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Reimagining international development for the future

Recent challenges to the UK’s international development sector have brought into question its narratives, structures and ultimately whether it is still fit for purpose.

The sector needs a radical rethink.

As a group of 16 young people, we have been reimagining the development sector by exploring alternative futures for a global development ecosystem. Our new report, Next Generations Champions, sets out recommendations for the sector and a method that shows how youth participation and foresight can help centre alternative voices, challenge dominant narratives and offer critique to current ways of thinking.

A need for agile and anticipatory leadership

There is a growing need for agile leadership when it comes to global governance. In all scenarios, we anticipated younger generations becoming dissatisfied with capitalist ideals and centralised government systems. Instead, seeking alternative approaches which place a greater emphasis on community-led decision-making, collaboration and social responsibility.

Another signal of change for us was the rise in popularity of new digital technologies and platforms which enable knowledge sharing transnationally. They can be powerful tools, facilitating the democratisation of the development process and helping to increase participation amongst citizens from developing countries.

The report highlights the need for the sector to embrace these changes and be proactive in anticipating and planning for seismic shifts.

Address climate and colonial legacies

The further we went through our foresight process, the more it became evident that as a group, we shared a sense of dissatisfaction with the current pace of change within the sector or around climate and colonisation.

There was an overwhelming consensus that action needs to be taken now, particularly to address issues such as climate change and colonial legacies. These are often presented as “future” challenges, but as a group, we agreed these issues need to be addressed today.

The scenarios anticipated new narratives for the sector centred around equality, solidarity and collaboration. Models and mechanisms for establishing relationships of soft power, and engagement that nurture creativity, co-design and collective leadership were all highlighted as an important next step to tackle climate change and decolonisation head-on.

Go deeper – with an open mind

We found the use of imaginative and exploratory foresight approaches in this project to be a powerful way to elicit new ideas and surface new perspectives within our group. As we drew up our future scenarios, based on a mix of deductive scenarios and imaginary (sometimes dystopian “worst-case scenario”) storytelling, the most far-fetched ideas were normally the most thought-provoking.

And despite these stories being about the long-term, they were nonetheless grounded in our lived experiences, our understanding of ourselves, human nature and how we expect different social groups to respond to our changing environments. Telling very human stories force us to confront the long-term moral and human implications of our actions today.

We encourage readers to dive into the report with an open mind. We need a paradigm shift in the way both the sector and society address global socioeconomic issues. We need a bottom-up re-imagining of the global system and an exploration of new narratives around development. Our scenarios try to do just that.

School of International Futures (SOIF), under its National Strategy for the Next Generations programme, was commissioned by Bond to engage young, diverse and futures-focused voices to anticipate UK’s international development role in 2045. The Next Generation Champions (16-30-year-olds) spent five months engaging in a foresight process designed and led by SOIF. The insight and artefacts from the process fed into Bond’s UK Futures Dialogues. For updates from the National Strategy for the Next Generations programme, sign-up or get in touch with Finn Strivens.


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