The year past and what’s ahead: global development trends we’re watching in 2022

As we look back on 2021, it was a year of global challenges, including COVID-19, climate change, the migrant crisis and ongoing conflict. But we also witnessed innovation in health, hope in the area of climate change, and recognition for a need for an aligned response to COVID-19.  At SRI Executive, we saw the growth of new opportunities in international development, leading to a rapid expansion in our team to meet our client requirements.

Here, I offer my reflections on the past year through our network and a perspective on what we’re watching as 2022 unfolds.

Global health

Last year was marked by the roll-out – in record-time – of COVID-19 vaccines. However, low-income countries have not had the same access to vaccines as developed nations. Our partners have worked tirelessly to ensure vaccine equity across the world. At SRI Executive, we recently donated 1,300 vaccines to those most in need, and we will continue to support this crucial effort.

Although the focus has been on COVID-19, global health organisations have continued to innovate around other diseases. In 2021 the WHO recommended using the RTS, S malaria vaccine amongst children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. This is the world’s first malaria vaccine and acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous malaria parasite prevalent in Africa. In 2020, the WHO reported 627,000 deaths from malaria globally. This breakthrough will transform millions of lives.

Sustainability

Some of the events and trends we witnessed in 2021 gave reason for hope concerning sustainability. We learned the value of global collaboration, particularly when tackling climate change. I experienced this power personally last November when world leaders came together at COP26 Glasgow to address the ongoing climate crisis and pledge global commitments to action around climate change, recognising there is more urgency required.

Food security still remains a significant challenge to balance the needs of greater nutritional benefits while ensuring a lower negative impact on the environment. For the last number of years, significant research has been taking place to address sustainability within the food system.

Also, renewable energy saw its biggest year yet, with electric car sales overtaking diesel cars for the first time and the rise in solar and wind energy. Much of what we’re seeing is likely to continue and evolve in the year ahead.

Great Resignation

One of the major trends we have seen globally has been coined the “Great Resignation”. Last year, millions of employees – including those in the non-profit sector – left their jobs. However, while the private sector has a greater ability to increase wages in order to attract talent, non-profits can’t. They are primarily reliant on donor funding which is currently squeezed and are tied into funding contracts. Organisations that continue to attract talent are those that have reflected and re-aligned their mission and evidenced their change.

From our analyses and network, it’s not so much the Great Resignation but rather a Great Reset; employees are choosing to work for organisations that value quality of life.

Hybrid, remote and flexible working

As remote and hybrid working is set to remain, organisations will continue developing their systems, processes, culture and technology, including strengthening their staff’s digital expertise (where necessary). This ‘new normal’ is also an opportunity and enables organisations to tap into a larger global talent pool to find the best candidates.

Flexible working has also become a growing trend as many organisations recognise their staff do juggle personal commitments alongside their working lives.

Global and Country funding

The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and political change has created considerable uncertainty and unpredictable scenarios for the future of donor funding. The non-profit sector has suffered significantly from fluctuating funding flows that have affected budgets, goals, and strategies.  International organisations have responded to this challenge by merging or streamlining their global missions through closing less strategic country offices and downsizing their teams.

We have seen significant increases within the non-profit  sector in those seeking creative ways to align or merge with similar or complementary organisations and create a more fit for purpose joint entity.

Localisation

Locally-led development is a growing and significant trend, ensuring effective and sustainable support and prioritising those voices for whom assistance is intended to serve. For example, USAID has committed 25% of its funding to local partners within the next four years. Global development organisations are investing in the capacity of their regional and country offices, ensuring that crucial talent is located closer to programme locations. We have supported our partners in recruiting local talent and co-creating organisation-wide strategies that support transformational change. We have also engaged with a number of donor entities helping them strategically review ways to build local capacity and competencies.

Governance

More and more organisations are reviewing the performance of their leaders and boards in a transparent manner.  The reviews are both qualitative and quantitative in nature looking at both the leader(s) and the entity. This is a progressive approach on behalf of stakeholders, staff and the communities they serve to ensure progression year on year.

