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The future of a smart city starts from its people, not technology

October 18, 2020

“If you look at history, innovation doesn’t come just from giving people incentives; it comes creating environments where their ideas can connect.” – Steve Jobs.

Innovation must be fostered by providing an inclusive environment, where no idea is pushed down and thoughts and opinions are shared openly. In fact, every person is creative, we all have our own ways of thinking based on our values, culture, and social environment. But how do we make our society, and the individuals within it, truly believe all of us are valuable? How would any city foster an environment that creates a safe space for everyone’s ideas to be heard? This is particularly important because the successful future of smart cities requires our society to be agile, innovative, technologically enabled, and resilient to change. This type of city will need people who are able to think positively, recognize opportunities, be flexible and adaptive.

Smart cities require two things:

A smart city is a resilient city – one that is not only technologically enabled and connected but promotes an agile way of tackling environmental, societal, and economic challenges.

  1. Education – promote a lifelong learning mindset, a way to breakdown stereotypes through positive psychology

Did you know that the first three years of your life are the most important years of your learning? It is when you first explore the world and discover things for the first time. Are you provided with an environment that urges you to explore new things, try, and fail? Or, are you told “no” about the things you are exploring the first time? Creating a positive environment that fosters curiosity and encourages exploring the unknown is one of the first steps for a person to develop into someone who can resist change, tackle the unknown, and grasp opportunities.

A future with smart cities starts by providing children with the opportunities to develop, supporting them, and helping struggling families with the assistance tailored to their needs. Even small measures, such as providing families with social groups, expert advice, and helping them stay connected.

When children begin schooling, they should be encouraged to explore both their strengths and weaknesses without setting a certain expectation. It is important for schools to break down stereotypes and explain to children that if you are not as good as someone at one particular task or activity, it does not classify you as a failure. Instead, emphasize learning how to develop and ask for help. This type of environment should be supported all the way until the end of their learning journey and continue into the professional working years.

It is necessary to continue to apply this logic into adulthood, ensuring that a smart city truly embraces mistakes and associated growth. In today’s world, many of us remain silent because we are afraid of making mistakes, meaning that we never truly left our comfort zone.

  1. Social innovation – providing opportunities and solving societal problems

Smart cities should embed social innovation into their way of operating. I had the chance to travel to Indonesia, to study social entrepreneurship, and what I found was that many of the world’s “wicked” problems (problems that have no straightforward solution, such as homelessness), are relieved by creating a social enterprise. These consist entirely of non-for-profit businesses and are identified by trying to address a societal issue. For example, Eregano is a social business in Indonesia that educates local farmers on beneficial farming methods so that they can sell more, provide a platform for wider distribution chains, and lift some of these farmers out of poverty.

This concept could also be used, for example, during the COVID-19 lockdown, where scores of people have become unemployed. Using this concept, individuals could obtain employment and become responsible for addressing a societal need within the community, potentially delivering an end product that could be sold to the market. Remaining employed during this time, community members receive an income, used for food and rent while maintaining connections and relevant skills to remain in the workforce.

When society has fostered a mindset through positive psychology and continual growth, individuals are more open-minded to share ideas, create new concepts, and explore the unknown by taking more risk to try out something different. This would lead to startups prospering as well as an enhanced business sector with a continual drive. It would make the city more competitive in global markets and grow investment. By encouraging local communities to tackle societal problems, inclusivity and connectedness will be an evident way towards the future of smart cities.


Julia Alftan

Associate Consultant – SAP

Capgemini Australia