Development predictions for 2016
Predicting the future is a notoriously slippery business. Indeed it is often said there are two types of forecasts: lucky or wrong. Despite the obvious perils of prediction, Bond’s expert panel of futures thinkers have bravely penned their thoughts on the trends and breakthroughs for 2016 that will change the landscape of international development.
If our experts are right, 2016 will be anything but business as usual. Expect to see NGOs partnering with tech startups, a strong focus on innovation in back office operations, and much soul-searching about our current models of development.
Delve in to find out what you can expect for the year ahead – and learn whether your organisation will be one of 2016’s winners or losers.
Startups vs (or +) established NGOs
Tris Lumley, Director of Development, NPC
I predict that in 2016 large established NGOs will wake up to the potential that startups have to disrupt and transform their own strategies and approaches. The pressure to innovate will grow, and the potential to be left behind by startups backed by tech entrepreneurs moving into philanthropy will become a real threat.
The structures and bureaucracy of large NGOs and the locked-in inertia of their traditional funding sources mean that it’s incredibly hard for them to transform their models and strategies. Yet that’s exactly what needs to happen.
If we look at any of the megatrends sweeping through the sector – digital transformation, the shift to the south, or increasing focus on market-based approaches – these require the rebuilding of organisations’ approaches from the ground up.
In the private sector, entrepreneurial startups with low overheads and more agile ways of working are fuelling massive disruption across almost all industries. And these models are already becoming more visible in the non-profit sector – just look at startups like WikiDevelopment or Sphaera to see what’s possible.
Winners: established NGOs that learn from positive examples in the private sector and invest in collaborative partnerships with startups – rather than viewing them as a threat. These organisations will find themselves in a much better position to respond to the forces driving change in international development.
Losers: established NGOs that fail to address the external forces driving change in international development. These organisations will find themselves increasingly stuck and ultimately in danger of obsolescence.
Africa enters the space race
Nick Ishmael-Perkins, Director, SciDev.Net
My prediction for 2016 is that Africa’s space policy will launch a new frontier of collaboration between science, tech entrepreneurs and development practitioners, but raise questions for donors at home.
In January 2016, African heads of state will ratify the continent’s first space strategy, proving that space science is no longer the preserve of high-income countries.
The hope among the ministers is that this strategy will prove as successful as India’s space commitment, which saw India become the only country in the world to enter a spacecraft into Martian orbit on first attempt.
The African space strategy supports building technological capacity in states not nearly in the same income bracket as India. The space strategy, and the African Union’s Agenda 2063, is a signal that African governments are flexing their muscles – moving to funnel investment and aid into their priorities.
For international donors and charity-giving members of the public who believe direct poverty alleviation comes first, an African space programme could prove difficult to swallow.
But with a billion people still stuck in poverty, it’s time to think outside the box. Seeing space programmes as part of development could force donors and NGOs to get to grips with new approaches.
Winners: NGOs who can join up national space programmes with traditional development programmes – for instance by proposing to use satellite data to predict water shortages; nimble aero-space executives.
Losers: charities working in Africa who fail to rehearse the benefits of space technology for development outcomes will need to justify why their work is required in countries that plan to build rockets.
Mindfulness to go mainstream
Charlene Collison, Principal Advisor - Futures, Forum for the Future
I predict that in 2016, the continued increase of mental health problems impacting on workplaces globally will push mindfulness and meditation from the domain of trendy, alternative practice to mainstream HR policy.
In a recent survey of aid workers, 79% stated they have experienced mental health issues. In 2016, over a quarter of the UK population will suffer from some type of mental health problem.
This is a global trend that is likely to increase over the coming years: in a recent exploration of 2030 scenarios for global workplace health and wellbeing, the risk of employees suffering from mental health problems was high across every scenario.
Stress and anxiety, feelings of loneliness and isolation, and severe depression will have significant impacts on productivity and creativity.
As people navigate the effects of trends from urbanisation to automation, increasing economic pressures, disruptions and the uncertainty of climate change, the need for a preventative stance to mental health will affect not only developed economies, but increasingly emerging economies. The business case for employers investing in the mental and emotional wellbeing of employees will become increasingly visible.
Business executives have already discovered the benefits of mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation to deal with stress. In 2016, the culture of mindfulness practice will start to be adopted by employers concerned for their wider workforce.
