The future of development in today’s political climate

President-elect Donald Trump speaks to supporters during a rally, Thursday, Dec. 8, 2016, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

SEATTLE — As world leaders and the development sector move to end extreme poverty by 2030, while dealing with unprecedented migration, global disease pandemics and climate change, everyone is wondering: What will development look like in the face of nationalist shifts in the Western World?

Foreign aid makes up less than 1 percent of the U.S. federal budget, yet no country donates more money than the U.S., especially in areas of global health. With so much unknown about President-elect Donald Trump’s commitment to foreign aid and the potential election of nationalist candidates in Europe, it is difficult for the development sector and private sector to plan.

That was the consistent theme throughout Global Washington’s 2016 conference Allies for Action – effective NGO and business partnerships to improve lives in developing countries. Nearly 400 people concerned with and actively working in international development convened yesterday in Seattle.

While conference speakers from Microsoft, Costco, Mercy Corps, Oxfam and Theo Chocolate addressed the varying challenges and benefits of partnership, they also examined the future of foreign aid.

“It is too early to tell,” Martin Edlund, chief executive officer of Malaria No More, said. “There is this urge to do something, but I would urge people that they should think about what they are trying to accomplish, who they are dealing with and how to position the issues for success.”

Edlund said it is also hard to predict the future of development since Trump has yet to choose a secretary of state. A recent Politico article outlines the contradictions among President-elect Trump’s list of ten potential nominees for sectary of state and how difficult it is to predict the shape of U.S foreign policy.

Beyond the United States, there is rise in nationalism in Europe, which according to Newsweek is due to the growing state of income inequality around the world. Additionally, conference attendees seemed to be in consensus that U.S. reduction in foreign aid or rejection of the Paris Agreement to reduce carbon emissions will set an example that the world will follow.

“If the U.S. reduces aid there will be a reduction in aid around the world,” Edlund said. “There is a lot of pressure across Europe for countries to be thinking about themselves first.”

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Despite the uncertainty, the development sector should examine how it’s framing its message, and whether it is in line with people’s core values, said Michael Stevens, the Nature Conservancy’s Washington state director.

Two-thirds of the American public believes in climate change and that it is the result of human activity. However, Stevens also said one in 10 Americans do not understand that there is scientific consensus on the facts surrounding climate change. This is ever more concerning because Trump’s choice for the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Scott Pruitt, denies the scientific evidence around climate change.

“The work we need to do will not change,” said Greg Allgood, World Vision vice president of water, “but the way we talk about it will change. We need to reshape our message.”

The changing political landscape will not only require the development sector to adjust its message, but, according to Judy Beals, private sector department director at Oxfam America, the U.S. election was also a moment of truth for the corporate sector. She said the world needs more companies to be leaders, and it is an intense time for companies to decide how to align themselves.

“The result of the last election tells us we need to make sure we are not abandoning some of the great organizations and the work that needs or be done in our own country,” said Mary Snapp, corporate vice president of Microsoft Philanthropies.

Employees today, especially millennials, come to work with the expectation that their company will play a role in social good. Snapp said governments around the world are turning more nationalistic and corporations need to be leaders of the fourth industrial revolution.

“We need to think about the what the future of jobs is in the 21st century,” Snapp said. “We need to understand the role of technology to enable people to be lifelong learners, and continue to update their skills with technological advancement.”

Trump is disconcerting to many companies trying to do good things, Dennis Macray, chief operating officer of Theo Chocolate, said. While this administration may be good for some sectors of business, he said companies are fearful because many have embraced the changing world in the fourth industrial revolution, and now this new administration may take the corporate sector backwards.

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Beals said there are a number of things Oxfam is concerned about with this new administration, but one thing that is abundantly clear is that NGOs and the private sector are in this together.

William H. Neukom, founder and CEO of World Justice Project, urges the private and development sectors not to give up on government, especially state and local governments. Neukom spoke upon receiving Global Washington’s 2016 Global Hero award.

“This country has been a beacon of light for marginalized people around the world,” Neukom said. “Now we are entering an administration – I hope not an era – where there might be less light from that beacon going out into the world. The check and balances won’t come from within the federal government; they have to come from us. Civil society has to become a bulwark to protect the people.”

“There is no getting around the fact that people around the world will see us differently after this election,” Radha Friedman, director of programs at World Justice Project, said. “You end up being an ambassador for your entire nation and explaining that not everyone agrees with the government. If you do that, however, you have to be ready to answer what you plan to do about it.”

Dailey said a major focus of Global Washington next year will be to examine what development looks like under Trump’s administration, and perhaps the theme for next year’s conference will be around the U.S. impact on the rest of the world. However, like many people, she said that with so much unknown, everyone has to wait and see what happens next.

“Seattle is known as a hub for global development, and while there are a number of collaborations happening currently in the Pacific Northwest there is still a lot of opportunity for partnership” – regardless, she said, of who is in the White House.

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Amanda Pain

Amanda Pain, MPH, is a freelance writer based in Seattle with a background in journalism, global health and international development.