When the Covid-19 pandemic spread globally, we were unprepared to face it. Suddenly, everything changed. Individuals, communities, enterprises, universities, and governments had to adapt to a new system. Reality became about hybrid education, home office, online meeting, social distance, vaccines. And, in the center of all: health. Global perspective changed in a few weeks’ time. Would it have been different if we’d known that these changes would happen? What if we had been prepared? 

It’s impossible to be fully prepared for the unpredictable. But if we can map out possibilities, we can explore scenarios and anticipate. Plus, in most cases, change the direction of the change. That is precisely where this book is aiming for: a knowledge-based guess at what might be ahead, so you can change course and use it for the better. 

To explain possible trends, threats and opportunities, we dreamed of gathering various perspectives, overseeing coming changes, and developing future thinking. So we formed a multidisciplinary, diverse team of colleagues from Malaysia, Morocco, the Philippines, Ecuador, Taiwan, the U.S., and the Netherlands. Ten analysts, a group of designers, and three strategists searched, collected, aggregated, analyzed, combined, discussed, selected, and designed an overview of changes. They shared their findings with twenty colleagues for reflections and opinions. You can read some of their four-thousand remarks in grey alongside the main text. 

We tried to structure the impossible. And share the outcome to inspire you to realize “it can be different.” Although we conducted this study with a diverse team and spent thousands of hours on it, we are aware that we have biases. Our view of change assumes our current reality. Reality is eminently equipped with bias, which is a perception of reality. We can always do better. And we want to. That’s why we invite you to complement your perception of change and share it with us.
executive summary
Tomorrow’s world is different from today’s: things are constantly evolving and changing. The developments of the past decades and centuries have enabled significant developments in human progress. Similarly, current developments on various frontiers also enable considerable improvement in the years to come. Gaining a good understanding of how the world is changing is vital to understanding interrelationships and enabling thorough decision-making. Even though countless changes are happening, some of which are unimaginable with the current information available, it is worthwhile to understand the changes of the future. This book analyses the future from 6 different perspectives: economic, socio-cultural, political, ecological, technological, and demographic. While these chapters do not cover all possible changes happening in the future, they provide a good starting point for those who want to familiarize themselves with the world of the future. While the authors of this book have tried to be as thorough in their research as possible, this book should not be seen as ‘hard facts’. If there is one thing we can be sure of, things are constantly changing; the conditions surrounding the changes the authors have anticipated can also change. For those interested in the contents of this book, the following pages provide an overview of the key points per chapter divided per subtopic. 

1. economics

The economic chapter touches upon many different actors and the global system. All topics interact with each other. Consumer behavior will change production, demanding more sustainable and futureproof options. Therefore, international trade and government policies will change and contemplate new opportunities and risks for the economic system, such as the rise of cryptocurrencies, the aging labor force, and automation. Emerging and declining skills, the future of work, and new demographic conditions are already changing the labor market. Therefore, private actors, technology, and governmental policies will change the future economic system. 

1.1 the future of production 

  • key trends - digitalization, cybersecurity, & the environment: Advances in technology will contribute to greater efficiency and production productivity. The three key trends impacting production will be the digitization of the supply chain, the negative cybersecurity threat posed, and a greater emphasis on environmental risks.
  • relevancy, responsibility, and resiliency of supply chains: Automation in manufacturing, greater investment into advanced technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning, and the consumer towards the center of decisions will transform the supply chains. 
  • creating sustainable business models: business models will undergo various changes: business models will adapt with a focus on global sustainable impact, the investment will be allocated to sustainability, and there is growing consciousness to observe sustainable business practices.

1.2 shifting towards a futureproof consumption pattern

  • the importance of sustainable food systems: Sustainable food systems come down to three influential trends: the digital transformation of controlling agricultural production, growing consciousness on behalf of consumers to improve their diets, and regulatory policies to incentivize sustainable consumption.
  • changes in consumer behavior: Consumers will become more aware of their actions and their purchases' effects on the environment. Consumer behavior will move towards digital adoption, the digitization of the consumer shopping experience, and changes in purchasing choices to become more sustainable.
  • online retail: The future of online retail will be redefined by its ease of use. Online shopping will optimize the customer experience, emphasizing sustainable practices, the environment, and easy use. Online retail has to deal with severe criticism due to various forms of pollution.

1.3 money, money, m… cryptocurrency? financial developments

  • capital markets: The future of capital markets will focus much on ESG factors, digitalization of financial products, and the incorporation of new (ESG and technological) risks.
  • the rise of cryptocurrencies: The growing popularity of cryptocurrencies has brought fundamental disruptions in our financial world.

