3 takeaways from the Devex Career Forum that could impact your career

The Devex Partnerships & Career Forum in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by: Devex

Last week, Devex convened over 200 global development professionals — representing more than 35 nationalities based in Ethiopia and the surrounding region — together with dozens of international organizations to discuss career and job opportunities in East Africa at the first Devex Career Forum in Addis Ababa.

Throughout panels, breakout sessions and conversations with both professionals and international development leaders, three emerging trends impacting current and future career prospects for aid workers became clear.

1. The localization of aid movement has drastically changed career opportunities for both international and local national professionals.

Most international employers in attendance reported that the number of positions available for international hires continues to diminish. A project in the past that may have hired for five international positions may now hire just one, if any at all.

When organizations cannot find the right candidate in-country, they are looking first in neighboring countries. As a result, job prospects for local nationals both in their home country and surrounding region are surging, while opportunities for professionals from the United States, United Kingdom or European Union have diminished.

When organizations do bring in international candidates, they are increasingly seeking capacity building and training skills to complement sectoral or management expertise. Expats who want to stay in demand should highlight these skills and be willing to mentor the local staff to eventually assume leadership of their projects.

2. The center of gravity in development continues to shift from the West into the South.

International organizations with longstanding headquarters in cities like Washington. D.C. or London are moving leadership positions out of the home office and into program countries.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for example, shared that it will move employees out of offices in Seattle, Washington and London to offices in Beijing, Delhi and Addis Ababa. In fact, the foundation recently hired a new director for Africa who will work from Addis rather than in London, where the previous director sat.

Several U.N. agencies are relocating staff out of New York and Geneva to regional hubs in cities like Istanbul, Bangkok or Dakar to make it easier for staff to visit project offices.

These organizations typically conduct a global search for these positions rather than hire locally, however many recruiters reported that they increasingly look to the diaspora to fill these roles.

3. Organizations are looking at how they can restructure and staff their operations to achieve more value for money

Employers have always weighed costs when making hiring decisions, but with increased pressure from their donors, budgeting is playing a bigger role in those decisions than ever before. The U.K. Department for International Development and its many implementing partners shared that candidates are evaluated not just by their skills and experience, but also by how expensive they will be to employ. So, for example, a consultant already based in-country or in a region that is less expensive to fly from could be chosen over someone based further away.

The African Development Bank, meanwhile, expects to lose some 15 percent of staff in its move back to Abidjan from Tunis, which will give the institution an opportunity to think more strategically about how and where it builds back that capacity.

To date, the AfDB has maintained three categories of hiring: local staff, professional staff and consultants. Now, the bank is considering creating a new class of employees, with the working title “local professional.” Local professionals would not have to be nationals of where they work — any citizen from a AfDB member country would be eligible — but they would work for a local, fair market wage without all of the expat benefits.

As the line between local and international hires become increasingly blurred, many predict that future career opportunities will not be defined as one or the other, but rather the sector will evolve into a marketplace where positions are hired and paid locally from a global talent pool.

Where do you see the future of the global development hiring marketplace heading? Please leave your comments below.

If you have a questions about managing your career in global development, please tweet me @DevexCareers. Subscribe to our weekly Doing Good newsletter to receive top international development career and recruitment news.

About the author

  • Warren kate 1

    Kate Warren

    Kate Warren is Executive Vice President and resident talent and careers guru at Devex. With 15 years of global development recruitment experience advising international NGOs, consulting firms, and donor agencies, she has a finger on the pulse of hiring trends across the industry and insider knowledge on what it takes to break in.