Winners: employers who take proactive action to support their employees’ mental health will have a more productive and resilient workforce.
Losers: individuals and society will lose out if employers fail to take action. Research suggests that loneliness and depression can be as bad for a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, or heavy alcohol use.
Back office to front stage
Giulio Quaggiotto, Senior Programme Manager - Innovation Skills, Nesta
I predict that in 2016 back-office operations will take the front stage, with physical location becoming a question of legitimacy. There will be a strong focus on innovation in finance, logistics and procurement. Human resources will take a page from the private sector in an attempt to retain talent.
Physical location will become a contested issue. With their legitimacy under scrutiny, big NGOs will continue to reassess where their key decisions are taken and will consider a move to the south. The rising challenge of dealing with transnational issues and the impossibility of being physically present in conflict areas will foster experimentation with a whole new set of tools, from co-presence to transborder ID registration.
Driven primarily by funding pressure and increasing competition, expect to see a good deal of financial technology, logistics and innovative procurement job vacancies from development organisations in 2016. More agile players are already entering this space – whether it’s to provide innovative solutions for cash transfers or remittances, to rethink supply chain verification or project finance, procure agricultural equipment or reimagine data collection. New forms of automation and predictive analytics (eg for new financial instruments such as forecast based financing) will become mainstream.
Taking their cues from the private sector, human resource departments will begin to ditch performance reviews and performance ratings and adopt practices from purpose-driven start-ups that keep employees connected with the organisation’s mission.
Winners: NGOs that are putting operations at the core of their innovation mainstreaming efforts; agile start-ups and specialists experimenting with new solutions in finance, logistics, procurement and HR.
Losers: larger bureaucracies where the individuals aren't given support to innovate.
Catarina Tully, Director, FromOverHere
I predict that 2016 will be the year that we tackle a (global) crisis of governance. Fuelled by a political flashpoint or disaster, we will continue to create innovative new structures to replace those unfit for purpose.
Global crises have dominated 2015, with the refugee and migrant crisis in Europe, renewed conflict in the Middle East, growing political repression, and increased cyber and terrorist threats. Understandably, this has required an urgent and focused response, however, while busy focusing on crisis management, we are ignoring alternative and longer-term trends.
In 2016, I expect there will be a disruption – a minor military flashpoint in the South China Sea, or a major catastrophe like an earthquake that overwhelms the capacity of local populations to respond. This will jolt the recognition that we have not built agile and resilient governance structures at either global or national levels.
On a positive note, 2015 has been a landmark year, with the approval of the Sustainable Development Goals and more recently COP21 in Paris, setting ambitious targets to reduce global poverty and inequality, tackle fundamental human rights for women, and address global climate change. This is a good start, but to have impact, we will need new governance models, including system-stewardship and participatory approaches, to build resilient nations, organisations and communities for the future.
Winners: NGOs with forward looking, open and innovative governance models that address current failings, mainly from the global south, and those in the global north that can provide technical support.
Losers: mainstream NGOs with a reactive agenda who will continue to face pressures from governments, and from wider ongoing discussions on legitimacy and effectiveness.
Professor Henrietta L Moore, Director, Institute for Global Prosperity
In 2016 we need to jettison our obsession with economic "growth" and instead focus on how we achieve genuine prosperity.
This year represents an opportunity to rethink our whole notion of "development". With the Sustainable Development Goals in place and a global agreement on climate change, the world has been given fresh direction to drive transformative change. But it can’t just be more of the same.
With a world population hurtling towards 10 billion by 2050 and a planet facing ecological catastrophe, business as usual is no longer a viable proposition. We're trapped in an outdated model that sees unsustainable economic growth as the prime measure of success. A drive to achieve "prosperity" will mean different things in different places, but the main focus should be on real improvements to people’s lives, not gross domestic product (GDP) per capita.
The most progressive INGOs will approach new challenges with a cooperative mind, learning from developing countries as well as aiming to help them. The new goals should act as a leveller by reminding all countries that putting in place the conditions for people to flourish while respecting environmental limits is a universal task.
Winners: innovative countries such as Costa Rica, who used only renewable energy for the first 75 days of 2015; Uruguay, where plans are in place to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030; and India, who recently announced a "global solar alliance" to help developing countries invest in renewable energy.
