What’s Trending in Development: Notes from the 2019 Concordia Summit

By Anna Margarita Canero

As IPED students, development is in our name, and right now, methods for development are going through tremendous changes. On September 23-34, four IPED students including myself, attended the Concordia Summit: a non-partisan forum held in conjunction with the UN General Assembly. The two-day conference hosted programming on a diverse set of topics, most of them having to do with trends in global development. What we can expect to see in the development sector’s future are private sector involvement, sustainability-focused programming, and digital solutions. Here’s a quick look at what international leaders are talking about:

  1. The Future Of Development is Enterprise-Driven

Throughout the summit, businesses, nonprofits, and government sectors were buzzing about the same thing: P3s (or public-private partnership). The idea is that private capital is shifting from a purely profit-led focus to one that is starting to incorporate impact models. Private capital is becoming a powerful tool that can be used alongside the public sector to create real growth throughout the world. Its markets, efficient operations, and well…capital are what agencies need to expand operations and absorb the kind of growth needed to achieve economic and human development across nations. Lucas Joppa, Microsoft’s Chief Environmental Officer, even stated that although private companies still prioritize maximizing shareholder value, the meaning of shareholder value is continually changing to include more focuses on social returns.

     Partnering with the private sector also means fostering entrepreneurship in developing economies. Participants in a Concordia youth employment panel stressed how vital entrepreneurship is in solving roadblocks to social and economic inclusion. Entrepreneurs are natural problem-solvers, but for innovations to happen, entrepreneurs must be allowed to thrive. Queen Rania of Jordan talked specifically about investing in women entrepreneurs in her speech to the general audience. As women gain economic stature, they reinvest their earnings into the family unit. A continuous cycle of earnings and social re-investment enables sustainable growth from the family unit to greater society. 

2. Sustainability is the Bottom Line

Climate and sustainability were prominent topics at the UNGA, and the messages continued at the Concordia Summit. For every new business/consulting group/non-profit that presented on stage, there was always an angle on sustainability that was brought up. The messaging signals that organizations are equating economic growth with sustainable environmental practices–a positive outlook on the future of the development industry.

       On day 2 of the summit, several c-suite executives from top companies (i.e., Microsoft, Mars, & Ikea) participated in a roundtable discussion on action-oriented, meaningful, and profitable sustainability efforts. Key points discussed were how to redefine shareholder values, anchoring company missions to include sustainability, and creating a compelling narrative to boost smarter consumption. It was encouraging to hear large corporations tackle sustainability, especially as their commitments to the environment already coincide with their overall business models. However (as one exec brought up) there are 7 million companies in the world and only 12 at that table. The message of sustainability is growing but needs to reach a broader audience.

3. Digital Solutions

As a former math teacher in Guinea with almost no access to technological resources, it’s sometimes hard to believe that agencies working in developing countries are incorporating more and more digital solutions into their portfolios. Yet, that is the trajectory of development in this age. For example, tech companies in Sweden are getting involved in helping Ghanaian farmers track weather forecasts via SMS technology. Investments into gender equality are focusing on improving women’s digital literacy to help them be competitive in the local economy. A startup founded by members of the African diaspora is helping fledgling African entrepreneurs use the Internet to participate in online mentorships with established companies. Yes, technology represents boundless possibilities, but being responsible heirs to a digitized world means we need to reserve a significant portion of those possibilities to positively impact society. Taking our existing resources/capabilities and shifting it to solve greater social, environmental, and economic issues–that’s the kind of impact actors in development are hoping to see.

            Private partnerships, sustainability, and digital solutions: these are the main ideas that are trending in today’s development landscape. Some aspects may remain trends, but these focuses might very well be the future of the industry. More specifically, private capital’s share is already increasing in development portfolios across the world. Next time, our very own IPED member Rachel Ceruti will answer frequently asked questions about impact investing, and how it is disrupting business as usual.