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- Jobs Under Threat In The Development Sector – But All May Not Be Lost - June 15, 2020
- Rethinking The Funding Of NGOs - November 26, 2019
For some time now, those of us working in development knew that disruption was about to take place right across our ecosystem. The signs were there and a long time coming. Next Generation even documented global, continental and local trends in our annual research report. This year’s report – Disruption with Impact – clearly highlighted the changing landscape and impact of these trends on our local development value chain.
And then came the biggest disruption – that no one could foresee – the Covid-19 pandemic. Three months into the crises, the effects of the pandemic are global and have changed our operating contexts forever.
It is our prediction that over the next few months many case studies will be written about what happened, how organizations responded, and the after effect of the pandemic on the organizations and humans that work in the sector.
It is clear that we will now face even greater challenges both from a financial and operational perspective, as well as a personal perspective. This article aims to focus on the human aspect – the people who work in the humanitarian ecosystem. What does the future hold and what will it mean? How will we cope and how do we prepare ourselves individually for a new reality?
Reality 1: Job losses
Since the start of the pandemic, Devex – a global online platform for the development sector, have run a research study to look at the impact of the crises on the sector. Starting in April and still continuing, the Devex COVID-19 Trends Tracker surveyed more than 580 global development professionals based in 162 countries. The respondents of the research study are representative of independent consultants, employees of international development agencies and NGO’s as well as practitioners working for grantmaking institutions.
Findings from the research included:
- Overall, 60% of respondents are worried the pandemic could mean the end for the organization they work for. There were stark contrasts between regions – 39% of respondents in Africa and 33% of those in the Middle East were “very concerned” for the future of their employer, while in both North America and Europe, just 6% of respondents shared this sentiment.
- Of the respondents based in Africa, the majority – 31% – work for an NGO, while 18% identify as independent consultants. Donor agency or government staff make up 13% of the respondents from this region.
- The survey also revealed that immediate cuts to development funding are being seen across all regions. Half of respondents based in the Middle East and 49% of those in Africa say the organization they work for has lost funding as a result of the pandemic, while in Europe and North America, a slightly lower number of professionals say this has happened – 40% and 35% respectively.
- More than half – 54% – of professionals based in Africa have already lost their job or know someone who has, while 35% are “very concerned” that they may yet lose their job as a result of the pandemic.
- Of those respondents still working, several NGO staff in Africa and Asia said they have already had their own pay cut because of funding losses. For some, this has meant salary reductions of 20-40%.
Reality 2: Lost career paths
Development practitioners working for smaller and medium sized organizations stands to lose the most from the pandemic especially with fundraising events canceled and donations dropping. In addition, the COVID-19 crisis is so severe and pervasive that it has already drowned out all other global development issues. Some organizations are trying to tie their areas of focus to the pandemic while others are trying to wait out the crisis before going back to their advocacy and fundraising.
From the same Devex study, nearly all those surveyed – 96% – said that the pandemic will have significant and long-term consequences for development. In the latest round of questions, participants were given a list of potential long-term consequences of the pandemic, with no limit to the number of answers they could choose. “Backsliding on development gains” was picked by 53% of respondents, while 49% predicted reductions in foreign aid.
- In North America, 65% thought lost development gains would be one of the biggest consequences of the pandemic, versus 53% in Africa. Practitioners in Oceania were most concerned about reductions in foreign aid, which was chosen by 73%. Meanwhile, 60% of professionals in the Middle East and 52% in Asia expected more funding for primary health systems.
- A concern particularly raised was on the distribution of funds, suggesting that an over-emphasis on health to the exclusion of other issues could have a big impact on achievements made so far towards the Sustainable Development Goals. It is predicted that overseas development aid could drop by as much as $25 billion by 2021, therefore the competition to maintain ODA levels with domestic priorities is enormous.
- According to the United Nations’ World Economic Situation and Prospects Report, the pandemic will cause an estimated 34.3 million more people to fall below the extreme poverty line this year, with 56% of those in Africa. And the World Health Organization chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that the pandemic could curb recent progress in low-income countries on life expectancy and access to services for HIV, malaria and tuberculosis.
- The COVID-19 Trends Tracker also predicts that under-diversified economies with weak institutions and poor infrastructure would be particularly exposed. Respondents cited fears of “democratic backsliding due to [the] crisis situation”, as well as the long-term impact of school closures on students. Women and girls’ rights could be set back by “a couple of decades.” Most concerning however is the fact that the food security situation will worsen considerably which could compromise progress in many other areas of development. For instance, in infant mortality and overall children’s health, which is often linked to nutrition. Gains made around access to education may also be lost. This is hugely concerning, not least because an educated workforce will be key to rebuilding economic systems.
