Engaging the Private Sector in the Post-2015 Development Agenda

Last week the Brookings Institution hosted a very informative panel discussion (you can view it hereon increasing the role of the private sector in the global development agenda. The panel discussion, entitled Partnerships, Corporate Social Responsibility and the New Development Agenda, centred around how to ensure that sustainability and accountability are at the heart of corporate strategy. It also looked at how to engage business on sustainable development and how to mobilize companies to more effectively advance global priorities.

The panel consisted of Anne Finucane (Bank of America), Jane Nelson (Harvard University), Daniella Ballou-Aares (U.S. State Department), Mindy Lubber (Ceres), and Vera Songwe (World Bank). I shall begin by providing a short recap of the discussion and the main themes that emerged, and then conclude with some of the my thoughts on the event.

Partnerships and the New Development Agenda

In response to growing recognition that the private sector has an important role to play in combating poverty, promoting shared prosperity and enhancing environmental sustainability, policy-makers are working to define a clear role for the private sector in the Post-2015 Development Agenda. While this is a great start, realizing such an ambitious agenda will require that the private sector become a global development leader in its own right. There has never been a greater need for financial innovation and for banks, financial institutions and investors to develop new products, services, technologies, and even new business models so that they can be a part of the solution in driving more inclusive and sustainable growth. Some examples of private sector-led initiatives that contribute to development include new business models that reach lower-income customers, giving them access to basic products and services, and bond issues for public health programs that accelerate research funding and the distribution of vaccines.

Rebuilding Public Trust

In the aftermath of the global financial crisis the private sector is facing a pretty serious public trust deficit. If the private sector is going to play a leadership role in development, they must work to rebuild this trust. Corporations need to demonstrate how they are improving their risk management systems, government processes, accountability and transparency. While it is essential that these corporations address their governance and risk management issues, it is equally important that they look to the future are not paralyzed by the past. Some necessary steps to rebuild trust include engaging in public dialogue with legislators, regulators and consumers, sharing knowledge and best practices, and developing new products and services.

Opportunities for Financial Innovation and New Models of Partnership

Many of the panellists echoed the sentiment that without significant engagement from the private sector we will not achieve a new set of development goals. The private sector has the resources, finance and expertise to face some of the most costly development challenges including climate change and expanding energy access. Without strong functional collaboration between governments, NGOs, stakeholders and the private sector, we cannot hope to mobilize even a fraction of the funds required to address these problems. In addition, the demand for business to provide financial resources and innovative solutions has become even more pronounced due to declining faith in the aid/NGO community to solve these problems. With government resources becoming progressively constrained and the growing demand to demonstrate value for money spent, the need for new models of partnership in development is becoming increasingly clear. The ‘new models of partnership’ discussed by the panellists mostly involved banks, companies and financial institutions coming up with innovative products and services and NGOs helping to develop standards and evaluation tools. One of the panellists stated that over time having sound development expertise will become a fundamental pillar of risk management strategy. In order to protect their investment, companies who operate in developing countries will make more of an effort to understand what and who they are investing in.

What Gets Measured, Gets Managed

In order to encourage greater participation from the private sector, there needs to be a push for more tangible commitments where results can be seen. Having clearly laid out goals and targets is important because what gets measured, gets managed. Currently, one of the only things we have good measurements for are public aid flows and related activities. Panellist Daniella Ballou-Aares stressed that moving forward it will be critical to find ways to measure the value and impact of the private sector activities.

Final Remarks

While I agreed with many of the points that the panellists made, I found the discussion a little too hypothetical for my taste. Although the panellists expressed a sense of urgency to enhance the role of the private sector in development, there wasn’t much of a discussion surrounding the logistics of how a partnership between development actors and the private sector could be achieved. The discussion also focused more on how a partnership with the private sector could help the international community to achieve their development and sustainability goals, without really a exploring how private sector-led development initiatives could help to improve (or harm) the lives of individuals and communities in developing countries. The discussion left me with more questions than answers: What kind of incentives will it take to encourage the private sector to step up to a leadership role in development? Is it even reasonable to expect that they will take on a leadership role? What steps can the international development community to take to foster a partnership with the private sector? In which sectors can business make the greatest difference to development outcomes? What are some of the ethical implications of business-led approaches to development?

