The Canadian Association of International Development Professional’s 4th annual conference was held in Ottawa last week and with the changes happening in Canada’s development agency, a more timely set of panels could not have been put together (to learn more about these changes, see Top 10 news items about CIDA-DFAIT merger).   The presentations included views from CIDA, from the private sector and from small and medium-sized consulting companies.

You can find a detailed list of the panels in the CAIDP 2013 Conference Program, so I will summarize the top 5 trends identified during the conference:

  • CIDA, DFAIT and others are positioning the foray of international development actors into partnerships with the private sector as a way of keeping the agency “on trend” with changing global paradigms.  The argument is being made that development actors must break out of their silo in order to achieve greater change that is sustainable.
  • Of importance to the audience at the conference, CIDA announced its intention to open Canadian consulting opportunities to the global marketplace of consultants, thereby increasing competition for increasingly limited Canadian assignments.  CIDA will now be making announcements and sourcing professionals via DEVEX.
  • Much has been made of Building the Canadian Advantage and CIDA’s Sustainable Economic Growth Strategy, but the argument was made multiple times throughout the conference, that Canada also has an advantage in its demographic composition, which is not being used to its full extent.  The number and size of diaspora communities that exist in Canada are not yet being engaged effectively to achieve faster development in developing nations.
  • The Canadian international development consulting industry is not allowing for the successful cultivation and progression of the next generation, or “la releve” as it is called in other sectors.  While current small and medium-sized companies are doing well and have developed expertise and competitive advantage in the global marketplace, the ability for new consultants to enter the marketplace is increasingly difficult.  You often heard consultants with many years of experience under their belt say things like “If I had to get into this field today, I am not sure I would be able to!”  For those considering entering this field, a really interesting tool was recently launched on the CAIDP website – it is a survey that gauges whether you are ready to be an international development consultant.  If you are considering working in international development, take the challenge and see how you do!
  • Donors, NGOs and other employers are increasingly demanding contribution analyses and a more direct causality to be demonstrated between project interventions and results.

 

If I had to choose the top three moments of the conference, they would be the following:

  1. The highlight of the conference, in my opinion, was a debate between Ian Smillie and Scott Gilmore, moderated by Julia Sanchez from the Canadian Council on International Cooperation.  The resolution being debated was “That the merger of CIDA-DFAIT will bring about an improvement in Canadian aid”, with Gilmore arguing for the resolution and Smillie arguing against it.  As pointed out by Gilmore, it turned out to be a very Canadian debate, because they agreed on more than they disagreed – the importance of Canadian values in aid; the contribution that Canada can play in development; and the importance of Canada’s reputation abroad.  But the most important point had to do with a difference in opinion on agency.  In a globalized world, with global supply chains, will a job allow an individual to climb out of poverty?  For many of the world’s poor, this opportunity is exactly what they are looking for.  Not in the sense that all poor are closeted entrepreneurs, but in the sense that just like employees in the developed world, they yearn for job opportunities and stability.  On the other hand, will global supply chains and increasing royalties paid to developing nation’s government coffers ever reach that individual living in poverty?  Will those royalties support the creation of national infrastructures and institutions that will eventually benefit the country’s poor?  On these issues the debaters differed.
  2. A representative of the Planning, Performance and Evaluation Directorate of CIDA gave a very passionate presentation of the changes that are being made in the agency’s evaluation sector.  In summary, CIDA is moving towards unified indicators for its interventions in order to allow meta data to be gathered about the impact of the projects it finances.  On the one hand, this could be an interesting advancement that alleviates non-profits from some of the administrative burden of project design, while on the other hand it may limit the creativity and innovative nature of Canadian development projects in certain areas.
  3. Although this is not a new idea, it was a poignant argument made during the last panel of the day.  The industry must make a difference between the concept of “development” and “aid”.  While these two objectives may overlap in some countries, they require different strategies.  When we talk about the contribution that the private sector can play, particularly through corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives, it is important to specify that this would be in the “development” category.

Did you attend the conference?  Did you identify any other trends?  What were your favourite moments?  If you didn’t attend the conference, do you have comments on any of the above mentioned items?