Last week, more than 65 international development employers and 500 mid- to senior-level professionals representing more than 60 nationalities gathered together for the 7th annual Devex International Development Career Forum in Washington, D.C.
The room buzzed with energy as people networked, reconnected with colleagues and discussed the current and future state of development careers. Despite major shifts in the sector, the tone was optimistic about the future of international development work and the opportunity for those who can change with the times.
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Conversations at the forum ranged from how the evolving aid industry is impacting the skills and talent needed today to what the future development leader will look like. Here are five takeaways.
1. Employers look globally when seeking top talent
A global marketplace of talent has emerged, and the lines between expat, local and the oft-criticized term “third country national” are being further blurred.
Employers are no longer looking at candidates as fitting into specific buckets based on their nationality. Jon Herstein, international human resource operations director at RTI International, noted that the organization has become much more flexible in how it develops compensation and benefits packages in order to accommodate a wide range of situations. That may mean offering a housing stipend to a diaspora candidate returning to work in his or her home country or hiring an American already in the country on a local compensation package to fit within budget.
2. Resource mobilization skills in demand
For a variety of reasons — ranging from climate change-related natural disasters to increased political conflict in many parts of the world — aid workers are increasingly needed in crisis situations. The demand for resource mobilization experts is high, noted Michael Dahl, chief of talent management for the United Nations Population Fund. International organizations like the U.N. are looking to quickly mobilize donations and volunteers and coordinate aid efforts in response to these crises.
3. Get friendly with data
Big data is permeating every aspect of global development work, and today’s modern development professional needs to have at least a friendly relationship with data. You don’t need to be a statistician, though those kinds of skills are certainly valuable, but you do need to have an appreciation for how data can impact and inform your area of expertise, advised the panelists.
4. Innovation is about iteration and execution
Innovation has become a hard-to-escape buzzword in global development today.
Organizations, whether in the private or nonprofit sectors, are developing innovation units and innovation focused professionals. But what does that really mean, practically, for a global development professional? Innovation doesn’t have to mean coming up with a completely new idea, advised Alexis Bonnell, director of the office of engagement and communications for USAID’s Global Development Lab. It can be small iterations on an old idea to achieve greater results.
It’s not just about coming up with new and creative approaches, either.
Innovation is meaningless without follow through, so the ability to carry ideas out to fruition is where you truly add value.
5. Jack of all trades, master of one
In the highly specialized world of international development, having a specific technical focus is important to demonstrating your value. However, the ability to work across silos, bring in outside expertise as needed and be a strong manager who can get things done is equally important. While the panel noted that both generalists and specialists are needed, someone who can bring a blend of these skills is the “holy grail,” noted Herstein.
Did you attend the Devex International Development Career Forum in Washington, D.C.? What were your takeaways from the event? Please leave your comments below and follow the conversation with #DevexForum.
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