Rethinking the definition of development

A panel discussion at Devex World 2016 held at The Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Devex

I do a little verbal dance whenever explaining to someone what we do at Devex. Maybe you do it too for your work. When I get to saying we cover “global development,” I try to see if people think that phrase means what I think it means.

If their eyes brighten suggesting we’re basically on the same page, I can save myself the explanation that “global development” is an umbrella term and that the umbrella itself is getting broader and broader. But guess wrong, and I am usually forced to circle back later to say we actually include humanitarian response, private sector partnership, sustainability, impact investing, philanthropy, social enterprise, and more in our definition.

That the very definition of our industry is in question ought to tell all of us something. This is a dynamic time, and that’s not so much because of politics. It’s more because of technology, markets, and innovation. We’re entering an era where nearly every person — even in the poorest countries of the Global South — will have an ID card, a smart device connected to the internet, and a mobile bank account.

This same era will see multiple private philanthropies keeping pace with some of the largest government donors in the world, and major corporations morphing into social enterprises. Investing for impact will become standard fare, and lines between nonprofit and for-profit blurred.

The very fundamentals of the way we do development are being challenged with a competition of ideas and approaches more fierce and well funded than we’ve ever seen before. That humanitarian aid might become largely delivered by electronic cash is but one example. Another is the growing movement to measure results in real-time, to conduct extensive cost-benefit analyses of interventions previously just assumed to be worthwhile, to leverage market mechanisms and behavioral science, and to create peer-to-peer opportunities to share funding and knowledge.

It’s a tumultuous time to do global development work and there’s enormous promise — if we get it right.

Our own humble contribution to getting it right is Devex World, our flagship gathering in Washington, D.C., every two years. Yes, it’s a global development conference, but that description does little to illuminate this unique event. My favorite quote from our attendee survey last year is this: “I thought I had met everyone in development and then I came to Devex World and met people I didn’t even know were in development.”

The Mead Center for American Theater in Washington, D.C. Photo by: Devex

Devex World returns to Washington, D.C., on June 12

Speakers will include Forest Whitaker, First Lady Rula Ghani, Jaha Dukureh, Miguel McKelvey, Dr. Tedros Adhanom, and many more. The event will gather 1,000 leading thinkers in our community and over 60 luminaries ranging from Silicon Valley tech enterprises and foundations to NGOs and government agencies for a full day of interactive sessions, inspiring and unexpected speakers, and opportunities to turn your ideas into action. You can grab your ticket here before prices increase in January.

Of course, the sector is not short of conferences. A sit down, panel-led, suits-on, note-taking gathering of the usual faces in a windowless conference room — well, that’s precisely what Devex World is not.

Instead, we’re bringing thinkers and doers, change makers and expert practitioners into an everyone-contributes, talk show-style, jeans-wearing, hands-on, action-inspiring confab at the Mead Center for the American Theater.

Sure, you’ll get to talk to a robot or feel the weight of a tiny satellite, but more importantly you’ll engage in a serious discussion with the right people about what to do with technology that can improve lives in the toughest settings. Getting it right implores us to find something tangible to do amid all the noise, be that a new funding mechanism or a plan for rapidly scaling impact.

For an event like that, you might expect to see unusual suspects, and Devex World will not disappoint. And it’s not just those on the main stage or facilitating the dozens of workshops and side sessions: Devex World attracts 1,000 emerging and established leaders who will definitely debate the best way to make impact, but probably not spend much time on the definition of “global development.”

Devex World is on June 12, 2018 at the Mead Center for the American Theater in Washington, D.C. Learn more here and note that this unique event will reach full capacity.

About the author

  • Raj kumardevex

    Raj Kumar

    Raj Kumar is the Founding President and Editor-in-Chief of 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.