Watch: How development careers are changing, now faster than ever

Our COVID-19 coverage is free. Please consider a Devex Pro subscription to support our journalism.
Careers During COVID-19: Evolving development career paths. Via YouTube.

As part of the Careers during COVID series, Devex Executive Vice President Kate Warren spoke with Results for Development’s chief of human capital and operations, John Farden, about how the pandemic has shifted the way his organization works and delivers programs, trends he predicts in evolving career paths for development professionals, and how he sees the development workforce and human capital needs and demands shifting into the future, now faster than ever.

There was a career path to become the leading expert on health systems in sub-Saharan Africa, and there has been a push for that expert to be from the region, Farden said when emphasizing the shift to local ownership. This means international organizations will have a different role to play. Expertise will still be important, but there will also be a need for facilitation, knowledge translation, and coaching that will be the “secret sauce” for professionals looking to work on a global scale, he predicted.

Devex Pro and Career Account members: The rise of remote working in global development

Even before the current global lockdown, remote working in development was on the rise. Devex finds out why some organizations believe it can bring benefits.

Plenty of good research sits on a shelf, and there are plenty of examples of innovations that have worked but no one knows about them, he said, so solutions require not just resources but figuring out how to get those resources to the right place. “More and more, our role is helping to unlock that knowledge, translate that knowledge, and put it into the hands of local agents”, Farden said, which is, in some ways, “a radical shift from how we have done things in the past but also an exciting career path” that he hopes will keep the industry vibrant in the future.

There has long been a divide between what many refer to as “international” and “local” staff in how organizations view and value this talent, but there is a paradigm shift happening, Farden said, in which organizations need to regard local staff and human capital as global assets rather than simply people hired to implement a specific project or scope of work. Thinking about top talent to fill global operational roles as being located in not only London and Washington but also Accra, Addis Ababa, and Jakarta opens up a more diverse and skilled pool of experts to draw from, he said.

For those looking to launch a career in global development, Farden advised gaining expertise in thematic areas as well as strong transferable skills such as project management and leadership. “It’s not just being the smartest person in the room but helping a room full of smart people get a great result — that is a role that is evergreen”, he said.

Farden predicted that global travel and large-scale convenings such as international conferences are going to be considered quite differently in the future, but he also said there are crutches typically relied on for meeting in person that will change the way the sector works — for the better — moving forward.

This moment is helping organizations find ways to be more efficient, Farden said, and “makes clear what are the things we have to be together in person to be effective and where we were getting together and spending a lot of money on international travel and putting a lot of CO2 in the air that we can pull back on.”

Watch more from the series:
Dr. Elvira Beracochea provides insight on how the coronavirus is affecting the way consultants operate.
UNHCR HR chief Catty Bennet Sattler says COVID-19 could change how the agency works.
IOM HR chief Michael Emery discusses the pandemic's impact on the workplace and careers.
RTI International's Bucky Fairfax talks about the opportunities to build in inclusivity and equalize access to leadership.

We’ve removed our paywall for this article — previously for Career Account members and Pro subscribers only — to provide access to accurate information and resources during the COVID-19 outbreak. If you are interested in more in-depth global development career coverage, visit our Career Account membership page.

About the author

  • Devex Editor

    Thanks a lot for your interest in Devex News. To share news and views, story ideas and press releases, please email We look forward to hearing from you.