Texas A&M invites prospective employees to talk to recruiters at the 2011 Business Student Council Career Fair. The international development community is going through an overhaul that will demand changes the professionals in its employ. Photo by: Texas A&M Mays Business School / CC BY-NC-ND

The development landscape has significantly transformed in the past 20 years, and with the current rate of innovation and technological advancement, it’s daunting to imagine what could happen in the next 10. To keep up with as well as leverage these changes, professionals will need a new set of tools, skills and approaches — which, according to the respondents of a recent Devex survey, will be significantly different from those being used today.

The survey, conducted in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Population Services International, seeks to paint a clearer picture of what development professionals will look like — as well as what they will need to succeed — 10 years from now.

The rise of new players, innovative forms of financing and a call for increased data- and evidence-based programming are just a few changes that have both global development professionals and employers rethinking funding and focus.

When more is better

The rise of new funders — such as private and corporate philanthropies, emerging donors and even crowdfunding — will greatly affect the way professionals and organizations source funds and manage projects, with 90 percent of survey respondents believing it will be more important for professionals to have a basic understanding of working with a wide range of funders than it will be for them to have a deep specialization working with just one specific funder.

Sylvia Misik, a consultant for the Interlock Group, thinks experience dealing with more diverse funders is already a must today, given that bilateral aid is greatly outpacing multilateral aid and only a small share of official development assistance involves cash transfers to developing countries.

“As a development professional, this means that we have to tap into new sources, whether they be emerging state or new private donors,” she told Devex.

The rise of emotional intelligence

The survey also highlighted the growing value of certain soft skills for future development professionals. When it comes to requirements for project leaders, 78 percent of those surveyed believe that people skills are as or more important than technical skills. The opposite was true, however, for respondents working in host governments, who ranked technical skills above people skills.

Among soft skills, respondents ranked flexibility and adaptability, implementation and execution ability, capacity to work in teams, resourcefulness and empathy as the top five most essential for the future, in that order. Professionals over the age of 45, however, were 2.3 times more likely to choose the ability to work in teams as the top skill as opposed to their younger counterparts.

Soft skills are as important as technical skills. Image by: Sophia Greenbaum / PSI

For Arkajyoti Samanta, a human resources and corporate social responsibility adviser working with the Erin Foundation in Bangalore, India, implementation and execution ability is going to be especially important if the world hopes to see more success with the sustainable development goals than it did with the expiring Millennium Development Goals.

On her wish list for future development professionals, Misik also included better lobbying and evidence-gathering skills.

“We might need better marketing and different coverage in the media to create bigger and more continuous public pressure and ethical lobbying firms,” she said, adding that a better understanding of the informal mechanisms, institutions and economies facilitating life in developing countries will also be paramount.

“Writing evaluation reports for your donor or government does not suffice,” Misik said. “It does not enhance our understanding of the country we work in and the people we work with.”

Ron Erasmus, group HR director for the GRM Futures Group, told Devex that he would have liked to see diversity and inclusiveness among the approaches and competencies that will matter most in 10 years.

“I see this as a soft skill and a competency approach that [is] key for development professionals,” he said. “We cannot work in communities and affect change without respecting and understanding the differences and beliefs that these communities uphold or cherish.”

Experience in and exposure to post-conflict countries will also be extremely critical for development professionals in the next 10 years, according to Henry Rwamugema, CEO and principal consulting engineer of Innovation and Consult Group. As countries emerge from crises, transition into new governments and work toward political stability, development professionals with relevant experience will have an advantage.

Education and languages still important

In line with what the development community has been seeing in recent years, 79 percent of survey respondents identified that professionals will need graduate-level education to succeed in international development.

“An undergraduate education provides the initial exposure to concepts and ideas, while the graduate degrees delve deeper into the general and specific technical knowledge base, provide practical skills and share the newest thinking for development solutions,” said Elisa Zlotowitz, CARANA Corp.’s HR director.

She also echoed the sentiment of 72 percent of those surveyed who believe that professionals will need to be fluent in at least two languages to be successful, with English fluency unsurprisingly still increasing in importance, followed by Chinese and Arabic.

According to our latest survey, Chinese will be the next essential global development language.

“A development professional seeking to secure a coveted spot in an organization at [headquarters] will always be seen favorably with fluency in another language,” Zlotowitz said. “Being able to communicate effectively in a foreign language not only helps in community-based and partnership development, but also assists the understanding that sustainable development can occur when it becomes part of the new normal and ingrained in society.”

Bridging the gap

Interestingly, the top skills of the future matched areas that survey respondents would also like to receive more training in — pointing to an apparent skills gap waiting to be bridged.

As the number and dynamism of aid donors grows, and ODA grapples with more budgetary constraints, traditional methods of financing are coming under increasing pressure. This evolving reality has led survey respondents to rank innovative forms of financing as one of the main areas they’d like to become more proficient in.

Other areas of training that spurred strong interest from survey participants include data- and evidence-based programming, impact evaluation and multidisciplinary approaches. Luckily, these are areas that recruiters are starting to invest more thought, time and resources in.

“We offer a number of instructor-led and online learning courses around monitoring, evaluation and learning,” said Cassie Farrelly, director of training and development at Chemonics. “We also encourage staff to pursue a wide range of interests within the company, but perhaps beyond their current role and tasks, which prepares them to design and implement multidisciplinary approaches in the future.”

However, some believe that employers have yet to step up their game.

“Neither employers nor the global development community at large are offering enough education and training opportunities [in these areas],” Khurram Riaz, a development professional with more than 15 years of experience under his belt, told Devex.

According to Riaz, learning opportunities within global development continue largely to occur on an ad hoc basis.

“[In my experience], sometimes opportunities arose because a CEO was either interested in providing education and training opportunities to the staff or because he/she was well connected with the education and training service providers,” Riaz said.

So how can development organizations go about building the skills of the future? Although mentoring and other kinds of informal learning will always be “a big part” of how development professionals sharpen their expertise, Maya Salomon believes that options aren’t lacking.

“Lately I have been very impressed with the range and quality of training courses that focus on technical skill-building, particularly in impact evaluation,” the director of staff recruitment and development at The Asia Foundation highlighted. “An organization can look to a combination of … experiential learning, e-training platforms and external training.”

To see more results of the next generation development professionals survey, download this report from PSI.

Whether you’re a seasoned expert or budding development professional — check out more news, analysis and advice online to guide your career and professional development, and subscribe to Doing Good to receive top international development career and recruitment news every week.

About the authors

  • 034 devex%2520aug2015  pamstacruzphotography liana

    Liana Barcia

    Liana is a former Manila-based reporter at Devex focusing on education, development finance, and public-private partnerships.
  • Devos manola

    Manola De Vos

    Manola De Vos is an Engagement Lead for Devex’s Analytics team in Manila. She leads and designs customized research and analysis for some of the world’s most well-respected organizations, providing the solutions and data they need to grow their partner base, work more efficiently, and drive lasting results. Prior to joining Devex, Manola worked in conflict analysis and political affairs for the United Nations, International Crisis Group and the EU.