2020 will go down in history as a year of global health, economic and social crises occurring against the backdrop of increasingly catastrophic climate events. It is a year that defines disruption. However, as we jump into 2021, I’m taking a cue from last season’s development optimists to look for how to convert crisis into opportunity. This year, I will explore with my guests how they see us leveraging disruption for good in a post-COVID world.
In the 2019 season of A Deeper Look podcast, we examined the darker side of development — the unintended consequences of development efforts, the paradoxes that we confront, the harm that the best intentions can sometimes cause and the lessons we can learn by discussing uncomfortable, even threatening, topics.
Each one of my guests brought a unique perspective to this theme, yet it’s possible to distill a number of common concerns. More than one guest described the long-term nature of development as a journey, and many emphasized the importance of humility in this work. Although our theme for the year was dark, the perspectives, insights and commitment of my guests give me hope that we, as a community, are more willing to acknowledge our weaknesses and do better.
If you haven’t had an opportunity to tune in, I encourage you to listen to all of the episodes in this season’s A Deeper Look on Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud or wherever you get your podcasts. Here are some takeaways.
We have celebrated many successes in global development, thanks in part to advocacy efforts. The billions of dollars in resources and political will mobilized to tackle global development challenges have yielded historic results, such as reducing the number of cases of HIV, cutting malaria deaths in half and increasing life expectancy rapidly, even in the poorest countries. Does the promotion of the progress made lead to complacency that could ultimately reverse the gains we now celebrate?
In this episode, I sit down with Tom Hart, North America Executive Director for the ONE Campaign. Tom shares ONE’s approach to advocacy. We discuss the paradoxes of sharing successes and talk about how the final stretch of achieving the Sustainable Development Goals may be the hardest part of the race. We also examine the role of advocacy in development, the continued need for bipartisan political support for development work and the coalition of strange bedfellows during a divisive time.
Does the development community effectively discuss and address power dynamics? In this episode, I sit down with Paul O’Brien, Vice President for Policy and Advocacy of Oxfam America, to discuss the uses of power within international development, policy and institutions.
We explore the four types of power, discuss the currency of power within the world of development and talk about how even those programs and organizations that practice do no harm inevitably take risks that can be harmful.
Technology is integral to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, and the 2030 Agenda is counting on breakthrough technologies to propel social and economic progress. But, when technology advances at an exponential rate, will it open the door to limitless possibilities or to a level of disruption that breeds a whole new set of challenges?
The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s 2014 Human Development Report, entitled Sustaining Human Progress: Reducing Vulnerabilities and Building Resilience, calls attention to the persistent vulnerability that threatens human development. According to the recently released report, 2.2 billion people are poor or near-poor, and unless policies and social norms systematically address their vulnerabilities, development will fail to be equitable or sustainable.
The report proposes multiple ways to strengthen resilience, such as the provision of basic social services and stronger policies for social protection and full employment.
“By addressing vulnerabilities, all people may share in development progress, and human development will become increasingly equitable and sustainable,” said UNDP Administrator Helen Clark. Read the report.
In honor of this year’s World Population Day, the theme of which is youth engagement and the sustainable development agenda, we are reflecting on youth — our future leaders, parents, entrepreneurs and citizens. Today’s generation of young people is the largest in history: there are 1.8 billion people between the ages of 10 and 24 on the planet. In many countries, more than half of the population is under age 25, creating opportunities for national economic growth but also underscoring the need for greater investment in their health — with consequences that will affect the world’s social, environmental and economic well-being for generations.
Investment in young people’s sexual and reproductive health in particular ensures that young people are not only protected from HIV and other STIs, but also that they have the number of children they desire, when and if they wish to have them. The ability to control one’s fertility increases individuals’ productive capacity and can lead to a decline in a country’s dependency ratio (number of working citizens compared to nonworking citizens). When the dependency ratio declines in conjunction with adequate investments in youth education and economic opportunity, per capita income can increase — a phenomenon known as the demographic dividend.
Unfortunately, many young people do not have access to the critical sexual and reproductive health information and services required to stay healthy and avoid unintended pregnancy. Many young women report not wanting to become pregnant, but the level of unmet need for contraception among adolescents is more than twice that of adults. In some regions of the world, the unmet need for contraception among adolescents is as high as 68 percent. Fulfilling the unmet need for contraceptives among adolescents alone could prevent an estimated 7.4 million unintended pregnancies annually.
For a “development guy” who started doing grassroots community development work in rural Swaziland with the Peace Corps and who has moved back and forth between the public sector and NGOs, leading an organization as accomplished as FHI 360 — and one filled with people whose experience, commitment and know-how offer so much — is the opportunity of a lifetime.
I step into my new role as Chief Executive Officer with a simple vision: to use the incredible resources in FHI 360 to improve lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions. To achieve this vision, we must be innovative, find new ways of tackling old problems, be rigorous in our approaches, and be responsive to a changing landscape where development challenges grow more sophisticated and demanding each year. We must be cost-effective and use our expertise and experience to add value to the work being done by communities, partner organizations, civil society and national governments.
It is exhilarating and humbling to take the reins of an organization that is already at the forefront of development thinking and practice. Our emphasis on integrated, multidisciplinary solutions is in line with the growing consensus that single-sector programs often are not getting the job done and that lasting solutions need to be more comprehensive. The evidence — and our instincts — lead us in this direction.
Yesterday morning the White House hosted an open forum on innovation in global development. The discussion panel included Raj Shah (Administrator of USAID), Gayle Smith (Special Assistant to the President & Senior Director of the National Security Council), and Tom Kalil (Deputy Director for Policy, White House Office of Science and Technology Policy & Senior Advisor for Science, Technology, and Innovation, National Economic Council). Questions were taken from the public via Twitter with the hashtag #WHChat and through Facebook.
FHI 360 submitted four questions through Twitter, and three of them were answered by the panel (though we were not directly mentioned):
In which areas of development is innovation most urgently needed?
The panel answered that innovation is urgently need in all sectors, but stressed food security, global health, and climate change as key focus areas.
How can we best involve youth in the innovation conversation?
The panel answered that it is important to engage college students in the US through university partnerships. They discussed USAID’s University Engagement program specifically, and talked about harnessing the power of the Internet to engage students in the developing world.
How can development partners support home-grown innovation in developing countries?
Similar to the above question, the panel talked about supporting students in developing countries and giving them platforms to voice their opinions. They also said that giving direct support to innovative projects and building networks of partnerships were important to foster home-grown innovation.
For more information about the White House’s innovation initiatives, check out their fact sheet, “Harnessing Innovation for Global Development.”
World Bank releases World Development Report 2012
Want to know where women stand worldwide? This week the World Bank released its World Development Report 2012, which focuses on gender equality and development. The report finds that development has closed some gender gaps in educational enrollment, life expectancy, and labor force participation. However, gaps persist in girls’ schooling, access to economic opportunities and household decision-making. Further, “females are also more likely to die, relative to males, in many low-and middle-income countries than their counterparts in rich countries.”
What should be the priorities of policy makers interested in bringing about gender equality? What policy actions will result in the greatest benefit? Explore the report in the link above, or examine the issues by viewing a summary of the report here.