© UNICEF/NYHQ2014-1956/Pirozzi

The world is changing rapidly. Where there were around 5 billion people in 1990, by 2050 there will nearly 10 billion – more than 2.4 billion of them younger than 18. Many children born today will enjoy vast opportunities unavailable 25 years ago. But not all will have an equal chance to grow up healthy, educated and able to fulfil their potential and become fully participating citizens, as envisioned in the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The magnitude of change and the scope of new ideas we witness today are remarkable – but they also often represent extreme disparity.

Consider this: today, Internet giants can instantly identify you, predict your likes and dislikes, and build a detailed profile of who you are by using sophisticated algorithms. Yet, one child in three doesn’t have a legal identity – because the simple process of registering her or his birth did not occur.

In some places, cars operate on electricity alone – or even without a human being behind the wheel. Yet, elsewhere, critical medical forms must be filled out by hand – and a lack of infrastructure means the forms can take 30 days to travel from a rural clinic to a laboratory in the capital.

As the global development community plots its course for the post-2015 era beyond the Millennium Development Goals, it must ask: Will rapid change accentuate or diminish the extremes that separate children who want for almost nothing and those who are deprived of almost everything?

The answer to this question is not predetermined; there is a choice to be made. Will governments, the development and humanitarian communities, and partners in civil society, business and academia continue on the same path, recording incremental improvements in the situations of children but not closing the gaps? Or can we be bolder, trying out unconventional approaches and looking for solutions in new places to accelerate progress towards a future in which all children can enjoy their rights?

Children watering bean plants in a nutrition garden at a school in Zimbabwe.
Children water bean plants in a school nutrition garden in Zimbabwe.© UNICEF/ZIMA2011-00011/Pirozzi

Children are being born into an increasingly connected world where lines between local and global problems are blurred. Global warming brings flooding to coastal towns even as it afflicts inland farms with drought. Disease and conflict spill over international borders. Curbs on migration or remittances rob migrant workers’ children in faraway countries of the means to eat well and go to school.

Solutions, too, are increasingly interwoven. In our hyper-connected, globalized world, people, technologies and ideas move more fluidly than ever before, generating unprecedented opportunities for collaboration to create large-scale change. Indeed, a global infrastructure of exploration is beginning to emerge – with innovators sharing ideas across borders and among groups of people previously excluded from the marketplace of knowledge and ideas.

These innovators are pushing the boundaries of the possible, often starting with small solutions to local problems that have the potential to spark change and help more children gain access to the services and opportunities that are theirs by right – but not always in reality.

To expand the impact of these innovations, we need to unleash systems that can help bring the most promising new ideas to scale. Greater interconnectivity is already facilitating broader collaboration between the private sector, with its speed, agility and drive to reinvent, and the development world, with its ability to convene partnerships, inform policies and implement solutions on the ground. The same connectivity needs to be accessible to grass roots problem-solvers – helping create a truly global collaborative workspace capable of forging solutions that bring more equal access to goods, services and opportunities to millions of people.

To minimize the risks of change and maximize its benefits for the most disadvantaged children, we need new products and processes, new partners and new models of partnership. These must be accessible to and influenced by disadvantaged and vulnerable people, and grounded in a better understanding of their realities and needs. For innovation alone is not enough; we need innovation that both embodies and advances inclusion and opportunity for all children.

The good news – as shown in this year’s State of the World’s Children – is that innovation is already happening, in places you might not always imagine, delivering solutions today that have the potential to change the lives of millions of children for years to come. The future is already present. What we make of it is up to us.