Reality 3: The future is remote, distributed, virtual and digital
The COVID-19 pandemic has transformed the global health community’s acceptance and use of digital health technologies. As health systems around the world are overwhelmed responding to COVID-19 while continuing to provide health care services, leaders are adopting technologies that only three months ago were on the sidelines of most health care systems.
As doctors, patients and home care providers turn to telemedicine to reduce exposure to COVID-19, they are discovering these virtual consultations are effective for triaging care, sharing critical guidance, and providing emotional support. Dashboards for logistic management systems are improving the efficient deployment of essential resources — from hospital beds to PPE to, ultimately, vaccines.
More advanced technologies including AI are being employed to provide insights into complex questions of how individual behaviors impact transmission and identifying which policies are effective for specific groups.
As the saying goes, “you can’t put the genie back in the bottle.” Once deployed, the use of these technologies will only expand as we revert to solving the challenges problems that preoccupied us prior to COVID-19 — too few health personnel, inadequate budgets, and weak health systems. Maybe these technologies will be what helps us get closer to our shared goal of universal health coverage. COVID-19 could be what makes us finally deliver on the promises of remote learning and support, impacts that will serve health workers —particularly in rural areas — long after this pandemic ends.
There are also a wide range of other changes that could be attributed to the pandemic. These include the explosion in online education, online fundraising and the use of cash transfer systems to distribute resources to where its needed, when it is needed, in lieu of traditional mechanisms for distributing food parcels.
What does this mean for you?
Something that distinguishes humanitarian work from work in other industries is the role of volunteers, donors, and program beneficiaries. Unlike in other industries, there are some essential stakeholders who work for free, and others who even pay to participate. This diversity of incentives and motivations makes the future of skills for development practitioners particularly rich, complex and difficult to generalize.
Technology has triggered rapid growth in the agility, efficiency, and evolution of current job expectations. There is hardly a job that does not require a holistic skill set. This evolution of job requirements has meant that most employees are now expected to be digitally skilled, strategic and analytical. Increasingly, businesses are looking to hire hybrid candidates for what they consider hybrid jobs. The advantage of hiring a hybrid workforce is that they are usually agile and adapt to new work environments. An example of a hybrid job is combining skill sets that never used to be found in the same job, such as marketing and statistical analysis, or design and programming.
In new research by Burning Glass Technologies, a company that analyzes close to a billion job postings and employee resumes from millions of companies provides some insights. The conclude that jobs are becoming more “hybrid,” more complex, and demand four important new sets of skills.
What are the skills you need to build to adapt?
- First, you must develop skills in digital tools and digital technology. We are all being “augmented” by machines, so your ability to learn new systems, configure and customize these tools, and code them, if necessarily, is critical.
- Second, you must become comfortable with analytics and data. Of all the skills, data analytics, including interpretation, visualization, and communication, is one of the most important.
- Third, you must understand the fundamentals of business and management. One in three jobs now require management and business skills.
- Fourth, you must now think like a designer or creative. More than half of all jobs now require some form of digital design. While machines can often automate and recommend decisions or even analyze data, we need people to design the user experiences, systems, and platforms that we use every day.
At the end of 2019, the Humanitarian Leadership Academy issued a report on the future of skills required in the humanitarian sector. This definitive study is now more important than ever as the impact of the pandemic causes us to consider what it will take to build back better after the crises. Some of the predictions made in the report include:
Managing multiple jobs, and even multiple industries
The humanitarian ecosystem, like most industries, will see a decline in full-time work, and a rise in freelancing and gig work. Organizations will keep fewer full-time staff on their roster. This means that managing multiple streams of income and constantly hustling to find new work will be a reality for most development practitioners and humanitarian workers.
Many humanitarian workers will not work exclusively in the field but instead on a combination of humanitarian and for-profit projects. For those who relish novelty and can balance the complexities of inconsistent income streams, this future will be appealing. However, for those who are unable to adapt, this future will be precarious, and their ability to take a reduced salary (or contract amount) to focus on making an impact will diminish.
Quickly building pop-up organizations and coordinating micro-hubs
As the large and centralized organizations that form the de facto governance of humanitarian efforts decline in influence and scope, (think Oxfam that have just announced retrenching 1 500 employees and closing 18 offices) – it will become more difficult to tell who is in charge during humanitarian efforts involving diverse actors.
Large quantities of data will be available for people who know how to use it. (Think about it as something like an “air traffic control system for people” to direct them to the right resources for their context.) Being able to quickly design and implement lightweight coordination structures, both in terms of software and group process methods, to route people and resources effectively will be extremely valuable.
