My the world has changed since I last posted.
We’ve all learned the name of the novel coronavirus. We have been asked to follow new social distancing measures and travel restrictions for ourselves, our families and our communities. And those of us who can work from home are doing so, often for the first time, and many of us unable to, have lost their jobs.
Given all that is going on, how will COVID-19 change the international development sector?
It’s definitely too early to know all the implications.
But here is what we know a few weeks in.
Changing nature of impact work
I personally see two immediate trends in my own development work.
First is a change in day-to-day operations.
Simple things in doing development work in the COVID-19 era are changing, like longer than usual wait times for feedback and payments.
One of my current UN projects was delayed giving me feedback on a 10-page deliverable by nearly 1 month – 3 weeks longer than anticipated.
The reason? The UN office commissioning the work has itself had to engage in new ways of working: with up to 99% of staff working from home and shifts in its mandate, especially with regards to interactions and planning with the government – daily systems are under reconstruction.
Although this particular country has seen very few COVID-19 cases to date, the UN has had to significantly reorganize its work.
This has meant not only a new timeline for the entire project, that must reasonably take into account the new operational reality, but also long and unplanned-for delays in receiving payment for my work.
The second major consequence of COVID-19 in my current development work is – Everything Is Becoming About the Novel Coronavirus. (This post not excluded!)
Two projects I’m currently working on do not have anything directly to do with public health or disease control.
In each, however, it has become not only necessary for me to reflect ideas on how to react to COVID-19, but the entire credibility of the work may hang on how well I am able to include analysis on the coronavirus that speaks to key issues.
Without a conscious, purposeful message to do with COVID-19 at this moment in time, and for the months to come, you may be falling tone deaf to the changing nature of international development.
Delayed hiring or canceled jobs
A severe long-term impact on development work of COVID-19 is likely to be delayed hiring or even the cancellation of work opportunities.
This may be anecdotal for now, but I’m seeing a few things.
One, getting work is becoming more competitive. I’m having to apply more broadly and widely for different opportunities than I have had to in the past few years to maintain a similar work schedule.
For two – several friends who have applied to jobs in recent months have been left waiting to hear back. With staff working from home, uncertainties in work plans and even changes in funding, the recruitment process has been much longer than usual. This is likely owed to COVID-19 taking up so much bandwidth across organizations.
Finally, in at least one case from a colleague of mine, opportunities have been canceled.
New funding means new jobs
Ok, so I’ve covered two depressing trends in the face of COVID-19.
A more upbeat one – as I constantly share with you – is, New Money Means New Opportunities.
Unlike the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, efforts to mobilize the fight against COVID-19 have brought in oceans of new funding to the development sector.
A staggering USD 4.6 trillion has been invested by governments, bilateral donors, multilateral institutions, philanthropies, and the private sector to address COVID-19.
The World Bank approved an increased USD 14 billion package of fast-track financing to assist companies and countries in their efforts to prevent, detect and respond to COVID-19.
In the event of a severe downturn triggered by the coronavirus, the International Monetary Fund could provide up to an estimated USD 50 billion in emergency financing to fund emerging and developing countries’ initial response.
In Asia and the Pacific, the Asian Development Bank announced a USD 6.5 billion initial package to support the immediate needs of development member countries.
And the African Development Bank launched a record breaking USD 3 billion three-year social bond to alleviate the economic and social impact of COVID-19 on the lives and livelihoods of Africa’s economies.
While Devex has identified just 245 funding activities, grants and new business opportunities specifically targeting “COVID-19” or “coronavirus”, you can expect this to skyrocket as organizations start to allocate their funds.
This means new work for you and me to take on.
COVID-19 highlights the need for development professionals to always stay up on latest knowledge
But giving the emerging funding and opportunities—are you ready?
If COVID-19 highlights one feature of international development work, it’s that things are always subject to change. This means we must always be ready to stay up-to-date on the latest knowledge, trends and ideas. That we must be ready to adapt.
Take alone the amount of new learning about coronavirus and COVID-19 and social distancing and R0 (the average number of people one person infects) and so forth we have all had to do in recent weeks.
Without this new baseline of knowledge, you would remain handicapped in your impact work, and of course not to mention your day to day survival in the world.
But beyond this – the new coronavirus spells a new future of development thinking.
How can NGOs protect the rights of the elderly when economic growth is favored over healthy lives? What can people do when their leaders fail to take public health seriously? How will digital technology change to reflect COVID-19 patterns of disruption? What new risk mitigation measures must programs put in place to continue delivering for communities and at-risk groups?
Endless new ideas are needed to adapt the tools of the development sector – programs, policies and strategies—to a new era of risk.
And here is one keeping me up at night…
What other sector-wide disruptors are we still missing?
New opportunities for local consultants
Finally for now, a new world of opportunities appears on the verge of emerging for local staff and consultants.
As I’ve shared before, global development is undergoing a jobs shift to positions being held in Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America.
COVID-19 is likely serving as an accelerator to this shift.
In my own consulting work, for instance, I am increasingly seeking local partners to deliver on work.
For others, sharing in responsibilities and mentoring national staff around the world brings new possibilities for collaboration and partnership.
Whatever the future holds – your part in building a stronger world because of COVID-19 is waiting, if you’re watching the right trends and staying on top of the latest needs.
How is COVID-19 impacting your work or job search?
Leave a comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions.
Stay safe & do well,