Looking ahead – innovation, hope, and global collaboration

In 2022 we will be driven by the opportunities and challenges that still lie ahead of us. The last year has taught us lessons of innovation, hope, and global collaboration, and we saw phenomenal progress on various fronts. As we adapt to live with COVID-19, we must remember these lessons as we continue to address the climate crisis, poverty, and inequality facing our global community. I, for one, am excited about what lies ahead and am committed to continuing to help the sector we serve.

Development assistance has undoubtedly made a difference in supporting countries to make progress towards the SDGs and address the global climate emergency. Embedding diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) is central to driving this transformative change. A key aspect of DE&I is ensuring that marginalised communities themselves own the development agenda and define their needs and aspirations for progress. This approach moves the focus away from representation and global narratives or priorities to shape international development to reflect the groups' perspective.

Many organisations have begun to reflect on how they develop their strategies, who leads them, where that leadership is based, and how they can create and instil a culture of inclusion and respect backed by processes that support it. This can involve revised organisational strategies, policies and practices, ongoing DE&I efforts, and reflections on and changes to long-established ways of working.

SRI Executive is a long-time partner to leading global development organisations and recognises the considerations and ongoing transformation required to redesign a more equitable and inclusive future for the sector.

Examining Theories of Change and the assumptions that underlie them

Removing barriers and ensuring that marginalised groups play a role in setting the aspirations and agenda that drives impact begins with organisations independently assessing and reviewing their theories of change and strategies through the lenses of intersectionality, anti-colonialism and anti-racism.

Doing so begins fundamentally with a deep reflection to realise what needs to change and how. Organisations can examine their understanding of the development issues they prioritise, their levers of change, and why they have these understandings. Who is setting the agenda? Whose voices are included, and is everybody truly being heard?

SRI Executive has experience working with organisations to revise and refresh their Theories of Change and develop transformative Strategic Frameworks through a highly participatory and values-based approach that builds a culture of inclusion. MAP Images (11)

Diversity, Equity & Inclusion within recruitment

An initial step in shifting the balance of power in the global development sector is to ensure people from diverse backgrounds are represented across an organisation and, critically, within leadership teams.

As a move in the right direction, organisations are examining DE&I in several ways. One is to re-assess their recruitment processes, focusing on key requirements for open positions and the analysis behind the "fit" for a role. Many organisations are broadening their horizons to search for talent from less traditional career pathways. They are also elevating the role of regional functions and relocating critical leadership and oversight positions physically closer to the groups with whom they work. Doing so provides a pipeline of talent that recognises these groups' needs and facilitates decision-making among people who are part of the marginalised community.

In SRI Executive's more than twenty years placing exceptional leaders within global development, we have seen first-hand the value leaders with diverse lived experiences can bring. We are innovative in finding alternative ways to connect with and recruit strong candidates. Furthermore, we work with organisations to build effective leadership teams that mirror the behaviours and culture they wish to see.

Assessing ways of working and organisational culture

Organisations are increasingly examining their internal cultures and ways of working, recognising there are systemic and normative barriers to participation for staff members from diverse backgrounds. There are several ways by which organisations can further develop an inclusive and equitable culture, and steps that management can take to ensure that their workplace is diverse.

The initial phase of this work is to undertake an organisational culture assessment from a DE&I perspective, the findings of which can lead to the development of a shared vision for a more inclusive organisational culture and an agreed roadmap to get there.

An organisation's leadership is primarily responsible for ensuring that the shared vision and values are understood, respected, and upheld by all staff and volunteers. It is critical for leaders in positions of power to recognise that bias– conscious or unconscious– impacts organisational decision-making. It influences how staff are treated in the implementation of policies such as career advancement or performance management. Furthermore, when people in management positions model and mirror healthy communication norms and behaviours, they shape an inclusive organisational culture.

SRI Executive supports organisations through training and coaching for senior management to become more aware of their own biases and understand alternative communication norms and behaviours that create safe spaces for discussing ideas or feedback. We work with organisations to create incentives and establish organisational buy-in to these behaviours through workshops and include them as competencies in performance reviews for leadership and management. SRI Executive also works with organisations to install functions or positions that are solely responsible for DE&I to provide an objective lens to ensure that these values are upheld across all organisational processes.

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