The United Nations General Assembly officially approved the Sustainable Development Goals in New York last Friday, but the U.N. meeting wasn’t the only show in town. The Clinton Global Initiative, Social Good Summit and dozens of side events across the city were also in full swing. The agendas brought together a diversity of stakeholders from the private, public and civil society sectors alongside politicians and celebrities to discuss the real, hard work ahead: implementing the global goals.
While it remains to be seen whether the SDGs are just ambitious rhetoric or will actually fundamentally change the way we do development, this week’s discussions did make clear that the way we think about development — including who or what defines a development professional — is quickly evolving.
Many professionals have asked us here at Devex how and whether the global goals will impact their career prospects — including the kinds of jobs available and skills they'll need to be competitive. This is a story we will continue to track, but here are three immediate takeaways from what is affectionately known as Global Dev Week here in New York.
1.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.
However, if there was one takeaway from the discussions this week, it’s that partnership is not just a job title, but a soft skill every development professional needs to develop.
At the heart of the 17 SDGs is the idea of partnership — that it will take all actors and stakeholders working together collectively to see any significant progress on the 169 targets. Whatever your role in development is, engaging outside sectors — whether it’s a Silicon Valley high tech start-up, a young entrepreneur or a large multinational — should start becoming part of your DNA.
We will not make significant progress on the global goals without engaging the millennial generation. The good news is that millennials, who by and large desire careers with social impact, are already getting involved.
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 many institutions. Key personnel requirements on donor-funded projects focus on quantitative criteria like number of years working vs. 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 like 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.
3.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 in order to tackle the enormous challenges in the global goals.
A venture capitalist, high tech whiz or food executive may not think of him or herself as a global development professional — 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.
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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