Megatrends

Owen Barder had an interesting post yesterday on “megatrends” affecting development organizations over the next five years. He offers the following list:

  1. Climate change.
  2. Technology, especially communications.
  3. The post-bureaucratic age.
  4. Changing role for aid towards support for the most vulnerable.

(see the full post for more on each)

It’s an interesting list. #4 stands out as a trend within the field of development, rather than a broader trend impacting the field. That suggests a distinction: exogenous megatrends that the development industry should keep in mind, and shifts within the industry (which I’ll call endogenous for the sake of symmetry, even though they may or may not be in reaction to the exogenous trends). That distinction is blurry when you debate the boundaries of “development” work — but I think it’s useful anyway.

So with that distinction in mind, I offer my list:

Exogenous trends
1. Increasingly multipolar world. This goes beyond just the often discussed “rise of China” or even the BRIC countries more broadly. Economically, it means more good neighbors for developing countries to connect with, and that changes their potential development strategies. Politically, it could mean more multilateral engagement with the Irans and North Koreas of the world; in developing countries, it could also mean more nations engaged in self-interested meddling. Militarily, it could be very good if it means burden sharing for an over-extended US security apparatus, or it could be very very bad (my money is on the former).

2. Climate change. Definitely agree with Mr. Barder on this one. This will impact development and international affairs in general, as Copenhagen demonstrated. It’s interesting to see how the private sector has increasingly embraced this issue, largely in response to consumer opinion in the developed world.

Endogenous trends
3. Focus on measuring impact. This includes the mainstreaming of randomized controlled trials à la Duflo, JPAL, IPA and others. The issue has spread beyond the academics and is influencing the practitioners, donors and others. But it seems (from my admittedly limited vantage point) that it hasn’t fully matured yet.

4. Defense-development overlap. Secretary Clinton has talked about this, Afghanistan/ISAF/McChrystal and AfriCOM show the US is seriously trying to do it, but NGOs and others remain skeptical.

5. Lowering the bar for access to the formal economy. Isn’t that what microfinance, mobile banking, base-of-the-pyramid, etc. are all about? Communication technology is important for this, but the real action is in the application to expanding economic connectivity.

Any additions or arguments?

P.S. My apologies for the poorly formatted post. I’m posting via iPhone from JFK, on my way to Uganda.