Who will you be working beside in 10 years?

By Lean Alfred Santos 23 June 2015

What kind of development professional will be in demand in the future? Image by: Sophia Greenbaum / PSI

In the past few years, localization has gone from a new term to rolling off the tongue; “integrators” have relocated from wish list to must-have; doing good from the private sector goes far beyond corporate social responsibility; and some of the largest global development institutions continue to undergo internal reform to make their operations more effective and collaborative — just to name a handful of ongoing evolutions.

So it’s unsurprising that in a recent Devex survey aiming to predict the future development professional, 84 percent of respondents identified that in 10 years, the technology, skills and approaches used by those in this sector will be significantly different than they are today.

Devex, in partnership with the U.S. Agency for International Development and Population Services International, conducted the survey of its community of more than 600,000 development professionals to find out what they think the next generation of development professionals will need to be successful. In part one of an ongoing series to interpret the results, we’ll uncover what kinds of development professionals our community expects to be in demand in the future — and what you can do about it today.

Make way for integrators

Successful development professionals will need to know how to integrate complex pieces of the continuously evolving international development puzzle, work across silos instead of just between them and collaborate with a wide range of funders and stakeholders.

Forty-seven percent of respondents ranked integrators — someone who understands multiple specialties and how they impact each other, while fostering effective collaboration between stakeholders — as the top career path for development professionals in the next decade over specialists, generalists and disruptors.

Additionally, 90 percent of respondents believe in 10 years it will be more important for professionals to have a basic understanding of working with a wide range of funders than a deep specialization working with one specific funder.

Forty-seven percent of respondents ranked integrators as the top career path for development professionals in the next decade over specialists, generalists and disruptors. Image by: Sophia Greenbaum / PSI

The “upcoming years will probably continue to require more harmonized, focused work among the development players,” said Roberto Amorosino, senior recruitment officer at the World Bank, adding that this will include increased partnerships with the private sector, host governments and community beneficiaries. He argued that development will always need professionals with the technical ability to think and operate outside the box, which is why “integrators and specialists would always attract more interest.”

Ninety percent of respondents believe in 10 years it will be more important for professionals to have a basic understanding of working with a wide range of funder than a deep specialization working with one specific funder. Image by: Sophia Greenbaum / PSI

The expat era

The expat era isn’t dead; it’s just different. More than half — or about 57 percent — of respondents believe local professionals will be more in demand for long-term positions, while international experts should see an increase in short-term opportunities.

The predicted increased need for local national experts isn’t surprising as donors like USAID, the U.K. Department for International Development and the Asian Development Bank pursue reforms to shift more resources to local organizations and incentivize their partners to hire from within the country. However, professionals who desire to work outside of their home country may need to be prepared for a life on the go, seeking out short-term assignments where capacity building and knowledge transfer skills will be ever more important over longer-term relocation.

More than half of respondents believe local professionals will be more in demand for long-term positions, while international experts should see an increase in short-term opportunities.

The definition of the aid worker?

The definition of a development worker is also expected to evolve. Survey respondents predict that people working in global development are more likely to be someone from a high-technology firm, social enterprise, corporation, large-scale or venture capitalist fund than they are today.

While traditional development organizations will continue to have significant impact on development, an overwhelming 82 percent of survey respondents believe high-tech firms and social impact investors will have a much more influential role in the next 10 years. Meanwhile, 79 percent and 67 percent believe corporations and venture capitalists, respectively, will have more impact than they do today.

But the finding shouldn’t be taken as a view of a distant future. This phenomenon is already happening because “development has connected the dots well before the international community at large realized it,” Amorosino said. “Private sector is a key player and partner, and development relies on the resources and knowledge for any relevant players in the development arena.”

People skills vs. technical skills

When it comes to the ideal development leader, 78 percent of survey respondents believe people skills are either as or more important than technical skills.

One survey respondent shared that effective development professionals should “build strong people skills” while developing their ability “to turn ideas into practical solutions” while “showing continuous initiative and passionate professionalism.” Another argued that strong people skills are “necessary to convince governments and other clients to buy into innovative approaches and for sustainability.”

Soft skills are as important as technical skills. Image by: Sophia Greenbaum / PSI

But this preference in people skills for development professionals is not all-encompassing. While project coordination and implementation require soft skills like flexibility, adaptation and the ability to work with others harmoniously, 35 percent and 39 percent of survey respondents working in procurement and host governments, respectively, place more importance on technical skills.

“The increasing demand we’re seeing for people with technical skillsets among the international development community is marked by the appearance of blended approaches to address social challenges,” according to by Erica Lock, director of fellowships programs of Echoing Green, saying that these people include professionals with an affinity for data analysis and evaluation.

The majority of survey respondents believe people skills are either as or more important than technical skills. Image by: Sophia Greenbaum / PSI

Top regions and sectors

Almost three quarters, or 73 percent, of survey respondents believe Africa will have the highest demand for development aid over the next 10 years, followed by the Middle East and Asia. Interestingly, 65 percent of respondents also believe Arabic language skills will be more important in 10 years than they are today.

Almost three quarters, or 73 percent, of survey respondents believe Africa will have the highest demand for development aid over the next 10 years.

In terms of sectors, a majority of the respondents think agriculture and food security, conflict, peace and security, and climate change will be the development sectors with the highest need for assistance in the next decade. Other issues like infrastructure and fragility will also be on the agenda.

To see more results of the next generation development professionals, download this report from PSI and read 5 things to know about the next generation development professional.

Whether you’re a seasoned expert or budding development professional — check out more news, analysis and advice online to guide your career and professional development, and subscribe to Doing Good to receive top international development career and recruitment news every week.

About the author

Lean 2
Lean Alfred Santos@DevexLeanAS

Lean Alfred Santos is a Devex development reporter focusing on the development community in Asia-Pacific, including major players such as the Asian Development Bank and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. Prior to joining Devex, he covered Philippine and international business and economic news, sports and politics. Lean is based in Manila.


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