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More on solving a billion-person problem


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(Editor's note: This is the second of two parts. Read Part One.)

8.) Access to health care – According to the World Health Organization, 57 countries face a severe health-care workforce crisis. The shortage of health-care workers represents a major roadblock toward achieving the Millennium Development Goals blueprint, agreed by all countries and leading developmental institutions, to meet the needs of the world’s poorest people by 2015.

According to a recent World Health Organization report, about 2.36 million health-care workers and 1.9 million managerial and support positions are needed worldwide. But that’s only part of the deficiency. They estimate that nearly 1 billion people worldwide have almost no access to essential health services due to a global shortage of 7.2 million healthcare workers.

9.) Global Surgeries - Of the 313 million operations performed in 2012, only 6% percent were performed in low and middle-income countries where over a third the world’s population lives. This means that an additional 143 million operations are needed each year just to meet the basic disease burden in these countries.

10.) Gender Equality – The United States ranks 65th in wage equality for similar work, according to a World Economic Forum study of 142 countries. In 2013, women who worked full-time, year-round in the United States were paid 78 cents for every dollar earned on average by men, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That gap, though, is worse for women of color: Black women make 64 cents and Latinas make 56 cents for every dollar earned by a white man.

In addition, a total of nine countries in the world do not guarantee maternity leave – United States, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Niue, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Suriname and Tonga.

We still have a long ways to go to achieve anything close to gender equality in the world, and with over half of the global population being female, this is far more than a billion-person problem.

11.) Access to Capital - Capital has been migrating from rich countries to developing nations over the past several decades, but the movement of funds from the U.S. dollar, euro and yen markets to the capital-scarce emerging economies around the world has not kept pace.

Central to this issue is the lack of a “trust architecture,” workforce talent, and regulatory consistency. As example, a country without credit bureaus, accounting standards, and stock exchanges lacks the basic infrastructure to build an entrepreneurial culture with the financial backing to compete in the global marketplace.

12.) Technology Access – In the developed world technology has transformed our lives, allowing us to access information at any time from an ever-growing number of devices. Tasks once performed by grueling effort have been reduced to a single click or tap.

The good news is that information technology itself may be a major part of the solution. With the decreasing costs of smartphones and tablets in the developing world we are seeing entire new populations accessing the Internet. 

13.) Educational Access – Studies have shown we now face a global teacher shortage of more than 18 million worldwide with more than 23 percent of today’s young people attending no school at all.

In addition, a recent McKinsey Global Institute study shows the global labor force will be approaching 3.5 billion in 2030, of which 60 percent will need to be retrained or have additional skills added to their daily routine by 2025. Technology may provide some of the answers, but we will still be facing a billion-person education opportunity over the coming years.

14.) Sleep – Researchers at the Warwick Medical School have found that 16.6 percent of the world’s population reporting insomnia and other severe sleep disturbances. Similar studies in Canada and the U.S. have found rates as high as 20 percent. Many who work on sleep research now view it as an emerging global epidemic with well over a billion people feeling the ongoing torture of sleepless nights.

Final Thoughts

The 14 problems listed above, and their countless derivative sub-issues, are intended to help spark your imagination. As a rough guess, I would estimate well over a thousand of these billion-person problems in existence today, with many of them centered around wasting time.

I often think about the billion moment-sucking black holes that have been incorporated into our global system architecture. Every time I delete spam from my inbox, I feel a tiny piece of my life flitter away.

Sitting needlessly at stoplights, or watching the minutes tick away as I wait in some line, or being forced to fill out yet another form, our precious time is being coopted by everyone from inconsiderate businesses, to overbearing government, to painful security checks at the airport.

This is what I call “time pollution.”

Time pollution is far more than a billion-person problem, it’s an every-person problem.

Like a leaky sieve carrying our daily time supply, however much we start with is never even close to what we end up with. And while most of us enter life feeling like we have squanderable amounts of time to work with, as we get older, our rapidly dwindling years reveal a much different story.

Whether it’s time shortages, access to resources or deficiencies in human capital, our growing awareness of global problems is also creating an awareness of global opportunities.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this issue. I know I’ve missed many, so please take a moment to add your thoughts in the comments below. In my mind, it’s far less about becoming a billionaire and far more about becoming a global hero.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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