Future of global development: How to build skills of tomorrow

By Kate Warren 20 March 2017

Participants at the Beyond Access meeting in Uganda. Photo by: Beyond Access / CC BY-SA

The global development landscape is rapidly shifting. New actors, new technologies and recent political changes are impacting how we do development and the kinds of professionals needed to lead us into a new era.

The Sustainable Development Goals enacted in 2015 elevated global development to a cross-sectoral, multi-industry effort bringing a wide array of new voices to the table. These shifts have opened up opportunities for nontraditional actors to get involved in development work, but they also leave many long-standing development professionals wondering where they fit in.

For global development professionals wanting to stay relevant while the sector quickly moves around them, here are some things to keep in mind.

Knowing how to form partnerships is not just a career path, but an essential skill

As public-private cooperation becomes almost a given in development efforts, positions dedicated to fostering relationships across sectors, often including the term “partnership,” have flourished and are only likely to grow.

How to think like a partnerships professional

There doesn’t seem to be one path into a public-private partnerships job, according to Jim Thompson, director of innovation at the U.S. Department of State. Find out why Thompson says anyone can start brainstorming PPP opportunity.

However, partnership is not just a job title, but a soft skill every development professional needs to develop.

At the heart of the SDGs, which many global development actors are orienting their work around, is the idea of partnership. It will take all actors and stakeholders working together collectively to see any significant progress on its targets.

In the current funding climate where significant cuts to foreign aid are being threatened from some of the largest donors, organizations will be looking at other sources of funding, including partnerships with companies and foundations. Working with these groups requires a different, more relationship-based approach than winning new business with a government-financed donor agency.

Whatever your role in development is, an essential part of your work should involve engaging outside sectors — whether a Silicon Valley high-tech startup, a young entrepreneur or a large multinational company.

Millennials aren’t waiting to do good

Millennials, who by and large desire careers with social impact, are clamoring to build a career in global development.

How to compete for the next generation of development talent

Buzzwords like innovation, localization and sustainability have become common vernacular — but how are they changing the face of the modern aid worker? Here are three key findings from the Next Generation Development Professional Survey and what it means for your organization’s talent needs.

However, the global development sector has a reputation for valuing, even requiring, years of experience before you earn a seat at the table. For example, a professional in their early 30s with an advanced degree and more than five years of experience is still considered entry level by some institutions. Key personnel requirements on donor-funded projects focus on quantitative criteria such as number of years working, versus actual results achieved.

A generation stereotyped for “wanting a ribbon just for showing up” is not waiting to climb typically bureaucratic career ladders to start making a difference. Instead, they are starting their own businesses and nonprofits and finding jobs in industries such as tech that value creativity and results over years on the job.

If development organizations want to attract and benefit from this enormous pool of talent, they may need to think differently about how they structure their job requirements and positions. Professionals who are feeling antsy within more traditional development institutions may want to look for opportunities with some of these emerging employers.

The definition of a development professional is broadening

As more stakeholders get involved in development work, the term “development” itself is starting to feel a bit limiting and insufficient in capturing the wide range of actors needed to tackle the enormous challenges in the global goals.

A venture capitalist, high-tech whiz, or food executive may not think of themselves as global development professionals — or even understand what that terms means, even if their work is essentially contributing to the global goals. These outside actors can move quickly, too. They have their own funding and aren’t tied to government procurement schedules and red tape. This underscores the importance of engaging and partnering with nontraditional groups; they are forging ahead with or without the development community, and you don’t want to get left behind.

Constantly upskill

New technologies and approaches are rapidly changing the way we do development. If you don’t keep up, you may soon find yourself left behind.

From mobile applications to human-centered design to drones, the global development sector is looking at innovation as they key driver to making significant progress in everything from crop production to humanitarian aid delivery. You don’t have to become a software programmer or drone pilot to stay relevant, but understanding how to integrate new ideas and technologies into your work will be key.

Building new skills, such as data modeling and analysis or ones specific to your areas of expertise, is the best way to evolve as the sector evolves, ensuring your relevance and job security.

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About the author

Warren kate 1
Kate Warren@DevexCareers

Kate Warren is the senior director and editor of careers and recruiting content at Devex. With more than a decade of international development recruitment experience working with 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.


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