For development professionals, more of the same

USAID/OFDA lead Bill Berger briefs a visiting team on the ongoing relief and rescue operations in Nepal. Local hiring is changing the sector; what skills and approaches does the next generation of development professionals need to thrive? Photo by: Kashish Das Shrestha / USAID / CC BY-NC

Nearly two years ago I wrote that the expat era isn’t dead; it’s just different. I stand by that statement — now with a few more numbers to back me up.

In a recent Devex survey aiming to predict the future development professional, an unsurprising 84 percent of respondents identified that in 10 years, the technology, skills and approaches used by those in this sector will be significantly different than they are today.

It’s unsurprising because in the last few years, localization has gone from a new term to rolling off the tongue; “integrators” have relocated from wish list to must-have; doing good from the private sector goes far beyond corporate social responsibility; and some of the largest global development institutions continue to undergo internal reform to make their operations more effective — just to name a handful of ongoing evolutions.

For development professionals, it’s more of the same — if the same is constant change.

Development job seekers have always faced a changing industry, and those who find success are adaptable and creative in the way they enter the field, which the recently conducted survey, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Population Service International, helps to highlight.

What tools, skills and approaches does the next generation need to thrive? The survey results paint the picture of a flexible professional with a holistic view of development work and perhaps even an unexpected, or at least well rounded, expertise. Ninety percent of respondents, for example, believe in 10 years it will be more important for professionals to have a basic understanding of working with a wide range of funders than a deep specialization working with one specific funder, challenging the status quo of most professionals specializing in just one.

Those funders are changing too. The rise of private and corporate philanthropies, crowdfunding, and emerging donors was also reflected in the survey — with 82 percent of respondents predicting high tech firms and social impact investors will have more impact on development than they do today.

But the expat era is, in fact, not dead. Nearly 60 percent of respondents believe localization will drive down the need for long-term expatriate development experts but increase the need for short-term expat experts, who are just as likely to be a venture capitalist or a tech expert as your traditional aid worker.

The number one piece of advice respondents gave to the next generation of development professionals, though, is to invest in skills development, noting that organizations that invest in the development of their staff will not only better serve their mission but also be more competitive for the next generation of talent.

For a peek into the future, respondents identified data-driven and evidence-based programming, multidisciplinary approaches, impact evaluation, new methods of development financing and innovation as the top five approaches in which they wish to gain more training.

Even if the survey predicts a slew of adaptable, sustainability-minded individuals with solid capacity-building skills (and light on gamification knowledge, according to respondents) the truth is that the field of international development is more welcoming to a variety of sectors and talent  than ever before which makes for exciting possibilities for the generation to find their own call to action.

Check back for further analysis of the Next Generation Development Professional survey. In the meantime, what skills do you think future development professionals will or should possess?

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

About the author

  • Kelli Rogers

    Kelli Rogers is an Associate Editor for Devex. Based on the U.S. West Coast, she works with Devex's team of correspondents and editors around the world, with a particular focus on gender. She previously worked as Devex’s Southeast Asia correspondent based in Bangkok, covering disaster and crisis response, resilience, women’s rights, and climate change throughout the region. Prior to that, she reported on social and environmental issues from Nairobi, Kenya. Kelli holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri, and has since reported from more than 20 countries.