Megatrends affecting development

An international organisation working on development, which shall remain nameless, has asked some of its staff each to suggest three “megatrends” which they think will shape the context for its work most powerfully over the next five years. They’ve also been asked to give a subjective guess – on a scale of 1 to 5 – of how significant these trends will be, and how likely they are.

What are your answers? Mine are below.

Here are  four big issues likely to affect the environment in which aid agencies work.

1. Climate change.
Funding for both adaptation and mitigation will soon swamp ODA, possibly in the form of resource flows associated with emissions trading.  It may also reduce ODA available for other purposes.  This will shape the destination and nature of development flows, and it will increasingly shape the needs and priorities of developing countries.

Impact: 5/5; probability: 3/5.

2. Technology, especially communications.
Ubiquitous low cost communications technology (especially mobile phones and mobile internet) will change the relationship between citizens and states in developing countries, and will completely alter the landscape for accountability.  The bureaucratic-managerialist model will give way over time to more direct accountability.  Donors and northern civil society will be forced to give up the conceit that some of them have that they represent the interests of the poor.

Impact: 4/5; probability: 4/5.

3. The post-bureaucratic age.
There will be a changing relationship between citizen and bureaucracy in donor countries. Though aid bureaucracies have largely sidestepped the New Public Management reforms, I suspect they will be affected by the next wave of public sector reform. Bureaucracies will increasingly be disintermediated; there will be greater transparency – including access to raw data; increased accountability; and a stronger assumption of citizen involvement and crowdsourcing.

Impact: 4/5; probability: 3/5.

4. Changing role for aid towards support for the most vulnerable.
The extraordinary (and unexpected, to me) rise of cash transfers and safety nets suggests a growing trend towards aid as a flow of resources primarily for the most vulnerable and marginalised who would not be reached by other flows (investment, remittances, domestic revenues).  We may move away from the idea of aid as mechanism to bring about changes in institutions and governance, partly as a result of lack of clear success in this area.  Aid may increasingly be seen primarily as a safety net for vulnerable people, whether as a result of humanitarian crises, conflict, or prolonged marginalisation.  Such a trend would fit with public attitudes to aid, and evidence about what we know aid can achieve.

Impact: 4/5; probability: 3/5.

What are the other candidates for megatrends affecting development?  Philanthrocapitalism? China? The fiscal crisis? State-building fatigue in donor nations?  An economic lift off in Africa? Regional integration?

20 thoughts on “Megatrends affecting development”

  1. Hi Owen
    Wow, working in India I’m surprised you haven’t listed urbanisation. 590 million people in India will live in cities by 2030 and the majority of Indian’s will live in cities by 2050. Sub-Saharan Africa has a faster rate of urbanisation than India…Urbanisation is a major driver of carbon lock-in and the technology/comms point you reference. What will be the tipping point that will get aid agencies to respond by changing the way they do business (if not in the next five years, then when?) Thanks,P.

  2. My guess…

    Severe economic downturn in developed countries

    This would have two main impacts… 1) reduction of official development assistance (and also private donors), and 2) big reduction in remittances by migrants as people go back “home”.

    The debt-fuelled bubbly nature, plus demographic pressures, of developed countries means they are likely to need to take a step backwards in terms of economic development. People don’t like going backwards and there will be political pressure to take care of one’s own. This means less ODA, less scope for migrants and probably pressures on international trade.

    Impact: 4/5; probability: 3/5

    Hope I’m wrong! I see it as a far bigger risk factor than the post-bureaucratic age though.

  3. 5. Squeeze on natural resources
    Investment in the discovery and extraction of natural resources in Africa intensifies as non-renewable sources for the West decline (the Plundered Planet ‘undiscovered’ argument). As competition rises ODA reverts to being a political tool to win concessions – before shrinking in the face of a domestic backlash about reliance on African oil.

  4. Joe,

    Alternatively, donors may realize that much of Africa is a gigantic renewable energy resource, and starts throwing money at infrastructure, both exporting clean energy directly to the north – – and to export solar energy embodied in manufactured goods (by building say aluminum smelting plants next to solar farms, like the Icelanders do with their geothermal power) or embodied in services (by building solar powered datacenters). Not to mention domestic African consumption of clean power.

    I mention this just to put some more optimistic possibilities in to the mix

  5. I’d add:
    Growth in importance of new development actors, particularly growth in assistance from non-DAC donors (Especially BRICs and MENA) and increased south-south financial and technical co-operation (plus some blurring of what is south and what is north). The nature of south-south assistance and the type of relationships between the parties are often quite different than north-south ties with both positive and negative aspects.

    A related point would be greater assertiveness on the part of “recipient” countries over national ownership of aid, but also more generally on political and economic issues such as climate change, global finance and governance.

  6. If we’re talking megatrends beyond a 5 year horizon, say 10-20, I would add the end of cheap oil. At the front end: the impact of this on global aviation industry and supply chain/logistics capacity in humanitarian relief. At the back end: the radical impact on the economic efficiency of OECD economies, and their sharply reduced capacity and appetite for ODA. Impact 5/5; Probability 4.9/5

  7. @Luis Enrique:

    I was being pessimistic – I agree with you on the huge potential for Africa to become a renewables hub. If we could agree a cap on carbon emissions than that process would happen far quicker than it is at the moment.

  8. I am no expert in this area (I work in education) but I certainly think food security cannot be ignored. The food crisis has been looming. There has been rumblings in the news about the World Food Program not being able to sustain its program because of budget problems (apparently will be $1.1 Billion short on their $2.6 Billion budget). Many countries are clamouring to find ways to maintain their food needs through large scale agriculture projects in African countries and the cost to host countries is relatively unknown at this time. There is a big shift going on here.

    If you are interested in some links- I wrote about it here

    Maybe I can leave the impact/ probability to an expert in this area.

  9. I think under #2 availability of first-rate learning materials must have an effect. I was astonished to hear of Open University’s success with free material on iTunes U, mostly in SE Asia. If you have the Net (OK – big if) the only barrier to learning is our willingnes and ability…

  10. The NGO I work for did a similar exercise recently. We had similar points to Owen (though some under a less well-articulated umbrella issue of increasing demands for aid effectiveness), plus urbanisation and Ian’s point about different aid actors. Another one we had – we went over 5! – was the “youth bulge” in demographics: more than a billion youths coming through with not enough opportunities for education and employment.
    Impact: 3-4/5. Probability: 5/5

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  13. Technological levelling; the colonised as coloniser; energy – but not in the way you think. If you look at the data for energy-intensity – i.e. how much energy is used to earn one dollar of income – one thing that stands out is that arguably development *is* increased energy efficiency. This is likely to hit the poor…and also the United States and China, relatively energy-wasteful among rich nations.

  14. HIV/AIDS — getting more and more people on first line treatment in an era when the main antiretrovirals were largely unpatented in India and thus readily available was very difficult, but keeping people on treatment and moving to new 1st line treatments and 2nd line treatments is going to be an order of magnitude more difficult.

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  17. I don’t think the author is any more correct than the pundits who have been getting it all wrong up to now. Not a happy picture, but in some ways I would say good-riddance to the dysfunctional American model.

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