Losers: the UK government which continues to cut green subsidies, and traditional western NGOs who fail to adapt to a culture of collaboration and knowledge exchange.
Transformation of energy systems
James Goodman, Director of Futures, Forum for the Future
My prediction for 2016 is simply a continuation of what now appears to be an unstoppable trend: the transformation of energy systems.
The transformation of our global energy supply is probably the most fundamental shift taking place at the moment, with ramifications at every level from the global economy to the lives of individuals.
Just a few years ago a centralised, fossil-fuel-dominated energy system looked entrenched. Now it looks anachronistic. The future of energy is emerging: smart, decentralised, democratised renewables-based systems.
We see this future taking shape everywhere – from the extraordinary transformation of Germany's energy system in just a decade, to the innovations of Elon Musk. From the plummeting costs of solar photovoltaics to the pronouncements of the Bank of England that fossil fuel investments are now high risk. And from the divestment movement to the raft of cities and businesses setting zero-carbon targets.
Big business will redouble their efforts to shift to renewable energy throughout their global supply chains; Unilever, for example, has already committed to generate more energy than it needs by 2030 renewably, and sell the surplus back to the grid.
Winners: people all over the world, as clean energy becomes more accessible and prices fall. Development NGOs and environmental organisations will have a following wind to sail with, as sustainable energy opens the door to so many other positive development outcomes.
Losers: the fossil-fuel giants, and the organisations that continue to bet on fossil fuels being an essential part of the energy mix into the future; any countries with significant high carbon investments unless they get support to transition into a different energy future.
Laying the foundations for real change
Micha Narberhaus, Coordinator, Smart CSOs Lab
For many NGOs the year 2015 was marked by the external agenda, not least the Sustainable Development Goals and the global agreement on climate change. In contrast, 2016 will precipitate a period of introspection.
The official agenda driven forward in 2015 – with the participation of NGOs – is still suppressing more fundamental systemic issues behind the humanitarian and ecological crises of our times: an obsession with economic growth, consumerist culture and the marketisation of every sphere of life.
If we want to tackle the root causes of poverty and climate change, we need a transition to a new economic system that will better enable human wellbeing and ecological sustainability. 2016 offers the opportunity to ask how NGOs can contribute to such a transition.
Harvard professor of political philosophy Michael Sandel has an idea for how to get started. He believes our societies are not addressing the big moral questions of our time because we think that market solutions provide a neutral way of resolving conflicts. Many democracies debate technical issues instead of values like justice or the common good. The result is a loss of trust in our institutions.
Nobody knows yet how a new economic system might emerge. But NGOs are ideally placed to create space for dialogue and deliberation, involving people in fundamental debates: What should be the role of markets and money in our society? What is the good life?
Winners: organisations brave enough to involve people in a collective search for justice and sustainability will catalyse new solutions to achieve the global goals.
Losers: organisations that resist fundamental change will see their supporter bases dwindle as people lose faith in the ability of aid, money and market instruments to solve poverty and climate change.
The end of INGOs
Lars Gustavsson, Futurist, World Vision
As Poverty, Inc said: "If you really want to help, the poverty industry has to go." My prediction for 2016 is for deeper involvement of the public and private sectors in development amid existential threats to civil society organisations.
In the past 25 years, the UN-led poverty reduction approach has focused on answering this question: "What will it take to reduce poverty?" But successful countries have focused on asking: "What will it take to build a prosperous nation?" The former ideology and practice result in "reductive" strategies, the later ideology and practice result in "additive" strategies.
This idea has been explored deeply by the OECD, bilateral and multilateral donors, international institutions and civil society itself. In the past three years, through various political assessments, some clear decisions have emerged: the world’s major 26 bilateral donors are looking to focus 90% of official development assistance (ODA) on three agendas: core government departments, national financing restructuring, and national elite and power constituents (to ensure stability). 10% will go towards large-scale disaster response.
With most of ODA shifting from charity to social and business investment approaches, there is greater potential to address long-term systemic and structural deficiencies. Disruption in ODA financing will force new thinking and more exciting ways to speed and scale development progress will result. Crisis lays often at the feet of innovation.
Winners: people in developing countries will be the ultimate winners as they position themselves as clients of development or humanitarian action and power shifts in their favour.
Losers: INGOs and civil society organisations stand to be the greatest losers in this next round of disruption, but the most agile could use this opportunity to completely redesign themselves.