1.4 the global economy - trade & interdependence 

  • international trade & global value chains: The increased focus on the negative impact of interdependency and technological advancements, will mean that countries engage differently in international trade.
  • trade policies: Governments are increasingly actively using their trade policies to protect their economies and even attack a different country's economy.

1.5 the labor market

  • the future of work: The digitization of work and globalization will see a diverse international collaboration through online meetings and Work From Home (WFH) initiatives.
  • emerging and declining skills & jobs: Advancements in technology will digitize certain tasks. This has a net positive impact on jobs relating to technology. However, this will consequently cause a decline in jobs pertaining to simple, repetitive tasks simply.
  • work and demographics: An aging population and globalization will cause the labor market to look very different from ever before. This brings more diversity in terms of age, ethnicity, and gender.

1.6 changing policies - governments’ roles in economics

  • central banking: Central banks worldwide are expected to proactively address challenges brought by digitalization and the carbon transition.
  • taxation - the economic and social side: Tax authorities are reconsidering the relationship between tax design, economic growth, and sustainability in the digital era.

2. socio-cultural

The Socio-Cultural chapter explored some trends that will shape the socio-cultural context in the future. The individual and societal well-being will face new positive and negative changes. New advancements in social media will create a future where online and virtual are linked, and this sector will increase drastically. However, there are the risks of a future lack of face-to-face interactions and the development of fake information. In addition, religions will change in terms of number and proportions. Some will slightly decline, others will remain and grow, mainly because of the aging and growing population. New social standards will rise, and some social issues will remain. What is certain is that society will change.

2.1 societal & individual well-being - living happily ever after 

  • a healthy community - societal well-being: Future advancements will change current online communities, marriage, and family structures; the rise of the individual will affect society as a whole. 
  • a healthy self - individual well-being: Technology and countries will address loneliness and mental health conditions—happiness and well-being on the individual level.

2.2 media & entertainment 

  • the future of the digital era: The gaming, music, radio, podcast, book, and online entertainment industries will adapt to new platforms and more streaming-based media. 
  • social media - every company online: Social media will intertwine even more with the physical world; it is shifting to a virtual world.
  • the decline of trust in media: The trend is that trust in media is declining. Policies, such as data protection and e-privacy laws can mitigate the harm of fake news.
  • the creator economy - 100 billion dollars, 50 million creators, and growing: Content creators, curators, and community builders will work on new or renewed platforms, for example, cooperative ownership. More people will be able to live off of their content and continue being creative.

2.3 purpose & spirituality

  • change in religion: The size and ratio of different religions are changing​​. Some are rapidly growing due to population growth; others will stay the same or even shrink in size due to an older population.
  • the power of conspiracy theories & cults: There will be new movements; they will rise and gain popularity due to the internet and social media. Some will be known as cults and others as new religions. 
  • what does ‘purpose in work’ entail?: The sense of purpose is an essential aspect of humanity. Having it benefits individuals and companies. The purpose will become even more critical in our lives and at work.

2.4 social standards - navigating future expectations 

  • beauty standards - towards diversity and body positivity?: Beauty Standards in society have impacted the way men and women project themselves; however, these standards have changed dramatically throughout the years and are never constant. There is no real definition of what "beautiful" is; beauty can be defined in many ways, starting with oneself.
  • female emancipation - women’s role in society: In many cultures, women have been expected to act a certain way and do certain things that men are not pressured to do so. These societal expectations affect how women see themselves and impose self-limiting beliefs.
  • anti black racism and black lives matter - a voice for racial injustice: Biases in the Black community have affected numerous people for decades; from biased justice systems to biases in the workplace, these are issues that people worldwide are trying to bring to the light.

3. politics

No one can precisely predict the future of politics, but the political chapter outlines some of the possible trends. The political climate depends on what parts of our politics are embedded in our human nature and taught behavior. At the same time, geopolitics will see conflict and security in different forms and definitions. New actors like China are taking the lead to change the way states cooperate, given that many of the existing international organizations are having trouble with their effectiveness and representation. Meanwhile, technology will change civil society and government interactions, resulting in new policies and new forms of activism. At the same time, the leaders of tomorrow will have new abilities and attitudes, and different types of leaders will come in politics and business. 

3.1 political climate - dealing with polarization, populism, & xenophobia

  • polarization - when societies divide: There are two possible scenarios, one is grim and the other optimistic. The first portrays polarization as a self-reinforcing cycle that will spin out of control. In the second, polarization is a pendulum that has reached its peak, and the debate will turn more rational.
  • populism - the supposed rule of the people: Globalization trends will heavily influence populism; It will keep expanding unless the underlying issues are tackled.
  • xenophobia - when strangers are to be feared: The future of xenophobia is opaque because it largely depends on human countermeasures in the coming decades. Living in a less xenophobic world lies in expanding the hunter-gatherer band to include all human beings.

