Welcome to 2022. For 2021 I described “a year full of headwinds and uncertainty for international development“. I am afraid that 2022 looks like more of the same, with lots of uncertainty and disruption.
The upside is that disruption drives change and renewal – and while it is hard, it often mobilises transition and positive progress. Here are my 10 things to watch out for in 2022.
1. Living with the pandemic
As we enter year three of the pandemic, we can be sure that we will be living with Covid-19 for some time to come.
Those protected by the vaccines will be able to live with minimal restrictions, at least until the next variant appears. But the variants emphasise that no-one is safe until we are all safe. If we are really to live with Covid-19, the whole world needs equal access to vaccinations. This is not happening fast enough. Without greater vaccine pledges and patent waivers from rich countries, vaccine inequity is likely to continue, adding to the health burden in many countries.
There is an upside, however, as scientists are saying that the significant advances in vaccine, diagnostics and other health technologies due to this global crisis will contribute to progress on other diseases – described as the “pandemic dividend”. This could be invaluable for global health if approached inclusively.
2. The Democracy question
This year will end with the 2nd Summit for Democracy and a set of announcements and commitments designed to strengthen democracies around the world. A commitment to open societies and protecting civic space was a win at the G7 in 2021, but delivering this was not plain sailing, with many democratic systems under increased scrutiny.
The US midterm elections are likely to put both the House and the Senate majorities at risk for the Democrats. That will make it difficult for the Biden team to get anything done, and could see a refocus of foreign policy as a result.
There may or may not be a reckoning for right-wing populists Viktor Orban and Jair Bolsanaro at their elections this year in Hungry and Brazil – where they are prime minister and president respectively. Angola, Australia, Colombia, France, Kenya, the Philippines and South Korea also go to the polls.
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It will be interesting to see if the UK can reconcile undermining its own democracy while advocating for human rights and international law on a global stage at the Summit for Democracies. We will see what state civic space is in when the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill and proposed reforms to the Human Rights Act and Judicial Review come to fruition. We must use everything in our powers to resist the most malignant of these reforms to protect our own freedoms.
3. Funding crises and innovation
The UN predicts a 17% rise in emergency aid requirements impacting 274 million people in 2022. Protracted crises have increased the need in countries like Afghanistan, Ethiopia and Myanmar, while the effects of climate change are pushing Madagascar into famine, along with 42 other countries at risk from hunger.
The UN estimates that $41bn is needed to cover humanitarian requirements, but they only expect to get half of that from traditional donors. This raises fundamental questions about how we support people in urgent need next year – particularly in fragile and conflict-affected states.
While the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has humanitarian assistance as one of its priorities, the UK aid cuts will continue to hit marginalised communities hard as the recently reduced contribution to the World Bank’s International Development Assistance fund (IDA) have shown.
Perhaps the silver lining in a dire situation is with finance innovation and new funding sources. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) Humanitarian Impact Bond will conclude in July 2022 and provide deeper insights into what bonds can do across development funding. More widely, a rethink of how we fund public goods such as global health and climate change collectively will continue to evolve with proposals such as Global Public Finance gaining traction with some governments. One hopes this will also drive a shift towards prevention being better than cure as a more efficient way to tackle global crises and use precious resources.
4. The FCDO approach to development
We come into 2022 with a Conservative government holding a large majority in Parliament. That should be an indication of stability and perhaps even certainty. But we also have an increasingly embattled prime minister and several leadership candidates in waiting, including the foreign secretary.
For international development and internationalism, that is likely to create further turmoil. Spring will see the launch of the much-anticipated high-level International Development Strategy. We expect to see a focus on the priorities that the foreign secretary has previously laid out – women and girls, climate and environment, green infrastructure, humanitarian and global health. We also expect a greater emphasis on the whole toolkit, not just Official Development Assistance (ODA), but diplomacy and investment too and a move towards more bilateral UK funding.
We are hopeful that there will be an emphasis on prevention and the inclusion of self-sufficiency and locally-led development as a key principle. How the reduced ODA budget is then spent is likely to match the priorities of the foreign secretary more closely than in the past – so definitions of what those priorities mean, and ensuring they are broadly interpreted, will be critical.
5. Action on the climate and ecological crisis
The UK presidency of COP26 ends in October, handing over to Egypt for COP27. Countries will be expected to bring back stronger 2030 emissions targets commensurate with a 1.5°C world, and to make good on their promises for financing adaptation.
The reaffirmation of the 1.5°C commitment will increase the shift towards a green economy, and we should see results from some commitments to green infrastructure and net zero from government and business.
