We live in a momentous time in history: The distance between the impossible and the possible is shrinking. Unprecedented technological capabilities combined with unlimited human creativity have given us tremendous power to take on intractable problems like poverty, unemployment, disease, and environmental degradation. Our challenge is to translate this extraordinary potential into meaningful change.
Examples of progress are all around us. Advances in technology have made it easier to deliver commodities to where they are needed. They've put medical services and information into the hands of patients and market information into the hands of farmers. And they've brought sustainable power solutions to communities not connected to an electric grid.
It's clear that technology is helping people - but even more important, it's empowering them to get things done in a way which was never imagined before, and giving them the chance to be heard.
I recently had the opportunity to participate in the Social Good Summit, a global conversation about how technology, social business and social media can help solve pressing challenges. Citizens in nearly 300 cities across six continents gathered in local meet ups to join the dialogue.
In Giza, Egypt, meet up organizers talked about how social media provides a venue for people to express their opinions and have them heard by thousands around the globe.
In Wellington, New Zealand, climate change activists discussed how communication technologies allow them to share what is happening on the ground in the Pacific Islands with the rest of the world.
In Mogadishu, Somalia, people discussed how social media fosters the exchange of ideas between those living in Somalia and the diaspora, as well as how it improves communications with the international community.
And in New York, where I participated, the discussion touched on everything from how mapping technologies are helping to fight polio to how digital technologies raise awareness for social good causes. Now social businesses are transforming people's lives in Bangladesh, Japan, Germany, France, Albania, Colombia and Haiti. They are demonstrating how human problems can be solved in business ways without expecting personal gain by the investors, how individuals and multi-national companies are coming forward to create social businesses.
Despite the different locations and languages, the key takeaway from these meetings was the same: People are hungry to be heard and today's technologies give them a voice in their local communities and in the world. Information and communication technologies allow us to share ideas and connect with each other, organize movements, talk to policymakers, access and spread information, and much more.
We need to harness these technologies to ensure that all voices, especially the voices of those directly impacted by global problems, are part of the dialogue. In my experience, this is essential to fully understanding our challenges and finding effective solutions. I began my career as an economics professor, but became frustrated because the economic theories I taught in the classroom didn't have any meaning in the lives of poor people I saw all around me. I decided to turn away from the textbooks and discover the real-life economics of a poor person's existence. Those personal stories have been an irreplaceable guide in my work to end poverty. Now, thanks to technology, it's easier than ever to make personal connections and learn firsthand about the problems we face.
In addition to expanding the global dialogue, we also need to expand access to technologies - giving more people the tools that will help them shape their own destinies. While Internet use has significantly grown in the past decade, currently only 24 percent of people in the developing world are online. Increasing Internet access in the years ahead is both a challenge and an opportunity.
While technology is important, it's what we do with it that truly matters. That's where the new concept of business called social business becomes so vitally important. Each of us has the ability to unleash our creativity to find solutions that lift up people and communities. The Social Good Summit was the start, not the end, of an important global dialogue on how we can bring about change. We must keep the conversation going in the months and years ahead. Visit "The Global Conversation" to join us. Together, let's envision the world we want, harness the tools we have, and make change happen.
Professor Muhammad Yunus is a Board Member of the United Nations Foundation, which is a co-host of the Social Good Summit.