The future of work in the garden of forking paths

Autores:  Ramiro Albrieu y Gonzalo Zunino



Digitalization, artificial intelligence, and related technologies are undoubtedly changing the way we approach our social and economic lives. By allowing us to produce –both old and new– goods and services in novelty ways, technologies are not just transforming production processes, but the very essence of jobs in the workplace. At the technological frontier, robots and software are carrying out many tasks that used to belong exclusively to humans. Far from that frontier, the developing world struggles to adopt and adapt new technologies while avoiding job displacement and technological anxieties.

Such deep transformations force us to think about what comes next: will robots end up filling the already scarce jobs in the Global South? Will technology exacerbate or help us tackle social gaps? Lots of efforts are directed to capturing elements of how the future of work will look like.

However important these questions are, there is an inherent limitation in trying to predict a future that “is coming». This approach reduces our capacity for collective action and transforms it into a mere response to this «otherness» that is approaching. In reality, however, the shape of the future is continually evolving, as our collective past and present actions result in new reconfigurations and (dis)equilibria. There is room to create the future we want for the developing world: taking ownership of the Global South’s transformational capacity is the first step towards this goal.

Two important factors need to be embraced in the quest of shaping the future of work in the Global South: context and complexity. History proves that countries can take advantage of the window of opportunity open by technological waves. Still, there are no unique formulas for success. Technology does not appear in a vacuum, but within specific cultures, institutions, and histories. The combination of these and other dimensions hold specific keys to unlock development processes.

With the principles of context and complexity in mind, between June and August 2021, 80 regional experts participated in the «Dialogues on the future of work in the Global South”. This series of events, coordinated by CIPPEC and hosted by the African Economic Research Consortium, the Economic Research Forum, Just Jobs Network, and Red Sur, were a first step towards developing a vision for the future of work from an inter-regional Global South perspective.

In these dialogues, academics and field experts engaged in a double cross- fertilization process: they discussed key questions for variety of relevant themes – including technology, skills, institutions, demographics, and inequality– while approaching them from the regional perspectives of Sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Latin America, and Asia.

This document –as well as three companion papers covering other Global South regions- seeks to present key messages and policy recommendations emerging from these discussions. On the one hand, it is intended to take stock of the main dimensions shaping the future of work in the Global South. On the other, it is an open invitation to move from the plane of predictions to that of the imagination and future-building. It can serve as a powerful tool to reframe the discussion by adding Global South perspectives.

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