7 Trends That Will Be The Future Of International Development

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The international development sector is changing. Development efforts have had mixed success to-date and questions are being asked about how development is done. However, this change comes at a time of great global flux. The world is moving fast, and development professionals need to think about what the future looks like for the sector.

There are a number of key global trends that are almost certain to drastically change international development work in the near future. Here we break them down, and assess what impact each may have on the international development sector…

The Impact of Climate Change

A first major trend that will likely dominate the future of international development is climate change.

We are already beginning to see the impact of climate change around the world. Developing countries are especially vulnerable to climate change. As changes in the climate are projected to get significantly more drastic in the coming decades, the international development sector must develop tools needed to meet this challenge.

Climate change is likely to have a wide-ranging impact on the developing world in the near future. Loss of arable land, rapid urbanisation, increased risks of conflict and further human migration are just some of the impact’s climate change is going to have.

It is vital that future development professionals understand how climate change is going to impact their work and that organisations in the development sector – from national governments, NGOs, donors and international organisations, are ready to provide the resources to meet this unprecedented crisis.

Many people can see that climate change will feature heavily in the future of international development. What is more concerning is less people can see how the development sector adjusts to this.

The Rise of China

A second factor that will be key to the future of international development is China.

In the last thirty years, China has risen to become one of the most powerful countries in the world. It is the world’s second biggest economy and has a population of 1.4 billion people – the largest in the world. As China begins to take its place as a global leader, it will have a dramatic impact on how development is conducted.

In the near future it will be impossible to ignore China’s role as a major development actor, and the sector needs to begin realising this.

It is highly likely that China sees international development very differently from the current Western model. A greater focus on commerce, trade, financial loans, and Chinese expertise are already being seen as key to China’s development strategy. This is a significant move away from the current model dominated by international organisations and NGOs.

Moving forward it is certain that China will begin to assert itself as a significant player in the international development sector. Current development professionals and students of development studies must begin thinking about how this will change international development.

A Focus on Localization

Another major trends that will be important to the future of international development is localisation.

In the development sector, localisation is the move to put greater enthesis on local actors in the delivering of development projects. Currently, international development is dominated by Western donors funding Western NGOs and international organisations. Localization aims to change this, and it is going to be key to the future of international development.

Many developing countries have a wealth of organisations highly experienced in development work. They also often have talented workforces with people who have worked many years in international development.

There is a concerted effort being made to provide more funding to local organisations and employ more people from developing countries. This trend has begun over the last decade but is likely to increase significantly in future.

Localisation aims to empower people from developing countries to meet their own development needs. It also aims to reduce the dominance of Western organisations. Essentially, the idea is that developing countries know how best to help themselves, and localisation aims to provide them the resources to do this. It is seen by many as vital to the future of international development.

Technologies Role in International Development

Technology is likely to play a major role in the future of international development.

Over recent decades, technology has advanced enormously. It has become part of everyday life for billions of people around the world. Technology has also become cheaper, especially with smart phones and laptops becoming more accessible to a larger number of people.

As access to technology continues to increase in the coming years it will feature more in international development work. Many see the future of global development embracing technology.

Communications, supply chains, project planning and programme monitoring are all parts of international development where technology is already being effectively used. It is highly likely that technology will play an increasingly important role in how development work is done in the future. Both development professionals, and students of development studies, must begin to think about how technology will change how global challenges are addressed.

Technology is likely to benefit the international development sector. However, innovation must be appropriate and be sure to meet the needs of people in developing countries. There is a real risk that technology may distract from the core work of international development if it is not harnessed correctly.

International Development Online Courses

If you want to know about the future of international development, we recommend taking an online short course. We think the Management of International Development: Towards Agenda 2030 course is great. It looks at the current international development model as well as the trends that will be key to global development in the near future. Follow the link to the course’s page for more information.

We also think the online course Sustainable Development in the 21st Century by Yonsei University to be one of the best for those interested in international development. Delivered by former UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon, the online course would be a great addition to the CV of anyone looking to work in international development. The link is to the course’s page.

If you are interested in the practical methods used on international development projects, we recommend the online course How To Design & Fund International Development NGO Projects. The course teaches students the tools needed to establish and run impactful development projects. Click the link to visit the course’s page for more information.

Human Migration

Human migration is another area that is going to dominate the future of international development.

The numbers of refugees, internally displaced people (IDPs) and economic migrants have increased dramatically in recent years. Millions of people are on the move or have been forced to relocate from their homes.

Wars, famines, extreme weather, climate change and economic crises are just some of the factors that lead to human migration. Factors such as these are projected to rise in the coming decades, meaning millions more people will be forced to move.

The future of international development will need to further address human migration. We are going to see people move on a scale never previously experienced. How development professionals and organisations respond to this challenge is going to be key.

The development sector must address both the root causes of human migration, as well as the needs of people on the move and the impact migration has on host communities. The challenge is enormous, but the international development sector must meet it, or it risks being called into question.

Private Enterprises in the Development Sector

Another factor that will rise to prominence in the future of international development is the role of the private sector.

The international development sector has been dominated by non-governmental organisations, national governments, and international organisations. However, over the last decade the private sector has increasingly taken a role in development. This is a trend that is predicted to continue, and international development professionals need to reckon with this.

Private consultancy firms are already a major part of the development sector. These, often small firms, provide specific expertise and advice to development organisations and governments. In recent years, we’ve started to see the rise of larger development organisations working for profit. This is a major change in how development is done and will alter how international development work is perceived.

Many development professionals worry about an increased role for the private sector in international development. However, the trend of development for profit is almost certain to increase and is going to play a bigger role in the sectors future.

Changes In How Development Work Is Funded

A final factor that affects the future of international development is changes in how development work is funded.

Currently, most international development work is funded by national government. This is channelled through dedicated development agencies, or through the UN or international organisations such as the EU.

There are two major aspects of development funding that are going to be critical to it’s future. The first is the reduction in funding from national governments. Many countries around the world are decreasing the amount they are providing for international development work, and this will have a massive impact on the development sector going forward.

The second aspect of development funding that is changing is the rise of private donors. Development organisations are now more aggressively pursuing funding from businesses and philanthropic foundations. They are also looking at new parts of the world for funding, exploring private partnerships in the Asia and the Middle East.

Both of these changes in how development work is funded are going to be key to the future of international development. Development organisations must continue to explore new funding opportunities, as well as understand how new funding models will affect development work, if they are to going to survive into the future.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.