3.2 geopolitics - on war & peace

  • traditional security - borders & militarization: Countries continue to increase their military spending and military innovation, and there is an increasing role for privatized military companies.
  • does warfare ever change? old wars vs. new wars: New developments in war dynamics (like long-lasting but low-intensity conflicts) and technological advancements will lead to fundamental and ethical questions about how countries wage wars.
  • cyberwarfare - when actors resort to different methods: The total cost of cybercrime on economies is estimated to reach trillions of dollars in the near future. The priority for combatting cybercrime and cyberwarfare is the creation of international guidelines and regulations for malicious cyber practices. Until then, current legal grayness will allow aggressors easily get away with their malpractices.
  • the politicization of strategic resources: Scarcity of sand and sustainable water projects can further tensions between countries.
  • human security: What security is truly about? Governments and international organizations have introduced the idea of human security as a holistic security approach. This concept will stimulate more and more governments to apply it in their countries.
  • global powers & the power shift: Unipolarity, bipolarity, multipolarity may happen in the future. Global and regional power may shift. However, it isn't easy to know who the main actors in global politics will be. 

3.3 international cooperation - enemies and allies

  • politics at the highest level - the united nations: The Security Council will need to change to remain relevant, and the UN is a key actor in climate change mitigation.
  • when institutions die - the case of the world trade organization: The WTO currently does not function and will need to change to deal with future trade challenges.
  • emerging powers - the brics: Countries that feel like traditional international organizations do not represent their interests create their institutions to further their international interests.
  • new initiatives & the importance of infrastructure - the belt and road initiative (bri): China is investing massively to develop infrastructure worldwide.
  • covid-19 and international cooperation: The pandemic has created possibilities for soft power influence - sharing vaccines and economic aid to further political agendas.

3.4 political developments around the world - individual regions

  • asia-pacific - china, democratic backsliding, & online activism: China's growing influence, democratic backsliding and the emergence of digital activism are shaping the political landscape of the Asia-Pacific region.
  • americas - the fragility of trust: The political divide in the United States is more pronounced now than in the past, while Latin America is witnessing declining trust in democracy
  • west asia and north africa - demographic, economic, & geopolitical shifts: The rapidly growing young generation, economic uncertainty, and changing geopolitics could bring political changes across the Arab world.
  • europe, russia, and eurasia - allies & alliances: European leaders are increasingly aware of the issue of political integrity and the development of the Sino-Russian relationship.
  • sub-saharan africa - new generations & democratization: Despite the unresolved conflicts in the region, the young population and rapid urbanization are likely to transform Sub-Saharan Africa's political landscape. 

3.5 technology and the government of the future

  • The increasing role of technology in the political sphere is molding the way governments respond to fundamental changes in our society.

3.6 political activism - changing society for the better

  • climate change activism - the demand for immediate action: One of the most controversial movements; now, the youth is in-charge. The fight against Climate Change is growing; however, the impact of climate change is irreversible.
  • lgbt+ - the fight for gender & sexuality rights: In today's world, most cultures have been more inclusive of the LGBT+ community; however, discrimination against the LGBT+ community is still an ongoing issue; equal rights and laws that raise accountability for assailants have still not been implemented despite the alarming events.
  • inclusivity - a voice for everyone: While activist movements challenge political action, everyone that wants change must consider how people are affected and how a movement creates a chain reaction internally and externally.
  • is the government to be trusted? political trust & legitimacy: Trust is essential, and the same goes for the citizens and the government. Without trust, policies and regulations are harder to implement.
  • the future of activism: Digital Activism is now on the rise; this form of activism has changed policies, fought biased justice systems, and challenged unethical practices. This is an addition to the future of activism.

3.7 leading the change - leaders of tomorrow 

  • what the private sector can contribute - the future of business leaders: While certain components of leadership will remain the same, the future leader will require a new set of abilities and attitudes to thrive. World crises and transformations necessitate the appointment of new leaders with diverse ideas.
  • future of political leaders - the need for inspiration & inclusivity: Political leadership is to be more inclusive, while at the same time, there is a rise in populist leaders. 

