Global Institute, The Future of Development

The Future of Development: Challenges and Opportunities

What’s trending in global development and why?

AI and Big Data, private and crowd-sourced financing trends, lockdowns the transition to online and local reliance in response to the pandemic forced development strategists to rethink even basic assumptions.

Tech backstopped local partners through the pandemic to respond to local challenges. It also enabled local actors to redefine their role in a reconfigured social, political, and economic reality. While trends promise opportunities for sustainable and equitable development, they are also unsettling the established development paradigm.

The good news.  Localization is back and in a big way.

The hope. For the long-term, but we are still figuring it out… Still. 

What’s at Issue

Global development witnessed challenges on all fronts stemming from the reallocation of funding to pandemic mitigation in the wake of the 2020 pandemic. As the pandemic raged, development resources earmarked for projects in education, healthcare and infrastructure were quickly funnelled towards COVID-19 relief, leaving existing projects short on funding and personnel. Today, pandemic recovery remains a priority as countries seek to jump-start economies, while at the same time navigating a post-pandemic world of high transaction costs, widespread inflation, and general uncertainty.

Despite pandemic-related challenges, the climate crisis has grown by leaps and bounds and largely unabated. New, conflicts manifest themselves with increasing frequency. Continued developmental progress means responding to the challenge with practical strategy. Options are still available for forward-looking development organizations, but, to be successful, future development strategies must be in sync with the realities of the new environment in which they are practiced.

The Macro View

Several institutions have assessed the state of global development, notably UN Development Programmewhich continues to promote  the importance of diversification of approaches, inputs and actors, calling for; broad consultation and the collection of diverse perspectives on the future of development; a collective “sensemaking” effort that will translate available data into goals and strategies; and the visioning of alternative futures to create resilient strategies and cope with uncertainty.

The future of development will revolve around the adaptation of several key elements, with climate change chief amongst them, closely followed by financing structures and the outlook and reconfiguration of implementing organisations. For example, a recent Brookings Institution report highlighted the rise of crowd-funding and private philanthropy as a shift in the structure of development finance. Other sources, including academic institutions, are calling for the “decolonization of development” whereby states and communities make decisions on development locally. This view pushes back against a dominant western perspective that sees development as outside aid… at times imposed.

The Stakes

The costs of getting development wrong are immense.

After nearly 25 years of poverty reduction, the World Bank reported a negative trend in 202o. Negative progress means less access to healthcare, more hunger, and a general increase in human suffering globally.

That’s why it is so important to get this right.

Successful development strategies of the future will have to address climate threats, build equitable and coordinated healthcare systems, and create sustainable economic opportunities for all in an environment of decentralised order. The path to achieving growth for all brings together the private sector, academe, government, and civil society

Private sector actors are positioned to engage civil society in support of shared values and towards long-term value creation. SMEs in the global south have the capacity, resources, and expertise to enhance the protection of open societies and markets. It’s time to leverage the greatest driver of growth and poverty reduction, the private sector.

State of Play

Currently, development struggling with a lack of sustained funding, with the reallocation for the COVID-19 response. Conflicts, including the ongoing Russia-Ukraine crisis, are also rechannelling resources away from development initiatives and towards arms production. The pandemic costs (including supply chain disruptions) coupled with conflict-driven sanctions are severely limiting economic development and pushing SDG achievement further away from our collective grip.

The Look Ahead

Looking forward, the demand for resilient and sustainable development will only increase as environmental pressures grow. Returning to multilateral approaches seems less likely than ever. Yet, honest, open, and outward-facing multilateral approaches remain front and centre, especially as economies recover from pandemic-related economic stress.

Additionally, new development must harness the power of private philanthropy, market-driven innovation, and networked solutions making. This will both increase participation in development, and address concerns of top-down and undemocratic influence while at the same time boosting effectiveness through better and more innovative methods.

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