unsafe_drinking_water_01Last month, Stephen Ahn (Erb ’15) and I served as the inaugural pair of WEC/Erb fellows, sponsored by IBM.  This joint initiative between WEC, Erb, and IBM gives students the opportunity to participate in a topic-based roundtable discussion with innovative leaders from top Fortune 500 companies.  We were tasked to jointly develop the 2-day session agenda, pre-reading, and guest speakers alongside WEC President, Terry Yosie.

The topic of our roundtable was “Innovations for adapting to resource scarcity.”  The session kicked off with a presentation from Retired Major General Richard Engel, Director at The National Intelligence Council, titled “Global Trends 2030: Natural Resources & National Security”.  Engel highlighted the impending megatrends that will inevitably be a force in the future of the world by 2030.  Specifically, the presentation and subsequent discussion centered on scarcity of non-renewable natural resources, climate change, and population.  Patrick Doherty, Deputy Director at the New America Foundation, pushed the conversation even deeper with his talk on the need for the U.S. to develop a new “Grand Strategy” to overcome the current climate change and resource scarcity challenge.

Select participants presented on ways their company has creatively responded to resource scarcity – from water, to harnessing big data in home energy efficiency, to the future of mobility beyond the automobile.  The roundtable felt more like a small-group workshop, with just a handful of serious innovators committed to the success of their companies and the success of the planet.  Potential innovation opportunities that came out of this session included:

(1) Create new sources of resource abundance: There is an immense amount of technological innovation and discovery, especially through leveraging insights from big data

(2) Build new markets at scale through advanced analytics of big data to create new consumer coalitions based on purchasing behavior, preferences, and demographics

(3) Realign time scale to reflect to reality:  In addition to striving for short-term disruptions, also consider lengthening innovation planning horizons beyond five years, recognizing that obtaining greater efficiency could be a long-term play, but equally transformative in addressing resource scarcities

This was an amazing opportunity that couldn’t have come at a better time—our summer internships in the private sector are well underway, and I know we are drawing on these conversations for inspiration and creativity.  To make the most of this experience, Stephen and I will be putting together an article that highlights the exciting innovation trends in the private sector.  Stay tuned!