We can also be certain that people and organisations around the world will continue to campaign and hold governments to account. However, the question of climate justice and financing remains. Will we see genuine progress on loss and damage in Egypt? Will financing be additional or just take away from other support for marginalised communities? We will also see whether the conclusion of the Convention on Biological Diversity will provide a solid framework for biodiversity that brings climate, nature and biodiversity together.
6. Post-pandemic NGO 2.0
Last year I talked about a post-pandemic NGO, taking measures such as introducing hybrid working, focusing on wellbeing and working in partnerships. With more people expected to be working from home at least some of the time, 2022 will be the year of making hybrid working, work (for everyone who can).
This needs to match to NGO ambitions on inclusion to ensure that bias towards people in the office does not translate into greater professional opportunities. Wellbeing is also going to continue in importance as people deal with the trauma and loss of the last few years, the increasing levels of burnout, and – in development particularly – the challenging political situation that sees crises increase, and support wane.
This is a positive opportunity for people to define how they work and to be supported in that – an opportunity for ongoing transition where exploring different ways of working and different business models should come to the fore.
7. The China Axis
The National People’s Congress happens this year – a moment for Xi Jinping to showcase the Chinese system as powerful, efficient and better for people. It may also prompt invasion of Taiwan and the subsequent international crisis.
China may have a bumpier time economically with strict pandemic lockdowns and an impending property crisis having the potential to undermine their growth narrative.
From a development perspective, China is now the largest bilateral infrastructure funder in Africa. The relaunch of the Commonwealth Development Corporation (CDC) as British Investment International (BII) suggests a UK response – investing in sustainable infrastructure to counter the infrastructure loans. It will be interesting to see whether the UK can do more to differentiate from China through support for institutions and being a true partner with countries we work with, encouraging them to make their own decisions.
8. Technology reckoning?
We’ve already talked about advances in life sciences. There will be advances across multiple technology fronts – AI, robotics, renewable energy and storage, virtual reality, space travel, cryptocurrencies and the metaverse.
Cisco expects 4.8 billion people to be using the internet in 2022, equating to almost 60% of the world. That means more traffic and data, so the investments in 5G and 6G will be necessary to keep up. It also means greater gaps between those who do have access, and those who don’t, and more cyber security risks – something that the charity sector is vulnerable to – particularly as people are remote working.
The need to regulate technology companies properly will continue to cause consternation in 2022. There are opportunities here for development agencies to make better use of technology, but there is also a need for a better social contract in the digital age that allows for regulation and innovation to move in lockstep and to reduce, rather than exacerbate, inequity.
9. Getting real on transforming the sector, starting with anti-racism and locally-led strategies
In the last couple of years we have made commitments on anti-racism. We have also diagnosed the problem through a variety of projects from the Bond locally-led catalyst, to the Re-Designing the INGO (RINGO) project. We have seen progress in funder conversations, particularly the USAID commitment of 25% of funding going directly to local partners.
In 2022, we need to make good on these conversations and deliver practical progress. In June, Bond and partners will be running a locally-led symposium that marks progress and shares practical ways forward to agencies and funders alike. RINGO will also be sharing the results of their prototyping of new ways forward for development mid-year. At the same time, we will be reviewing progress on anti-racism in our own organisations.
Last year we reported that 68% of people of colour in UK-based international development organisations experienced or witnessed racism – that has to change. We will be asking again this year and hope to see improvements, and we will continue to support our members in this transformation. This is a such a massive opportunity for reinvention, and it is vital for all our futures. I am optimistic that we will see progress in 2022.
10. A year of ideas and activism (and ending the culture wars?)
I am hopeful that 2022 will be the year of ideas and activism. In 2021 we showed how we could come together as a sector to mobilise on G7 and COP26. Crack the Crisis, the Police Bill Alliance and The Civil Society Group also showed the power of broader coalitions.
We will need to continue to work across diverse alliances to protect rights and freedoms and get beyond the culture wars. If we are to maintain optimism and regain influence we must be propositional.
At Bond, we will be harvesting and shaping new ideas on internationalism and development through our year-long Future Dialogues project. We will start building energy and support for big ideas for up-and-coming election manifestos and beyond.
At the same time, we will need to capitalise on the increased public support for aid following the UK aid cuts. In January, the Aid Alliance will be launching a public campaigning showing how the UK works in solidarity with countries around the world and that it works. We will learn from that and help it to shape our own fundraising messages so that they give power to the people we work with and show positive progress to old and new supporters.
It’s going to be a tumultuous year for sure. I am hopeful that we can capitalise on the opportunities that it brings – to build a system of international solidarity and equity that is fit for the future. At Bond we look forward to doing that together with our partners and members.