The year past and what’s ahead: global development trends we’re watching in 2022

By Dr. Seamus McGardle, Managing Director, SRI Executive

As we look back on 2021, it was a year of global challenges, including COVID-19, climate change, the migrant crisis and ongoing conflict. But we also witnessed innovation in health, hope in the area of climate change, and recognition for a need for an aligned response to COVID-19.  At SRI Executive, we saw the growth of new opportunities in international development, leading to a rapid expansion in our team to meet our client requirements.

Here, I offer my reflections on the past year through our network and a perspective on what we’re watching as 2022 unfolds.

Global health

Last year was marked by the roll-out – in record-time – of COVID-19 vaccines. However, low-income countries have not had the same access to vaccines as developed nations. Our partners have worked tirelessly to ensure vaccine equity across the world. At SRI Executive, we recently donated 1,300 vaccines to those most in need, and we will continue to support this crucial effort.

Although the focus has been on COVID-19, global health organisations have continued to innovate around other diseases. In 2021 the WHO recommended using the RTS, S malaria vaccine amongst children in sub-Saharan Africa and other regions. This is the world’s first malaria vaccine and acts against Plasmodium falciparum, the most dangerous malaria parasite prevalent in Africa. In 2020, the WHO reported 627,000 deaths from malaria globally. This breakthrough will transform millions of lives.

Sustainability

Some of the events and trends we witnessed in 2021 gave reason for hope concerning sustainability. We learned the value of global collaboration, particularly when tackling climate change. I experienced this power personally last November when world leaders came together at COP26 Glasgow to address the ongoing climate crisis and pledge global commitments to action around climate change, recognising there is more urgency required.

Food security still remains a significant challenge to balance the needs of greater nutritional benefits while ensuring a lower negative impact on the environment. For the last number of years, significant research has been taking place to address sustainability within the food system.

Also, renewable energy saw its biggest year yet, with electric car sales overtaking diesel cars for the first time and the rise in solar and wind energy. Much of what we’re seeing is likely to continue and evolve in the year ahead.

Great Resignation

One of the major trends we have seen globally has been coined the “Great Resignation”. Last year, millions of employees – including those in the non-profit sector – left their jobs. However, while the private sector has a greater ability to increase wages in order to attract talent, non-profits can’t. They are primarily reliant on donor funding which is currently squeezed and are tied into funding contracts. Organisations that continue to attract talent are those that have reflected and re-aligned their mission and evidenced their change.

From our analyses and network, it’s not so much the Great Resignation but rather a Great Reset; employees are choosing to work for organisations that value quality of life.

Hybrid, remote and flexible working

As remote and hybrid working is set to remain, organisations will continue developing their systems, processes, culture and technology, including strengthening their staff’s digital expertise (where necessary). This ‘new normal’ is also an opportunity and enables organisations to tap into a larger global talent pool to find the best candidates.

Flexible working has also become a growing trend as many organisations recognise their staff do juggle personal commitments alongside their working lives.

Global and Country funding

The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and political change has created considerable uncertainty and unpredictable scenarios for the future of donor funding. The non-profit sector has suffered significantly from fluctuating funding flows that have affected budgets, goals, and strategies.  International organisations have responded to this challenge by merging or streamlining their global missions through closing less strategic country offices and downsizing their teams.

We have seen significant increases within the non-profit  sector in those seeking creative ways to align or merge with similar or complementary organisations and create a more fit for purpose joint entity.

Localisation

Locally-led development is a growing and significant trend, ensuring effective and sustainable support and prioritising those voices for whom assistance is intended to serve. For example, USAID has committed 25% of its funding to local partners within the next four years. Global development organisations are investing in the capacity of their regional and country offices, ensuring that crucial talent is located closer to programme locations. We have supported our partners in recruiting local talent and co-creating organisation-wide strategies that support transformational change. We have also engaged with a number of donor entities helping them strategically review ways to build local capacity and competencies.

Governance

More and more organisations are reviewing the performance of their leaders and boards in a transparent manner.  The reviews are both qualitative and quantitative in nature looking at both the leader(s) and the entity. This is a progressive approach on behalf of stakeholders, staff and the communities they serve to ensure progression year on year.

Looking ahead – innovation, hope, and global collaboration

In 2022 we will be driven by the opportunities and challenges that still lie ahead of us. The last year has taught us lessons of innovation, hope, and global collaboration, and we saw phenomenal progress on various fronts. As we adapt to live with COVID-19, we must remember these lessons as we continue to address the climate crisis, poverty, and inequality facing our global community. I, for one, am excited about what lies ahead and am committed to continuing to help the sector we serve.