Reimagine your future: megatrends and international development (part two)

 

PwC has identified five megatrends – demographic and social change, the shift in global economic power, rapid urbanisation, climate change & resource scarcity and technological breakthroughs – which we see as the big forces that are disrupting the economy, business and society as a whole today – and which will still be important over the next decade.

In our last blog, we considered how three out of the five megatrends PwC identified could impact the future of the aid and international development landscape over the coming decades. In this blog, we’ll reflect on the final two megatrends; climate change and resource scarcity as well as technological breakthroughs.

Climate change and resource scarcity: agriculture is the economic bedrock of many Sub-Saharan African economies, yet over the next 60 years, climate change could reduce agricultural productivity by up to a third and at the same time, Africa’s population is expected to double by 2050.   Cooperation between donors and the private sector could help to turn the tide for food security, by fostering new business models that can boost agricultural productivity and economic growth.

Rapid economic growth will also lead to unprecedented demand for water at a time where its availability is already constrained. Currently, there are already over a billion people who live in areas with physical scarcity of water and this is leading to a ‘Global Sahara’ where the concept of water as a ‘renewable’ resource will become a thing of the past.

All this means that climate smart agriculture will continue to be a big priority for donors and partners.   Could the development community play a key role in developing a global  ‘water market’ (similar to the global carbon market today)?  Managing global water regulation or investing in smart and water-efficiency technologies to help secure the future?

Technological breakthroughs: technology and digitisation have transformed our world over the last few decades.  This impact hasn’t been limited to the developed world – in fact, developing countries have often been ahead of the curve, using technology in more creative ways to solve infrastructure challenges and overcome remoteness.  Mobile telecommunication has revolutionised many parts of the developing world particularly Africa, with communities that never experienced fixed landlines quickly adopting mobile wallets and associated services. For example, the M-KOPA system provides solar power to over 100,000 off-grid households in Africa through mobilising micro-payments via smartphone.  Children have also learned to read by SMS in remote areas of Bangladesh where schools are too difficult to access.  Community health workers in India are using mobiles to register patients and provide guidance during home visits. 

As well as using technology to deliver aid programmes, donors are increasingly using technology to track and monitor outcomes, boosting the importance and quality of data for development.  Using big data may soon become the norm for the aid sector and could be used to predict the next big development challenge, before it even occurs.

The emphasis on technology and innovation in development will only increase as it becomes more and more part of the donors’ and partners’ core business.  Could donors become more like venture capital funds in the future?  Scaling back from delivery but increasing their catalytic role to understand the latest development needs before they happen and placing big bets based on analytics from experiments in the field?

So how can the international development community adapt and learn from the megatrends identified? Donors are already starting to rethink their purpose and role in society, but this should be expedited for those who want to continue to be relevant.  Perhaps donors could take a zero-based approach to their business, asking themselves “…what would really happen if they didn’t exist?” 

It’s clear that new thinking and new delivery models are needed and  ‘business as usual’ will not be an option. To succeed, donors will need to start reimagining their future and embrace the global shifts ahead.

 

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