In my opinion, the highlight of the event was the panellists themselves. I was so pleased to see five dynamic female leaders on the panel and I really enjoyed how they emphasized the importance of women’s economic and social empowerment. The panellists did an excellent job of affirming the necessity of engaging the private sector as a partner in development, and what can be achieved if we are successful in doing so. I believe that the private sector offers many lessons and best practices that could help to improve development impact, and that the development community would have much to gain by working more closely with them. I hope that the international community will move towards formulating a tangible, realistic action plan to realize such a partnership.

Advice, Jobs

Seven Tips For Getting That Summer Internship

With summer break looming into view, I am sure that many of you have begun the hunt for a coveted internship in the international development field. Having just applied for a slew of jobs, internships and fellowships myself, I felt that it might be beneficial to pass along some of the tips that I have learned having undergone this exciting (and yet sometimes tedious) application process for the past four years.

In the current economy, applying for a summer position has become even more competitive and stressful. Students and young professionals are no longer afforded the luxury of cutting corners or being generic when applying for a position. The days of being able to send the same cover letter and resume to multiple organizations and merely tweaking the ‘to’ line are long, long gone.

Since I’m fairly certain that most people are not completely clueless when it comes to the interview process, I’ll spare you the lecture on common tips such as what to wear, controlling nerves, speaking clearly and confidently, etc. Below are my top seven tips for setting your job application apart, nailing the interview, and landing your desired summer position.

1. Use your networks.

Many of the internship opportunities that I have applied for I heard about through a friend, former colleague, or classmate. Talking to my classmates about their different internship experiences has provided me with a good indication of who are the top employers, where to look for exciting job opportunities, the culture of different organizations and which organization may be the best fit for me. I have also had many former colleagues forward me job opportunities that they thought I may be interested in. With so few opportunities available these days, utilizing your network is an absolute must. Make sure to talk to as many people in the field as you can, and ask everyone to send you any opportunities that they may stumble upon.

2. Don’t be lazy. Tailor your application.

As I mentioned above, do NOT submit a generic or ambiguous cover letter or CV. I know that it can be tempting, especially if you are applying to dozens of jobs. However, you must resist the urge and put in the extra time! Be sure to read the position description, do your research about the organization, and customize each application to reflect how your previous experience and future ambitions make you a perfect fit for this specific position.

3. Preparation is key.

After weeks of playing the waiting game, you hear back and have been offered an interview. First, take some time to appreciate and celebrate this small success! You deserve it.

You should start preparing for the interview a few days in advance (at the latest). Before the interview, you should know the organization’s website like the back of your hand. It is important to know the company’s mission, values and anything related to the position or team you have applied to work with. If they are available, skim some of the organization’s annual reports and try to incorporate what you have learned about their past and present projects into your interview answers. Also, if you have any kind of connection to someone who works for or has worked at the organization, be sure to ask them for the insider scoop on what the interviewer is looking for.

4. Don’t be afraid to creep.

Okay. I’ll admit it. I used the internet to do some serious research (read: creeping) on my interviewers, and even the intern who had previously held the position. It actually turned out to be extremely helpful. In the process, I found a series of YouTube videos in which my interviewer had spoken at length about some of projects that the team was working on. When I researched the student who had previously held the position, I was extremely surprised to find some of the interview questions! It turns out that someone had written an article about her getting the internship and the article mentioned that “the applicants were asked to outline a proposed innovation to address a complex global health challenge” which turned out to be very similar to one of the questions I was asked during the interview. Don’t be afraid to use the creepiness of the internet to your advantage.

