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Old and crowded: Why population growth requires governments to innovate



By Stefano Lindt
Author of the upcoming Citizen 20|20 eBook

Global Populations_HP20140919134.jpg

The world is turning greyer, largely due to rapid advances in medicine that are keeping people healthy longer and making chronic diseases more manageable. At the same time, birth rates in developed nations have dropped, meaning that those countries’ populations are gradually aging.

In developing nations, we see similar population growth but on the other end of the lifecycle. The conventional wisdom is that as infant mortality drops, the fertility rate eventually declines as well. But before that happens, these countries experience a “youth bulge,” as women continue to have a high number of babies and more of their babies survive. That’s the scenario expected to play out over the next few decades in developing nations, where populations will grow six times faster than those of developed countries.

Neither situation is ideal, of course. An overly elderly population stresses healthcare and social support systems, while an overly youthful society has a hard time providing enough jobs for its able-bodied workforce.

Here come the megacities


Global Populations_Megacities.jpg

Another unstoppable trend is the rapid urbanization of the world. Populations are continuing the city-ward movement that has marked the last 200 years, crowding into ever-denser urban centers. People are migrating to cities for better employment opportunities and, in some cases, for better access to services provided by municipal governments. By 2030, 60 percent of people will live in cities of more than 10 million[1], and the world’s 600 fastest-growing cities will account for 60 percent of global economic growth[2].

While the world already has nearly three dozen megacities with populations of 10 million or more, by 2030 it will have another dozen, according to the United Nations[3]. Some of today’s megacities, such as Tokyo, Seoul, and New York, are vibrant, thriving, cultural and economic hubs. But many—from Delhi to Dhaka and Kinshasa to Karachi—are plagued with any number of crippling urban problems: homelessness, poverty and slums, crime, pollution, and traffic congestion. As cities continue to grow, so will the scale of the problems that afflict them.

At the nexus of these issues is government. Government will be the first system to feel the stress of these population trends, and government will be the system expected to address them.

Governments must innovate

These trends can’t be stopped. So the question becomes: What do we do?

The role of government has always been to deliver the right services to the right people at the right time, but current population trends make that job more difficult than ever. People will need to be fed, housed, transported, and employed at rates unprecedented in history. They will need more clean water and will generate more waste than cities have ever had to manage before.  

To be sure, these population trends will make innovation essential. And while private sector innovation may hold many answers to the problems of tomorrow, governments must act to innovate as well. They have to figure out how to support an aging population, employ a young population, and handle an overall increase in population.

The governments that succeed will be strong and progressive, capable of anticipating problems and proactively working to prevent them. They will build the infrastructure to support their growing populations, including transportation, housing, schools, and social services. And if they don’t, they risk losing the citizens they need the most: mobile professionals who have the means to move anywhere that government functions better.

“Governments that serve people must understand their needs, respond with speed, and deliver services that are tailored to them,” says Suparno Banerjee, the global leader for Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s Future Cities initiative. “Otherwise, people and businesses have a choice. They’re going to relocate.”

For some people with marketable skills and upwardly mobile means, cross-border immigration will become easier. (And savvy governments will work to woo this creative class with efficiency, transparency, and responsiveness.) For others fleeing conflict, violence, and persecution, immigration will become a means of survival. We need only look at Europe today, which is struggling to handle a massive influx of millions of refugees from Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan.

In any case, governments must be prepared to address these challenges. To learn more about the future of citizens and government, join us at the HPE Government Summit 2016. We’ll discuss how transformation can prepare governments to better deliver on their missions tomorrow and beyond.

[1] (Berger, 2015)

[2] (Dobbs, Smit, Remes, & Many, 2011)

[3] (United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affiars, 2014)

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