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Preparing for a World of 8 Billion: A Non-Zero-Sum Initiative

By November 30, 2016

By: Sumair Sayani, Vice President, The Demand Institute and Nielsen, cross-posted from

Project 8There is perhaps no greater and more enduring problem facing our world today than our ability to satisfy basic human needs for the world’s changing population. Our success in doing so depends on our ability to put high-quality metrics into the hands of decision-makers.

Changing human need dynamics

Important and large shifts are going to change the world over the next decade.

  • Life expectancies will continue to rise
  • Over 500 million people will move into cities
  • Over 1.5 billion people will join the middle class

These shifts, and a global population set to reach 8 billion, mean a fundamental change in the future human need dynamics.

This leads us to ask ourselves some very important questions.

Do we know:

  • What will it take to sustain a global population of 8 billion people and beyond?
  • How much food will China need to feed its population?
  • How much energy will be needed in India?
  • How much new housing will be needed in Brazil?

The answer is no, we don’t.

Knowledge gap

Our success in answering these questions depends on our collective ability to put high-quality metrics into the hands of decision-makers, whether they be leaders in government agencies, NGOs, foundations non-profit agencies, academia or business.

Unfortunately, today’s data on basic human need is:

Highly fragmented
Databases exist, but they are produced by many different organizations and hosted in many different places

Highly variable
Even within a single need in a specific country, there can be a wide variation across estimates. There isn’t an easy way to query and compare these data side by side, or to discuss the scientific assumptions that drive differences in these datasets.

Challenging to access and navigate
Much of the World’s data on human needs isn’t user-friendly. Using these datasets requires specialized skills, software and computing power.

Non zero sum—collaboration vs competition

While we face mounting challenges, there probably has never been a better time to feel positive about ability of humankind to solve our problems.

Among a plethora of achievements we have made that has brought us to this point of human evolution, and bodes well for our days ahead, perhaps none has more potential to change our destiny than our ability to ‘collaborate’.

Robert Wright in his 1999 book “Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny” argued that when complexity in human societies increase, the ability to reap non-zero-sum gains also increases. This means we start to gravitate more towards co-operation and collaboration instead of displaying a zero sum mind set derived from the game theory, where one’s gain is equal to someone else’s loss.

As we grapple with rising challenges, the evolving global eco-systems around globalization, technological advancements, and rising wave of acting responsibly, are giving rise to more organic and more enduring platforms for global collaboration.

Nielsen CEO, Mitch Barns is a big advocate of non-zero-sum thinking. It was this tone at the top that has led to what we call the “Project 8”.

Project 8—a global data collaboration to understand future human needs

Project 8 is enabling a new critical collaboration built around data. It is building a global, digital information community to bring people and data together. A data commons that allows the community of practice from public- and private-sector organizations to share and use information to build new insights; produce new research; create new solutions, to better understand evolving demand for basic human needs.

Project 8 is also timed with a new global development agenda. As the World rallies around a new set of Sustainable Development Goals, Project 8 is part of the data revolution[1] necessary to achieve these goals. By fostering cross-sector collaboration around human needs data, Project 8 directly supports those working to achieve the Sustainable Development Agenda.

Founded by The Demand Institute, a not-for-profit think tank jointly operated by Nielsen and The Conference Board, and the UN Foundation, the project has received collaboration from the United States Department of State;; Accenture; Davis Wright Tremaine LLP; Baker & McKenzie and several hundred volunteer hours of resources from The Demand Institute’s parent organizations.

Learn more about Project 8.

Project 8 uses Salesforce to Increase their Impact

About the Author
Sumair SayaniSumair Sayani is a Vice President at The Demand Institute and Nielsen. Sumair leads The Demand Institute’s delivery of key programs. Prior to this role, Sumair led the Nielsen’s Public Development & Sustainability Vertical for Middle East North Africa & Pakistan (MENAP) region working with a diverse range of clients from the private sector and government ministries to NGOs and multilateral donors. Sumair has been part of the Nielsen regional leadership team in the MENAP region for several years; before moving to MENAP, Sumair held several roles within Nielsen in the US and Netherlands in audit, finance and business analysis functions.

[1] The Secretary-General’s Independent Expert Advisory Group on a Data Revolution for Sustainable Development. A World The Counts: Mobilising the data revolution for sustainable development (United Nations 2014), available from