5. Do a mock interview.

Make up a list of questions that you think may be asked by the interviewer and do a couple run throughs with a friend or a family member. Trust me, it will help to ensure that your answers are more clear and confident during the actual interview.

6. Be yourself.

The interviewer is looking for someone who will be an ideal fit with the organization and the team. Do everything in your power to come across as professional and extremely interested in the position, but do not try to be something that you are not. I personally am an extremely outgoing, animated and sometimes overly enthusiastic person, which can be very off-putting to some people. Although I try to tone it down in interviews, I often don’t succeed. At the end of the day, that is the way that I am and the way that I would act as an employee. If the team leader does not feel that I am the type of person that they want to work with – it is probably for the best. Make sure you are portraying an accurate representation of yourself in the interview, it will probably be the reason you get the job. If being yourself works against you, at least you won’t be working in a terrible work environment with people who don’t like you!

7. Don’t beat yourself up! Every interview is a learning experience.

One time I had to do a two hour long case study-based interview for a position I was completely unqualified for. Calling my performance in the interview an utter failure would probably be considered an understatement – I literally almost started crying in the interview! You are not going to have a perfect interview every single time so don’t beat yourself up about it. Treat it as a learning experience: write down the questions you were asked and think about how you could improve your answers. I can almost guarantee you that the interview will go better next time.

Do you have a particularly interesting or cringe-worthy job interview story? Maybe some tips for other aspiring international development professionals? Be sure to leave them in the comments section, I would love to read them!


Jeffrey Sachs Answered Questions On Reddit, Here Are The Highlights

Recently, the online community of Reddit provided us with yet another great opportunity to question one of today’s top minds in a social-convention-free zone. On January 15th, Jeffrey Sachs took part in an AMA (Ask Me Anything) session where hundreds of Reddit users were able to ask him educated and insightful questions about his work, beliefs, and opinions.

If you’re wondering what Sachs could possibly be doing on Reddit, or what Reddit even is, be sure to check out this great article by Rowan Emslie which should help to clear that up.

Part of Sachs’ motivation for doing the AMA was likely to promote his upcoming free online university course ‘The Age of Sustainable Development’. This 14-week course begins on January 21, and if your interested you can learn more or register for it here. Sachs encouraged many of those participating in the AMA to take the course and “join the generation-long quest to achieve sustainable development”.

For those of you who may not have the time to read this entire (rather long) article, here are some of the main takeaways from the AMA:

  • The importance of public health and environmental sustainability dominated the discussion
  • Sachs stood adamantly behind his views about foreign aid (as expected)
  • He often used the AMA as a vehicle to help plug his main causes and give them more exposure

Over the course of the AMA, Sachs also expressed his opinion on some topics you may have not expected, including the recently leaked draft of the TPP´s (Trans-Pacific Partnership) Environment Chapter, how automation and robotics will affect development, and even Sachs’ favourite novels. While these were definitely interesting insights, below I will focus mainly on recapping the main themes and top comments for anyone who missed the AMA.

What is Sustainable Development?

“We’ll discuss that at length in class. I am using the term “Sustainable Development,” meaning a holistic approach that combines economic, social, and environmental goals.”

Enough said. 

Global Health as the Key to Development

Public health and economic development have always been key components of Sachs’ policy and academic work. He makes it no secret that he views global health as the first stepping stone towards development.

Prioritizing development goals:

“I’d start with the health goals, since those are life and death. And then (or simultaneously) the hunger goal (obvious reason) and then education. Of course once people are alive and properly nourished, education becomes the KEY!”

On strategies to end poverty while increasing sustainable development:

“I think that the key to ending poverty and increasing sustainable development is “investment-led growth,” with investments in people (health, nutrition, education, training), plus investments in infrastructure (such as low-carbon energy), plus investments in “smart” systems using information technologies.”

The Great Aid Debate

As a champion of foreign aid and constant presence in the great aid debate, it was inevitable that the effectiveness of aid would be questioned and that some of Sachs’ top critics would come up in the discussion.

