At APEC, Asia Society President Discusses 'Megatrends' That Could Help Eradicate Poverty


Asia Society President Josette Sheeran speaks at the APEC SME Summit in Manila on November 17, 2015.

Asia Society President Josette Sheeran says that with the convergence of several emerging “megatrends,” extreme poverty in the world could be eradicated by 2030.

Speaking in Manila at the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Small and Medium Enterprise Forum on November 17, Sheeran discussed “profound long lasting social and economic changes” reshaping the world, including the rise of connectivity, self-empowerment, and prosperity in Asia. "These are either waves to be swept away by or to be ridden," Sheeran said.

In recent years, connectivity through technology like smart phones — which half of the world’s adults now possess — has spurred major strides in everything from disaster relief to medical care in rural areas, where locals have been empowered to create their own solutions to pressing problems. Sheeran cited the example of a Canadian student who created a “lucky iron fish” that, when put in boiling water, adds the right amount of elemental iron to prevent iron-deficiency anemia. The simple and cheap object has now spread to 66 countries and helped combat a disorder that has long plagued poor regions. Another example was that of a young group in Nairobi, Kenya that created a digital map where people who’d been victims of violence could chart their stories. After an earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015, the same technology was adopted to register damage and locations where people could seek help. 

“What this tells me is that individuals can really be a force,” Sheeran said. “Not just locally, as they always could in human history, and not just if they’re big, but even at small scale, can create things that inspire the world.”

Sheeran then looked ahead to the challenges of the future, noting that in order to keep up with projected population growth, the world will have to produce more food over the next 40 years than in the last 8,000 years combined. Asia has already been at the vanguard of tackling this challenge, she said, pointing out that in 1990, the continent was home to half of the world’s poor. Today the proportion has fallen to 12 percent.

“The [United Nations] goal is now to eradicate extreme poverty by 2030,” Sheeran said. “I truly believe that’s in our reach. While we see technology being used for truly evil purposes,[…] we also see the potential for technology to transform our world and for each of you to play your part in creating a world with peace and prosperity and using technology to power up human hope and ambition.”

Watch Sheeran's complete speech in the above video.

About the Author

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Eric Fish was a Content Producer at Asia Society New York and is author of the book China's Millennials: The Want Generation.