4. ecology

The Ecology and Climate Change chapter explores the challenges society will face in the coming years: rising demand for food and water coupled with decreased supply, the need for renewable energy systems, the wastefulness and unsustainable nature of the current economic system, and the decline of the natural world and environment. Some cases are caused by climate change; others contribute to the effects of climate change. Major developments will change the environment's prospects and help humans live more sustainably. For example, future technology can improve the availability of food, clean water, and sustainable energy. Furthermore, corporate sustainability, bio-based materials, and new public awareness will help the world move towards a circular economy, protecting biodiversity and environmental activism.

4.1 food & water - our most fundamental needs

  • food - how to feed the largest global population yet: Without any drastic changes, the world will not reach the zero hunger goal by 2030. 3D food printing, alternative proteins, and vertical farming will change the food sector and consumption culture.
  • water - scarcity vs flood protection: Global water consumption is predicted to rise by 50-80% over the next decades. New technologies will address the challenges of water scarcity and floods; if not, billions will be affected by 2050.

4.2 the energy transition & natural resources

  • solar power: The future of solar power will be characterized by communities sharing solar panels, floating solar panels, and solar-powered electric vehicles.
  • historic with great potential - wind power: New technological developments will evolve for wind power generation. Industrial Learning of Things is one aspect that will change the way of working with and generating power via wind.
  • the majority of our planet’s surface - water & the potential of hydropower: Hydropower has reached high levels of technological maturity still, there are technological developments planned for the future to make this renewable energy source more sustainable and compromise for its damage to the environment.
  • inner heater - geothermal power: Geothermal power's future will be characterized by the new technology of Enhanced Geothermal Systems.

4.3 towards a circular economy - living within the earth’s biocapacity

  • bio-based materials: Bio-based materials will create opportunities to reduce industrial waste and pollution by replacing plastics and other raw materials with natural, sustainable alternatives and even repurposed waste materials.
  • waste recycling, upcycling, and remanufacturing: Public support for sustainable, refurbished, and recycled products is growing at the same time that companies across different industries are finding ways to minimize, reduce, and reuse the waste they produce.
  • market pressures & corporate social responsibility: the world is at a point where CSR is the standard instead of optional to integrate into a firm’s strategy.

4.4 conservation & the natural environment

  • biodiversity - how do we prevent mass-extinction?: Biodiversity loss, which has accelerated to the point of sixth mass extinction, threatens Earth’s ecosystems and living creatures and human and even economic health. 
  • environmental awareness and activism: The increasing urgency of the climate crisis is reflected in the growing strength and intensity of environmental activism from communities around the world and across walks of life.
  • technology for ecology & conservation: Technological tools will increasingly be used to detect, mitigate, and prevent environmental problems, fight climate change, and more.

5. technology

The Technology chapter finds that many parts of people's lives will become partly if not fully digitized. Artificial intelligence will be implemented into daily tasks, personalizing and revolutionizing medical care. It might be possible to eradicate many current diseases. The internet of the future tends to be more user-centered. The increased usage of robots allows for increased efficiency and can alleviate some of the future labor shortages. Blockchain can significantly help society by improving trust, transparency, efficiency while facilitating innovation. However, technology is a tool that helps and harms people according to how it is used; it's essential to design and implement technology carefully and thoughtfully. 

5.1 digitization - technology in every aspect of our lives 

  • even more connected - the internet of things: Interaction with wifi-enabled machines will be the norm, possessing certain benefits, including greater efficiency, control, and feedback. The increase in IoT-enabled machines will be seen in diverse locations such as households and manufacturing plants.
  • will robots take over?: The advancements of technology will replace laborers who fulfilled repetitive tasks. The implementation of robots within the industry can be seen in diverse industries, including manufacturing and even the fulfillment of smart cities.
  • the potential of blockchain: The emergence of this new technology has the potential to change the way we conduct finance, legally binding contracts while providing efficiencies within supply chain management.
  • living in the digital world - the metaverse: This new concept holds the potential to redefine the way we interact and socialize. Known as the next iteration of the internet, the future of the metaverse can significantly change how we interact within the digital space.

5.2 big data, internet, and connectivity

  • freedom and transparency: The huge scale and scope of Big Data production have led to an increased desire for user control over personal data and more transparency about how this information is collected and used.
  • web 3.0 - “the financialization of everything”: Desire for transparency, autonomy, and user control in the digital space has led many people to invest in the idea of Web 3.0, a new version of the internet in which it is owned collectively by all users.
  • human-centered data and tech: Applying human-centered design principles to technology and data development can help harness the potential of technology in ways that improve human lives as much as possible.

5.3 what can technology contribute to healthcare?