On Dambisa Moyo:

“Unlike Dambisa Moyo, I believe that aid is needed and can be organized effectively and respectfully. I am very happy with the successful scale up of aid for public health in the past decade. It has saved millions of lives and helped to promote economic development.”

Describing his relationship with William Easterly (with a passive aggressive smiley):

“There are days when I’m happier and days when I’m less happy. We’re colleagues and friends, but sometimes I’m simply amazed (and not happy) when he declares that “aid has failed.” This is simply NOT RIGHT!!! :-)”

On ‘The Great Escape’ by Angus Deaton:

“I did not agree with his very blanket statements against aid. In my view, such statements are contrary to the evidence. When somebody declares so categorically that all aid fails, raise your doubts. Such generalizations are not accurate. Much aid is very important. We need to understand why some aid succeeds and other aid fails, so that we can improve the design of aid programs.”

The Millennium Villages Project

The Millennium Villages Project has become one of Sachs’ most controversial endeavours, and has been the source of heavy criticism. This contentious debate arose following the first independent evaluation of one of the villages, and erupted in a series of online articles and duelling editorials. This past September, the commentary resurfaced with the release of Nina Munk’s book The Idealist: Jeffrey Sachs and the Quest to End Poverty. Despite this, Sachs is quick to challenge any criticism and stands firmly behind his project.

Sachs’ response to those who criticize the Millennium Villages Project:

“The project has had enormous positive impacts, way beyond the villages themselves. Governments have taken the successes of the villages as a basis for national policy, e.g. the control of malaria and the scale up of community health workers. There were originally 10 countries in the program, but its so useful for governments that the program is now operating directly or indirectly (through policy advice for example or as a template) in 23 countries. Please see www.millenniumvillages.org. By the way, there will be a comprehensive evaluation of the project, and a comparison with other places nearby, in 2015, to be reported in 2016. It will be interesting for all, including of course the project participants, to learn from these results!”

On the Millennium Villages Post-2015:

“The MVs will be evaluated at the end of 2015, and we will make course corrections and improvements as needed in several national programs underway to scale up the MV model. So the basic notion of using community-based rural development will continue past 2015, for sure. It’s working in many powerful ways, but will have even clearer evidence in 2015 on many important detailed issues.”

The Global Fund

In 2000, Sachs worked with then UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to design and launch the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria and has worked to support the organization ever since. Last month, Sachs called to task many developed countries for failing to come up with the necessary $5 billion to maintain the momentum of the Fund. He continued his campaign to gain support for the Fund through his AMA.

On using empirical studies to evaluate aid programs:

“We need to be smart in our aid policies, using knowledge, experience, and EXPERTISE outside of economics (such as in public health). The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria, and GAVI are examples of aid success. We should measure and evaluate programs, but use methods that are appropriate to the circumstances. There is too much of a one-size-fits-all strategy to evaluation these days (too much on randomized trials, excluding other means of evaluation).”

On the continuation of the Global Fund agenda:

“The Global Fund is still trying to close the $5 billion. I’ll be speaking with several governments over the next few weeks as well to help close the deal. The name of the game is PERSISTENCE. It takes time to convince governments!!!”

On getting governments to work in the interest of their people:

“I believe that aid can be designed in ways that promote accountability and transparency. This is how the Global Fund has worked most of the time. It’s been a good and successful model. Yes, we should promote a high degree of transparency. Remember that much of the corruption starts from the side of the rich countries and their companies.”

Throughout the AMA, Sachs maintained his idealistic persona and most of his responses had an upbeat tone to them. While he frequently spoke about the success of his projects, he often rebuffed any commenter who brought up critiques of his work. One thing that I found particularly interesting was that Sachs often lumped those who disagreed with his work into the same category as those who simply didn’t ‘understand’ or ‘get’ his work and ideas. A little condescending don’t you think? That being said, what really shined through for me was Sachs’ talent as a campaigner, as it’s undeniable that he is quite effective at garnering support and drawing attention to his principle causes.