Maintaining emotional, complex relationships through virtual media
A lot more happens in an office than people just completing tasks in the same place. In person, people can communicate in nuanced ways to navigate complex situations and form personal relationships that reduce friction when working together. As more and more work is done remotely through virtual media, this interstitial connection is easy to lose and work can suffer badly from it.
Being able to communicate in rich, dynamic ways virtually, and maintain relationships that go beyond just conference calls will be essential for getting work done, not to mention feeling emotionally fulfilled. This skill will cut across nearly every sector, but its presence in the development sector will be of most value when professionals and short-term volunteers are working together remotely on projects. Volunteer management and the ability to work in horizontal teams will be of more use in the humanitarian sector than the more hierarchical and profit-focused corporate world.
From tracking and quantification toward authentic representation
Donors and investors are demanding increasing amounts of quantitative data to verify and track the impact of their donations. This will increase accountability in some situations but focusing on the quantitative in this way can come at the expense of some of the nuances of humanitarian work, especially as it involves the holistic wellbeing of families and individuals.
However, methods to accomplish both tasks are emerging (think about remote and digital data collection, monitoring and evaluation technologies), enabled by ubiquitous new forms of media.
In the future, we will not only be using cellphones, but also various forms of augmented reality devices. This means donors will be able to receive real-time feedback in much more complex formats than numerical metrics. The process will be less about information analysis and more about information facilitating, allowing beneficiaries to connect directly to systems that process and analyze the information to greater or lesser degrees before sharing with donors and constituents.
The development sector is an ever-shifting morass of many different organizations with often dramatically different, even opposing, incentives and motivations for being involved in humanitarian crises. No single entity is going to have the ability to effectively maneuver, arbitrate and coordinate everyone involved. Because of this, people will be needed who exist at the edges of several organizations at once and act as guides and navigators. People with this skill will be the glue that holds together humanitarian efforts as they become more distributed and less centralized around the efforts of large INGOs.
Different actors will gravitate toward organizational wayfinding roles for a variety of reasons. Some people will engage in it out of altruism, but others will create a brokerage business within the humanitarian sector, helping people find what they need between or within organizations only at a profit.
Building resilience with recovery
Climate change is not temporary. It is a fact of life, and even if we immediately take the most drastic preventative measures available to us, things will continue to get worse from an environmental perspective.
Similarly, once we have dealt with the health pandemic, the entire development sector will need to focus on and support the rebuilding the economy. This will require new competencies and skills from individuals and organizations that focus on economic interventions, starting and growing businesses, raising capital to grow and scale businesses, stimulating rural economies, providing skills and creating employment – in general – upskilling individuals to become more resilient to future pandemics.
Spinning up networks
One of the promises of technology in the wake of natural disasters and human crises is using data to deploy services more quickly and effectively. (Think how data modelling and statistical evidence became critical during the pandemic). However, this can be very difficult if ICT infrastructure is affected during the crisis.
Being able to deploy and operate temporary networks during a crisis will be an essential skill for humanitarian workers of the future. These networks will not always be technological, but may instead be social, or a combination of the two.
Most successful strategies and interventions for the future lie at the intersection of science and indigenous practices. Local communities often have their own successful strategies for dealing with disasters and supporting these practices with things like data collection and analysis, as well as access to knowledge, financial resources and equipment to use with emerging technology, will generate the best results.
In other words, “spinning up networks” is not about creating something to parachute into a situation and parachute out but is something to embed into existing communities and development practices. Access to social capital, (knowledge of indigenous networks and affiliations), will be a critical competency.
Working with automated funding mechanisms
A common issue today for humanitarian projects is the presence of unique and complicated guidelines that each donor requires for projects. For a holistic project requiring several different kinds of structures, organizations and blended/innovative funding, this can mean huge amounts of time managing different donor requirements in addition to the actual project work. During the crises we have seen that some donors have become more flexible in their responses, but they have also automated their application requirements in the interest of faster giving, easier tracking, but stricter accountability.
Humanitarian workers and development practitioners will need to develop a new skill of working with automated mechanisms, which will be in some ways like online fundraising today, and in other ways very different. Automated systems and processes that uses algorithms lend themselves to quantitative and categorical information as opposed to qualitative information, (think about your current funding applications that only rely on storytelling and pictures) so different information requirements will have increasing weight in future investment and funding decisions.
Humanitarian business design
For better or worse, humanitarian programs and organizations will be expected to run themselves more like a business. In some cases, this will mean emphasizing growth and minimizing costs in the way that a business might, and in other cases it will mean literally expecting humanitarian projects to generate their own revenue and be self-sustaining.
Designing humanitarian programs that meet these characteristics without sacrificing positive effects to beneficiaries of the programs will be challenging and require different skills than today’s simplistic program design, project management and evaluation.
