[Note: I was asked by the creative folks behind whydev.org in Australia to draft a guest post that would reflect some on changes that I have seen in the international arena over the past few decades. This is that post which can also be found on whydev.org The title came from our brainstorming about how the past intersects with the future...]
I initially started working internationally in the early 1980’s (yes, I know that seems a long time ago!). I have worked for numerous big and small organizations involved in various aspects of ‘engaging internationally’ to try and make the world a better place. In the past few decades there have been many changes in the international environment. Here are some of my observations on those changes:
1) “Capacity building” around the world – Many Western governments and agencies have conducted various types of ‘management training’ in the past 10-15 years that has helped to nurture independent and innovative local efforts. Western or donor country organizations that may have struggled in the past to find local partners (or assumed that there weren’t any) now find it easier to find them. This transition is still unfolding – and the development of true partnerships is a work in progress – but as an international community we are moving in a positive direction.
2) The ‘rise of the Internet” has allowed for communication across traditional organizational lines – This can be beneficial – it allows communication to happen between parties that in the past could not communicate directly. But it can also be challenging – there can be so much communication and data that finding what is relevant can be frustrating and time consuming and coordination can be hard. We now have a lot of ‘data’ flowing in many different directions but as this information flow can sometimes seem like a flood and it makes the need for knowledge management and the role of ‘curators’ even more important.
3) Social media forums don’t have the ‘seniority’ that real life and organizations do – On social media platforms the ‘voices of experience’ combine with the ‘voices of enthusiasm’ in a way that does not happen as easily offline. This allows for some amazing opportunities for synergy and lot of opportunity for cross-generational learning. A great cartoon re: the need the older generation has to not lose the wonderful creativity of youth!
4) Labels don’t mean as much – We used to be a lot more concerned with somewhat rigid sectors – are you working in the private (corporate) sector, government, NGOs, etc.. Today the sectors are more porous, and concepts such as social entrepreneurship have become more common. There is more of a focus on impact. I wrote more about this here: Impact without Boundaries
5) Skills needed – There is a growing set of skills that are needed to be successful in working internationally. Although basics like communication and organizational skills are on-going ‘staples’, skills like cultural competency, the ability to be a good listener and “filtering skills” (see #2 above re: the increasing flow of information) are increasingly important. Michael Keizer wrote a good blog about some of these skills “Eleven helpful skills and traits for aid and health logisticians.”
I would be very interested in also hearing what other “veteran practitioners” may have observed.