What OZY Has Learned by Going Halfway Around the World
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
The tussle for the world’s future is playing out in unexpected ways, and with surprising leaders.
By James Watkins and Charu Sudan Kasturi
When OZY launched its ambitious Around the World project in early February, we promised to take our audience on a journey to every single country on Earth, cover one each day — something no other news outlet has ever done. We set out to tell intriguing stories you wouldn’t find anywhere else, bringing previously unseen sides to different societies and cultures to light, and to dissect the trends shaping their future.
Four months on, we’ve crossed the halfway point of our whirlwind world tour, which has taken us from Mongolia to Mexico, and from Belarus to Benin, with scores of amazing countries in between. To celebrate this midway point — we hit our 100th country this week — we wanted to take stock. With 220 stories from more than 100 reporters across the globe, we hope we’ve delivered on our promise to surprise you — as we’ve surely surprised ourselves.
Along the way, we’ve started to connect some of the dots that unite seemingly disparate countries. Here’s a rundown of what we’ve learned, halfway around the world, as we try to build a better understanding of what the future holds.
Technology: Innovation Where You’d Least Expect It
From a 24-year-old Rwandan who’s revolutionizing Africa’s public transport through cashless payments, to Indian entrepreneurs developing apps to keep the country’s myriad — and dying — traditional cuisines alive, technology is transforming societies in a million different ways. Even in Afghanistan, software developers are producing apps helping people find solutions to day-to-day security challenges in the middle of a war.
Health: There’s Nothing Healthy About It …
The world of health doesn’t work the way you would expect. The Niger Delta supplies the oil that makes Nigeria Africa’s largest economy, but it’s witnessing worsening health indices, a divide that is deepening the country’s internal security crisis. Italian doctors smoke at higher rates than the country’s general population. In Colombia, a plastic surgeon leads the way in funding (and performing) free treatment for victims of acid attacks. Meanwhile, in West Africa, two poor countries are showing the world how to fight fatal diseases — Burkina Faso has cut HIV prevalence rates more than any other nation over the past two decades, and Sao Tome and Principe has nearly eliminated malaria.
Environment: Paris, Schmaris … The Real Action Is Far From the Negotiating Table
Where governments fall short, ordinary people are fighting to clean up the planet. British citizens are insisting supermarkets stop using plastic, inspired by a TV show; Lebanese activists are using engineering to soak up their capital’s waste, and Gambian environmentalists are taking over the country’s garbage dumps to manage them better.
Society: Women on the Rise
Women leaders across nations rich and poor are shaping societies, cities, economies and industries. Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, the new woman mayor of Sierra Leone’s capital Freetown is battling to bring modern governance norms to the West African nation. Neukölln mayor Franziska Giffey is leading a controversial battle against crime in a tough Berlin borough. The Panama Canal’s expansion was overseen by a woman engineer, lIya Espino de Marotta. An Australian pharmacist, Cathie Reid, is transforming cancer care in the Asia Pacific. And a female Indian imam is leading a debate over Islamic law while fighting for a clean environment in the world’s largest democracy.
Economics: Countries Take Unlikely Bets as They Deindustrialize
Small, fast-growing nations are diversifying their economies to reduce the risks of suffering events like the 2008 economic crisis, fluctuations in commodity prices and the current uncertainty of global trade networks. Kazakhstan, rich in resources like oil and uranium, is betting on a fintech future. Oman, also oil-rich, is eyeing art as an economic booster. Bangladesh, the world’s second-largest exporter of ready-made garments, is using its location to emerge a transit hub connecting South and Southeast Asia. And Ivory Coast is developing a startup ecosystem for when its coffee high wears off.
Culture: Local Twists on U.S. Culture
And amid questions over American leadership of the world, the U.S. still continues to influence otherwise closed societies through its pop culture. Different countries are making their own versions of traditionally American music, putting a local twist on these beats and often using them to tackle social issues. Youth in communist Vietnam and formerly communist Mongolia are turning to hip-hop to express themselves. In Uganda, a popular television anchor raps out the news of the day.