Unsurprisingly, the pressure to generate revenue will often conflict with what is best for the people involved, even if it makes the program more financially “sustainable.” It will be essential for practitioners in the future to be able to understand which business-friendly programs look good on paper, but do not actually reduce peoples’ suffering or meaningfully empower beneficiary communities.
Experience is not enough
Talent management is considered a critical factor for ensuring the success of an organization. Companies invest heavily on identifying, attracting, developing, and engaging talent to make sure they have the best possible resources to implement their strategy and achieve their targets.
The humanitarian sector, particularly nonprofit organizations, often values practical experience over potential. This is due to the pragmatic nature of their work. But, in a world that has changed profoundly there is a need for new kinds of skills and competencies for situations that have in many ways become more complex than before. Aid is no longer delivered to passive recipients but to skilled and knowledgeable people with their own demands, who are also participants in the aid operations themselves. A wide range of skills is required from engagement, business management, technology management as well as people management.
A new world order will require a combination of hard and soft skills and competencies. These include:
- Critical thinking & problem solving
Asking questions is the foundation of critical thinking. Before you can solve a problem, you must be able to critically analyze and question what is causing it. Humanitarian challenges are some of the most complex problems we can address – without the ability to analyze we will never be able to develop solutions with a higher likelihood of scalable and sustainable success.
Additionally, in the humanitarian industry you will be exposed to diverse teams working on specific problems. These skills also build the foundation for innovation. If we can question the current state and criticize it, we can innovate and design alternatives. In the development sector these soft skills align directly to developing evidence-based Theories of Change, logic and results frameworks – some of the core hard skills development practitioners must possess.
- Collaboration & influence
Collaboration across digital networks, and with individuals from different backgrounds, contexts and geographies is something practitioners need to be prepared for. Transparent and accountable participation fundamentally underpins the way humanitarian aid and development cooperation is delivered – face-to-face and online. Your ability to collaborate with diverse stakeholders will determine the success of your work, as sustainable results do not occur in a vacuum.
- Agility & adaptability
We live in an uncertain and complex world. Hence, it is important to be able to adapt and re-define one’s approach to facilitating change. Sounds simple. But traditionally our education and work mindset are one of routine and fixed procedures. Indeed, being truly agile and adaptable means unlearning behaviors ingrained from an early age.
Your job is to provide the capacity and enabling environment for stakeholders to collaborate and determine their own paths forward. This means agility and adaptability.
- Initiative and entrepreneurship
Your function is to create solutions to highly complex local, national and global challenges. This process is not linear. Given this complexity and the structured nature of most sectors, including the development space, your initiative will be critical for on-going motivation and exploring alternatives to tried and tested, yet ultimately unsuccessful approaches.
The industry is changing. You either change with it. Lead it. Or become irrelevant. Funding mechanisms and behaviors have changed. Handouts do not result in sustainable change. It is your job as a modern humanitarian to change the status quo and use entrepreneurial skills to develop scalable solutions. Modern humanitarianism is a transformative journey from inspiration to impact.
- Effective communication: Oral and written
Communicating clearly is an extension of thinking clearly: Can you persuasively present your argument? Can you inspire others with conviction? Can you concisely articulate what you are trying to say? Can you promote yourself or an approach to change? In the social change realm communication (written and oral) is one of the most important skills any professional can possess. Importantly it is a skill that can be learned.
- Assessing and analyzing information
We live in the information age. However, while our access to information has drastically improved, so has our access to misinformation. Very few of us have been taught how to assess the source and evaluate content. In an evidence-based industry such as development this creates dilemmas. How do you know if the data you are relying on for program design and collaboration is ‘real’?
Moreover, this information is rapidly evolving as we update our knowledge base at unfathomable speeds. In the post-truth age, an active and informed development practitioner with deep research capability will have to be able to assess information from many different sources through a critical lens.
The pandemic could be the worst thing that have happened to our sector but the best thing that happens to us personally. In the era of disruption, every organization is searching for the “holy grail of innovation”. By reskilling and repositioning ourselves, we can add so much more value to the sector. With the right skills, job opportunities will be available in our sector, the question is are you ready?
Article written by Reana Rossouw – owner of Next Generation a specialist impact consultancy. Reana has worked with some of Africa’s largest social and impact investors. She also created the Investment Impact Index™ – a powerful impact management and measurement technology platform that measures both the impact and return on investment.
Reana publishes an annual research report about the development sector. She also hosts masterclasses in impact management and measurement and have published three books for the sector. All these resources are available for free on: www.nextgeneration.co.za
 Source: https://www.burning-glass.com/wp-content/uploads/hybrid_jobs_2019_final.pdf
 Source: The future of skills in the humanitarian sector: Human Leadership Academy: 2019
Main photography courtesy of Freepik.com