So what did you think of Sachs’ AMA? I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts in the comments section below!

Editor’s Note: Two of our new writers – Michelle Gonzalez Amador and Holly Narey – are taking Jeffrey Sachs’ new online course and will be blogging about their experience. We’ll be using the tag ‘Age of Sustainable Development’ for all these posts so check back on that in the coming weeks for more.


Open Data In Development: Finding its feet

On October 28, the North-South Institute hosted the Ottawa event for Global Transparency Week. This was one of 18 high-profile events taking place around the globe focused on open data, transparency, accountability and good governance. For those who don’t know, open data for development is all about making information and data more freely available to encourage feedback, transparency, information sharing, and most importantly accountability.

Although its a relatively new phenomenon, I find the drive towards open data absolutely fascinating and feel it has the potential to revolutionize the development field. That being said, this movement also has the potential to culminate in a whole lot of nothing unless 1) we ensure the participation of all stakeholders and 2) there is a clearer articulation of the desired outcomes, and how increased transparency will lead to accountability.

During the event, the panelists discussed the importance of open data and transparency in relation to Canada’s development objectives, the changing open government narrative, challenges in delivering on transparency, and lessons learned from the International Aid Transparency Initiative (IATI) experience. The IATI Standard is a publishing framework that was developed following the 2008 High-Level Forum on Aid Effectiveness in Accra, Ghana. It is a multi-stakeholder initiative that has become the standard to which donors, developing country governments and NGOs are supposed to publish information on their aid spending and activities.

It is important to note that successfully publishing to the IATI standard requires a huge commitment on the part of donors and NGOs. They are required to meet a very extensive set of criteria which at the bare minimum requires publishing on aid activities in a timely manner, and in a variety of useful formats that can be easily accessed, compared and utilized.

While this may sound like a simple feat, if you actually take a look at an IATI data file you will quickly discover that it is not.

Organizations are also required to report on a number of ‘value added’ fields including project documents, impact assessments, and precise geographic information. Providing a diverse assortment of data is a necessary component of the IATI standard, as it is crucial to respond to the needs and interests of different data users.

However, as mentioned previously, two things need to happen if we really want to see the see the concrete benefits of publishing to the IATI standard. Firstly, while many donors have committed to becoming IATI compliant, there are still many development agencies, NGOs, and CSOs that have failed to follow suit. The irony is that these were the very organizations that campaigned for the government to commit to IATI in the first place. In order to see the transformative benefits of aid transparency in both developed and developing countries, all development organizations that are receiving funding from the government, providing aid, or conducting projects in developing countries should also be publishing to the IATI standard.

The hesitation of many small NGOs and CSOs is warranted. With minimal budgets and limited IT capacity these organizations question the feasibility of publishing to IATI and feel as though they are on an unequal playing field. Despite this, there are ways for NGOs and CSOs circumvent these roadblocks, and take on the IATI commitment without taking on excessive risk. Donor agencies can follow the example set by the UK in which all NGOs and CSOs receiving public resources are mandated to comply with the IATI standard, but are also provided with technical support as well as additional funding to help cover the costs involved.

The second area for concern, and in my opinion the most pressing, is the need to unpack what we mean by “transparency” (i.e. transparency to whom, to what end); and how transparency leads to “accountability”. One of the panelists expressed fear that when donors limit their focus to increasing the quality and quantity of their aid data, they risk getting caught up in the disclosure of information and losing sight of what is really important about that information.

Donors need to move away from focusing exclusively on transparency, and towards increased accountability both at home and abroad.

There should be more of an effort to evaluate whether IATI and other open data initiatives are realizing the ultimate goal of better coordinated aid, improved resource allocation, and greater participation and empowerment of citizens in developing countries who are the ultimate beneficiaries of these efforts. In this respect, there is little evidence whether these investments are having the desired impacts.