  • the digitization of health: Spurred by technology, telehealth and personalized healthcare are becoming more widespread.
  • gene Editing - Perfect Health: Gene editing has the potential to eradicate genetic disease; however, there are many ethical concerns related to gene editing as well.
  • saving Lives? 3D Printing Organs: In the coming 10-15 years, it might be possible to 3D print fully functioning tissues and organs that can be transplanted into humans.
  • Robots - Bridging the Healthcare-Worker-Gap: The role of robots will become increasingly bigger in the decades to come.
  • Singularity - Will Technological Growth Become Uncontrollable?: There is a theoretical point in time at which technological growth becomes uncontrollable and irreversible, resulting in unforeseeable changes to human civilization.

5.4 digital ethics - is there a morally right and wrong in technology?

  • protecting the digital - cyber security: Digital reliance increases the risk of cyberattacks; anyone and any organization can be a target.
  • data privacy in the digital era: Everyone can choose what information to share and let companies collect, but not everyone is aware of how companies use it. Most of the time, people do not have the ability to say no, or else they will be denied service or access.
  • bias in technology: The future of technology is promising, but with the Bias instilled in technology such as AI, the question of the fairness of the future of technology remains unanswered.

6. demographics

The discussion turns around four trends in the Demographic chapter: aging, population growth, urbanization, and migration. Current data generally shows that the world population will grow until the end of this century, but not in every region. A growing population causes environmental impact, and population degrowth affects the pension and economic structure. In the future, the anti-aging market will grow, and older people's access to a good quality of life will improve. In addition, more people will live in cities, bringing challenges and opportunities discussed in the urbanization section. Cities, smart and sustainable, will enable a good quality of life. However, not every city can afford to be smart and sustainable; currently, more actions and policies need to be implemented to ensure proper and inclusive urbanization for the coming years. On migration, high skilled people will have a higher labor demand everywhere, making it easier to migrate. In addition, climate change, environmental and cataclysm events, quality of life will be significant push and pull factors for migration in the future. 

6.1 the future of gray hairs - aging populations

  • global and regional developments: In 2050, 1 in every 6 people on earth is expected to be over the age of 65.
  • perceptions towards aging: Older people can experience poor treatments from others in the form of ageism. Many older people try not to let the physical effects of aging show, resulting in a booming anti-aging market.
  • aging healthily and happily: People's lifestyle, healthcare, and living arrangements all play an instrumental role in ensuring that older people maintain a good quality of life in their old days.

6.2 growth and degrowth - dealing with changing demographics

  • Whether the global population grows or shrinks, there are challenges ahead. A growing population brings environmental troubles with it, whilst degrowth impacts the pay our pension system work. Current projections state that the population is set to shrink in the majority of countries from the end of the 21st century onwards.
  • depopulation - shrinking countries: Depopulation is projected to be a reality for both the developed and developing world in the coming decades. It will bring new challenges, some of which will result in negative and positive outcomes.
  • unrestricted growth & population control: 10.9 Billion people at the end of this century, population growth and sustainability are paramount for sustainability. Population growth needs to occur, but it can become an independent variant to assess sustainability. The impact of population growth on climate change depends heavily on where a child is born.
  • life expectancy - will we still die?: There is the possibility to reach 150 years of life expectancy in the future. The world is likely to be a more peaceful place as the average citizen grows older. The increase in life expectancy and low fertility rates will make children a rarity. Societies will also be less innovative and risk-taking. 
  • pensions - can we afford to become this old?: The world's pensions schemes are in for a paradigm shift. With many demographic factors changing rapidly in this century, it is an enormous task to keep up with current developments. 

6.3 the future of cities - developments in urbanization

  • global and regional developments: Although there are some differences around the world, at large, the world is set to urbanize in the future increasingly.
  • quality of life in cities: On the one hand, city life enables significant benefits such as high life satisfaction, innovation spillovers, proximity to goods and services, and less emission of greenhouse gasses. On the other hand, city life can result in greater exposure to pollution and diseases, scarcity of green spaces, and lack of community sense.
  • a roof over our heads?: Owning or renting accommodation in cities is becoming more of a distant reality; 90% of cities around the world do not provide affordable or adequate quality housing
  • cities of the future - smart and sustainable cities: Smart and Sustainable Cities: To combat some of the challenges associated with city life, smart and sustainable city initiatives are helping to improve the quality of life for residents.
  • rural areas: With the world increasingly urbanizing, there is a danger of the urban-rural divide becoming even bigger. 
6.4 migration 

  • the search for a better life - voluntary migration: In the future, the demand for high-skilled people will facilitate them to migrate; nevertheless, high-skilled migrants will prefer the quality of life over economic opportunities.
  • involuntary migration: There is no indication the levels of forced migration will decrease in the future. In addition, environmental and cataclysm events will be factors for forced migration.