As Devex turns 15, reflections and thank-you's

From left to right, clockwise: David Miliband, president and CEO of International Rescue Committee; Tony Elumelu, chairman of the Tony Elumelu Foundation; Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former finance minister of Nigeria, Ashley Judd, actress and PSI ambassador; Jim Yong Kim, president of the World Bank; Chelsea Clinton, vice chair of the Clinton Foundation. Photo by: various sources

It all started with a simple idea: that development and aid workers deserve a media platform as professional and committed as they are.

And for a few friends eager to do something good, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. Back then there was no online community for global development professionals, no single source of news, insights and information critical to the business of doing good. So, 15 years ago, we dropped out of graduate school, quit our jobs and got to work.

It was hard going — harder than we expected — to convince aid agencies, development banks, and implementers who had been around for decades that the world was changing faster than it seemed. Development wasn’t going to remain an “us-and-them” proposition with dotted lines connecting donors in London and Washington to nongovernmental organizations and contractors in those same cities and finally to beneficiaries across the globe. Today’s development industry looks more like a bowl of spaghetti, and that’s a good thing.

Globalization and competition have come to development as they have to every other industry, and if Devex has played a part in that, we’re proud of it. We’ve tried to democratize aid, demystifying how you start a career at UNICEF or win a grant from EuropeAid. Nothing can describe the feeling of meeting an African engineer who tells you she couldn’t get a job working on a development project in her own country until she found Devex.

Development is less and less an insider’s club. If you’re a committed professional, there’s a place for you. It’s still harder than it should be for those in the “global south,” but it’s getting better. Innovation, entrepreneurship and growth are the watchwords for today’s development community. Things are moving.

As a social enterprise, we often consider how best to measure this progress and our role in it. I can tell you that we’ve saved charities and NGOs the tens of millions of dollars they used to spend on print advertising — money they can now direct to their programs. I can point to the growth of our community to now 700,000 registered members who are accessing the news and information we provide. But these data points don’t tell the story.

What matters most — and what seems hard to overstate — is the positive impact of helping the best organization win the tender, guiding a capable local NGO to the right foundation, or matching a gifted person to the perfect development job. When an intrepid Devex reporter gets the inside story and informs development executives everywhere about an important new trend, we like to think it matters.

This year is an adolescent one for Devex and for the development community overall. The MDGs are ending and a new set of goals are being put in place for the next generation. This next phase in global development will aim to literally end poverty. Sure, there are lots of holes that can be poked in grand plans like these (we know, we do our share of it), but sometimes it’s worth stepping back to remember that we’re all part of an industry with the unlikely mission to do good. Literally. For all the bureaucracy, corruption, waste and good intentions gone awry, I still get goosebumps considering how amazing it is to have an entire global industry set up for the purpose of helping the world.

The critical thing of course isn’t just doing good, it’s doing it well. Add up all the foreign aid, private foundations, corporate giving, crowdfunding — everything — and development is a $200 billion industry. Make that industry just a little more efficient — just a percent or two — and it would be like adding one of the largest foundations to the world. That’s the potential we see when we improve our search features so business development professionals can more easily find the right projects to bid on. That’s the opportunity we chase when we fill our organization database with humanitarian agencies to make it easier for a returning aid worker to find her next posting. That’s the revolution we’re after when we examine the latest corporate partnerships for advancing global health.

Yes, we’re revealing ourselves as geeks for saying this, but the painstaking and ongoing work to build a kind of development data behemoth — hundreds of thousands of professionals, projects, organizations, jobs, articles and reports linked together — is a labor of love. We feel privileged to serve this community and it energizes us. Your passion and commitment to making the world a better place — sometimes with real personal sacrifice — inspires us. Imagine this feeling that we get all too often: We receive an alert that an aid worker was killed in the line of duty and find that she’s a Devex member. We feel an awesome responsibility to each and every one of you.

It’s a responsibility to get it right. To get the inside story. To get you the information you need to fund your social enterprise. To get you the talent you need for your mission. To get you the field experience that puts your career on track.

Fifteen years ago, when I was in graduate school and asked for advice on jump-starting my own career in global development, people told me to go to Washington, D.C., and network. “Attend cocktail parties.” It seemed wrong that the development community could be so opaque and cliquish.

We never did make it to those cocktail parties. Instead, 15 years later, we raise a glass to you. There are 100 of us at Devex — dozens of the most talented and dedicated journalists, analysts, recruiters, web developers, marketers and communicators you’ll ever meet — but this birthday (and all the birthdays to come) is for you. Cheers.

Devex turns 15 this year, and we're thanking the global development community for your service, sacrifice and success in making the world a better place. Visit the campaign site, send a thank you to your colleagues, and share special messages from your favorite global development leaders using #Devex15.

About the author

  • Raj Kumar

    Raj Kumar is the Founding President and Editor-in-Chief at Devex, the media platform for the global development community. He is a media leader and former humanitarian council chair for the World Economic Forum and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations. His work has led him to more than 50 countries, where he has had the honor to meet many of the aid workers and development professionals who make up the Devex community. He is the author of the book "The Business of Changing the World," a go-to primer on the ideas, people, and technology disrupting the aid industry.