Recognized as one of the world’s leading experts on African trade and investment, Rosa Whitaker is a passionate champion for creating enterprise solutions to address poverty and promote prosperity across Africa. Our staff recently sat down with Rosa to get her perspectives on recent global phenomena that have already defined this decade.
What lasting changes do you believe will come out of the extraordinary events of 2020?
Today, our fault lines in income, in equality, in justice are simply too visible, too deep and too painful to ignore. We are living though a day of reckoning. Inequalities literally stared us down and dared us to make a difference.
Our social discourse will change. Our social systems are changing. Policing will change, as will our healthcare system. They are not changing at the speed or scale I would like, but they are changing. Whether you are talking about bodycams and training for police officers, or PPE inventories and contagious disease research, I believe change will be both incremental and enduring. I also believe change will be bold.
What can we learn from history?
Never before in my lifetime have the words of Martin Luther King rung so true as they do today. Dr. King spoke about the “inescapable network of mutuality” and how we are tied in a “single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.” This, said Martin Luther King, “is the interrelated structure of reality.”
Will things ever go back to the way they were?
I don’t think we can go back. And I don’t think we should, either. We need to be thinking in entirely different terms with different language. We need to get out of beta.
As individuals, as humans, we have a very strong capacity to remember negative events. This has been hardwired into our brains as we have evolved. This helped us to survive. But over the long run, humanity, oddly enough, has a very strong tendency to forget. Somehow, forgetting has been hardwired into our species, as well. We forget the price of inequality. Minorities, the old, the sick, the marginalized pay a greater price during pandemics. We have seen this before. And yet, we don’t act.
This is not a question of capacity. It is a question of leadership. So, I don’t like to use the language of normalcy, of looking backward. It smacks of inertia. I’d much rather talk about a new direction or new trajectory, rather than going back to “normal”.
How are today’s events and digital transformation connected?
I believe and hope that there will continue to be an intersection of digital technologies and the humanities. Now, more than ever in my lifetime, people are hungry to find answers that humanities can provide, that faith can provide.
I have personally witnessed in Africa what a force for good technology can be. While much remains to be done across Africa, technology is helping to close the education, economic and healthcare gaps. From villages to urban centers, technology is enabling jobs and opportunities. With more attention and resources, we can also close economic and digital divides among nations.
Despite the progress in digital transformation, I am concerned that technological balkanization, driven by politics, will continue to pose one of the greatest challenges to globalization. We will have to achieve the right balance. But the good associated with digital transformation far outweighs the challenges—which are all surmountable.
This conversation was edited for space and clarity.