As the world enters year three of the COVID-19 pandemic and deals with new challenges like inflation, recession and climate risk, a lot is changing within the global development community. So, what global development trends should NGO leaders, funders and community organizers be watching, and how can they prepare?We spoke with our new CEO Deepti Mathew to learn more.
EMPOWERING WOMEN CAN HELP TO MEET THE “MAKE-OR-BREAK MOMENT” FOR THE SDGS
“At the midpoint of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2063, we are far from where we need to be,” U.N. Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammedtold African ministers and policymakers in Niamey, Niger, last month.
“Overwhelmingly, the research shows that women were the most adversely impacted, whether you are talking about loss in income, domestic violence, access to healthcare, dropping out of education or losing hours of work,” says Street Business School CEO Deepti Mathew.“What I haven’t seen is the shift in post-pandemic funding to redress this.”
In the absence of dedicated funding on a macro scale, development organizations are challenged to come together to help their communities recover and thrive. At SBS, our partners are collectively working to achieve 16 of the 17 SDGs. They represent a variety of human development missions, yet all share an understanding that women’s economic empowerment is key to progress on the issues they are seeking to resolve.
“Sitting at the hub of 200-plus organizations that work across 16 of the 17 SDGs, we have a unique point of view that allows us to see how increasing the income of a woman actually improves the health of children, actually improves climate resilience, actually reduces intimate partner violence, actually prevents human trafficking,” Mathew explains.“For us, it’s even more clear now that women’s economic empowerment is the way to try and overcome the negative impact of the pandemic on the SDGs, not just income and poverty alleviation.”
Indeed, as Mohammed implored leaders in Niger: “Now is not the time to despair. On the contrary, now is the time for solidarity, leadership and for commitment to the actions that we need to take to implement the agendas.”
CHANGES TO THE FUNDING LANDSCAPE CHALLENGE NGOS TO BE AGILE
“It’s not just the development environment, but actually the funding environment is also going through a pretty significant change,” Mathew says.“At one side, donors are looking at McKenzie Scott’s model and seeing how large gifts, completely unrestricted, have had a transformational impact on development. On the other side, we have an economic situation where individual donors struggle to be as philanthropic as they used to be because of the economy.”
Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) may face funding shortfalls as lower-income donors have less to spend — and those with capital could look toward Scott’s model to create real impact and make up the difference. Third-party research has already shown the massive impact of her multibillion-dollar giving spree, which brought renewed attention to unrestricted giving as a model. Many smaller community organizations do not have the capacity for the level of tracking and reporting big donors often require, and as such are often locked out of funding.
“That element is the real game-changer of McKinzie Scott saying: ‘As an NGO, you are in a better position to know how, where and when to best invest this money for the impact that you are committed to in your mission,’” Mathew says.
THE MOVEMENT CONTINUES TO DRIVE LOCAL LEADERSHIP FOR LOCAL IMPACT
The resurgence of social justice issues such as the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020 brought along-awaited reckoningto the global development space, as funders and NGO leaders grappled with the ways they entrenched and supported systems of racism, colonialism and subjugation.
2023 and the years to come will separate those putting words on a page with those committed to true impact. “It’s an interesting moment of change for us in the sector when we have these really large NGOs, but now a lot of attention is being given to local leaders serving local communities,” Mathew says.
“Hearing those voices is going to be really powerful,” she continues. “From our experience over the years of working with community-based organizations, they are closest to the beneficiaries.They’re the most agile in serving those beneficiaries because they’re often very lean organizations. They also understand the specific requirements of those specific communities, not of a region or a country. The challenge is that they struggle with access to funds.”
CLIMATE JUSTICE COMES FRONT AND CENTER
At the United Nations climate talks in November (COP27), world leaders agreed to establish aloss and damage fund to help developing countries cope with the impacts of climate change.It will be at least two years until the fund is operational, but at-risk communities can’t afford to wait.
Living in Dakar, Senegal, Mathew sees the impacts of climate change affecting her neighbors in real time. “The west coast of Africa is experiencing the most severe drying in the world. It’s something that’s a lived experience for the people around me, yet they have done very little themselves to contribute to this,” she says. “Compounding that is the fact that we know women are the most adversely affected by climate change — their access to water, to energy, to livelihood from agriculture, et cetera is impacted by this.”
While funds for long-term decarbonization and adaptation are stalled, NGOs and funders are challenged to work alongside community organizers to build climate resilience, promote environmental sustainability and help people cope with the effects of climate change in today’s global society.
“Where the development community comes in is around building climate resilience,”Mathew says. “If the days of rain have reduced by 70 percent, you are not going to get the same yield that you were going to get from your one-hectare plot. So, how do you provide sources of income outside of this? How do you maximize the income that you do get from your yield? These are the kind of things that the partners we work with really focus on, and it’s super important.”
LOCKING ARMS FOR THE PIVOTAL YEARS AHEAD
The challenges we face require a global partnership of collaboration and collective action across the development community, with international organizations pursuing different missions working together and with partners to achieve common goals. At this year’s Skoll World Forum, taking place April 12-14, hundreds of development professionals come together to do just that.
“As NGOs, we often become really good at our mission, our beneficiaries and how best to improve impact,” Mathew says. “What Skoll encourages us to do is to build that muscle for partnership and collaboration.”
“We at Street Business School are really looking forward to that opportunity to talk to other organizations and learn from them, but also explore the potential for collaborating to serve both missions,” she says. “Our mission and our hypothesis is that if you combine women’s economic empowerment with whatever your program is — whether it’s serving HIV-positive communities, disabled communities, refugees — if you combine women’s economic empowerment or women’s entrepreneurship with your program, there is a multiplier effect. Not only will the women’s income increase, but whatever your project outcome is — if it’s to improve learning outcomes, if it’s to reduce human trafficking — that will improve as well.”