International development: What you need to know

Women in Baluchistan receive health education organized by a Citizen Community Board supported by the European Commission. The European government is among the world’s leading funders of international development. Photo by: European Commission

International development involves industrialized nations helping to improve living conditions in the rest of the world, right? Yes, but that’s not all.

It’s almost considered good etiquette nowadays to provide time, money, know-how or services to people in need. Everyone seems to be doing it-browsing the Devex Web site will illustrate the scope of what has become a multi-billion dollar development business.

Many governments - from Japan to Slovakia and the European Commission - have created departments that handle global development and humanitarian aid. Multilateral institutions such as the United Nations or World Bank are pushing for sustainable development around the globe. Companies seeking a positive public image and, yes, market expansion are pushing “corporate social responsibility” initiatives. Non-governmental organizations, think tanks and individual philanthropists are providing resources or bidding for contracts.

The United States, Japan and Europe alone spend more than $100,000 million each year on official development assistance, according to the OECD. That doesn’t include efforts by private citizens and philanthropists, religious charities, and NGOs such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation or the William J. Clinton Foundation. Neither does it count contributions by emerging foreign aid heavyweights such as China and India, or Arab organizations such as the non-governmental Qatar Charity or the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, a public corporation.

In today’s financial climate, there’s an unbroken demand for development assistance - but also increased competition for donations, grants, loans and contracts. Especially foundations, which often rely on private donations, are struggling to stay in business, and many are seeking out new fundraising strategies, including online marketing and viral marketing. They network at events such as the annual European Development Days or the annual meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank Group. And, as Australia and others are switching to an “untied aid” policy that allows foreigners to bid on contracts, organizations are increasingly looking beyond their borders for funding opportunities.

What’s next? U.S. President Barack Obama has vowed to increase U.S. foreign assistance and in the process, revamp the work of the U.S. Agency for International Development, Millennium Challenge Corp. and Department of Defense, which has been implementing an increasing number of development aid projects in recent years in the Middle East and in Africa, through the controversial U.S. Africa Command, or Africom. Meanwhile, organizations such as IPDA are developing quality standards for civil-military aid delivery.

Demand for skilled professionals in environmentally-conscious development and other emerging fields is expected to grow. Likewise, the interest in development jobs has skyrocketed, and many universities are adding courses or even degree programs on issues such as international relief, global health and microfinance.

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About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.