capital industry all share common pain points and challenges that a rising tide of technological innovation is poised to address. But before we describe potential remedies, we need to look more closely at the underlying dynamics of the power shift from institutions to individuals that will power the emergence of the human empowerment revolution and industry. That will be the subject of Part II in this series. Stay tuned…

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