Is a Post-ICT4D World Coming? What Will You Do About It?

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I’m finding great unease in recent conversations with leading technology for development practitioners in Washington, DC and elsewhere. They are all nervous about where the international development industry is headed, if ICT4D has a long-term future within it, and what they should do next.
What to Worry About?
There were three general themes that I found people worrying about when it came to their ICT4D career as part of the international development community:
1. Reduced Government Funding
The current US President places little value on international development – just look at previous USAID budget requests or the current government shutdown drama. At the same time, a Brexit-focused UK is scaling back the quality and the quantity of its aid.
While we can celebrate donors like the World Bank and Gates Foundation for maintaining their funding commitments, and look to private donors for salvation, their combined funding is a rounding error at an organizational level when compared to government funding.
2. Shift to In-Country Expertise
What government funding we do get is moving to local partners. Just look at PEPFAR’s goal of 70% direct funding to indigenous organizations by 2020, and you can see the future coming up fast where Western governments source directly from local organizations.
This is an awesome development – and our goal for decades in every capacity development project. In fact, my first job in ICT4D was with Geekcorps, where our stated goal was to teach and turn over leadership to local experts. Of course, when its your job that shifts to an in-country techie, you may wish this transition wasn’t so personal.
3. Competing Private Sector Solutions
When many of us started in digital development, there were few, if any, private sector companies focused on emerging economies, and those that did, had ill-filling solutions that caused more problems than they solved. We had to develop BottleNet solutions just to get basic connectivity.
Fast-forward 20 years, and there is a Cambrian explosion of private sector companies who see the real opportunity in servicing governments, companies, and individuals across the developing world with world-class solutions delivered to playing clients. Of course, this too is an awesome development, and it makes our jobs easier, however it also means there is a lessening need for development-centric solutions.
What to Do About It?
If we are entering a musical chairs of shrinking jobs for international ICT4D practitioners (which I think is debatable), then what should a digital development practitioner do about it?
First, and foremost, if you are a competent host country national with quality technology skills, try to get a third-country national position now, while they still exist. This is your fastest route to greater pay and promotions in any country. Then enjoy the ride as you are head-hunted from one job to the next for another 20 years across multiple developing countries. I think your career in ICT4D and development will be long and prosperous.
For the international ICT4D expert, I have five options for you to consider if you’re worried about the future of international development writ large, and our sub-sector specifically.
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1. Go Into the Public Sector
You can always apply to work at the State Department, USAID, USDA, and the like – even the DoD if you’re that type – to have a direct impact on health, education, agriculture, economic development, etc.
I also include related organizations such as USIP, NDI/IRI, and VSO, the multilaterals, including World Bank, UN, and WHO, and foundations like Gates, Ford, and Rockefeller, in this group, though they are technically not the public sector. However, their roles and job security is similar.
You will not have the creativity and flexibility of an independent implementing organization, yet the job security is theoretically much higher.
2. Join a Social Impact Organization
You can mix doing well and doing good, by joining one of the many start-up and established social impact organizations that try to use the profit movie to deliver social services to the poor and emerging middle class in developing countries.
Many of these organizations even have a stated focus on using technology to deliver their results, so the work could be very similar to what you’re doing  now – and they are hiring! Subscribe now to see their job offers.
3. Work for the Private Sector
Of course, you can always walk away from the international development industry and join a full-on private company. It may even focus on developing countries and donor organizations as paying clients, which could help you feel that you’re doing good while doing well.
This also includes working for an indigenous organization that services aid contracts. We all know that they’ll need someone to interpret PEPFAR RFPs, write proposals, and ensure FAR compliance, regardless of their location or ownership nationality.
4. Start Your Own Business
I am apparently a serial entrepreneur – JadedAid and KinderPerfect anyone? One day, one of my ideas will hit it big and digital development will be something I do for fun. Will you beat me to this status, or have you already reached it?!
I know many of you are trying. I recently talked to someone who is starting a real estate business, because in their own words, they were looking for a fall-back career for when international development collapses.
5. Straight Up Retire
This many be a fantasy for many of us, but if you take a hard look at your finances, especially if you own your home in an expensive city, it may not be as distant as you assume.
You’ll need to adjust your situation, which could include moving to a lower-cost location, taking on a new lower-paying non-career job, and other particulars, but it is possible for many of us.
What Are Your Thoughts?
While I am happy in my job, and I see a solid career before me – at my company and in the digital development profession – I would love to hear about your concerns and fears.

  • Where do you think this profession is going?
  • Which directions keep you up at night?
  • Why might you be concerned about ICT4D’s future?
  • What are you going to do about it?
  • Who is making changes that you admire?

Please jump into the comments and let me know!
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