There is much work that needs to be done to generate a clearer picture of how open aid data will interface with state and citizen actors to bring about this desired accountability. One thing we know for certain is that there is considerable traction surrounding open data [Ed: particularly within governments], which is at an important starting point. Hopefully these concerns will be properly addressed so that we can achieve the ultimate goals of aid transparency; harmonization and co-ordination between donors, and real partnerships with recipient countries.

For more highlights from the event, be sure to check out the full report – available here

Commentary, Platform

Managing Risk or Creating It? The Real Message Behind the 2014 World Development Report

This past Sunday, the World Bank released it’s 2014 World Development Report titled Risk and Opportunity: Managing Risks for Development. This report delves into the process of risk management, looking at how it should be conducted, what obstacles prevent people and societies from conducting it effectively, and how these specific obstacles should be overcome.

The theme of this years report will not come as a surprise to most, as ‘resilience’ is one of development’s sexiest new buzzwords. In the age of aid effectiveness, these concepts have massive appeal to donors because proactive and systematic risk management can help to build resilience and protect hard-won development gains (read: investments).

While on the surface the report focuses on preparing for, preventing, and mitigating risk, the real message that the World Bank hammers home is about creating an environment where people are less averse to taking risks. Many people may be baffled by this concept – why would we want to invest in risk management only to encourage more risk? Let’s follow the argument.

Under the leadership of Dr. Jim Yong Kim (the President), the World Bank has set out to transform risk management from being viewed as merely a control function to one that is more dynamic and responsive to change. When risk management is only focused on regulation and preventing potential losses, it results in missed opportunities day after day. In his forward to the report, Kim illustrates the link between risks and opportunities:

“Pursuing opportunities requires taking risks, but many people, especially the poor, are often reluctant to do so, because they fear the potential negative consequences. Failure to act can trap people in poverty, leaving them vulnerable to negative shocks and even less able to pursue opportunities that would otherwise improve their well-being”.

The report cites the example of farmers in Ghana and India whose access to rainfall insurance has encouraged them to take on risks in search of higher yields, such as increasing their investments in fertilizer, seeds, pesticides, and other inputs. Taking these risks has led to increased prosperity and other positive development outcomes. Conversely, Ethiopian farmers who lack access to risk management tools often choose not to use fertilizer because they fear drought and other potential shocks. They prefer to stash their money in a mattress for when the next dry spell comes, as opposed to investing in intermediate inputs

In many cases, the risk of inaction is often the worst option of all.

Illustrating the extent to which risk management can unlock constructive development opportunities is the first step towards changing the way people perceive risk, and how they strategize and execute risk management.

This past summer, Dr. Jim Yong Kim came to my work place (the North-South Institute) for a round-table discussion with key leaders of Canada’s private, academic, and third sectors. This was the first time that I really started thinking about risks and rewards in development. While the Bank’s 2014 report looks mostly at risk on the micro level, during the round-table discussion Dr. Kim mentioned that the Bank itself must become more bold and not be afraid to take risks to support projects that have the potential to transform a country or a region. While one of the key constraints in development may be an individual or nation’s aversion to risk, international development institutions and donors are equally guilty of this.

I think that part of the World Bank’s underlying strategy is that by changing the way institutions think about risk and risk management on-the-ground, it might lead them to adapt the way they approach risk internally. While a farmer may shy away from taking risks because they fear negative repercussions, a donor agency may not pursue a new project or strategy that has the potential to transform a country due to fear of resource waste, pressure to avoid fiduciary risks, or concern that the outcome will have negative effects on their reputation ( for more take a look at this ODI report).

Now, I’m not saying that international development agencies and donors should start taking crazy risks in search of massive rewards (à la Wall Street traders). That is simply not possible, especially due to the role that public opinion plays in development and foreign aid. However, I do think that we need to eliminate incentives to take part in excessive risk aversion if we want to see truly substantial and transformative change.

In my opinion, individuals, societies, and institutions could be doing a much better job at managing the trade-offs between risk, opportunity, and reward, and implementing effective risk management strategies will be the first step towards remedying this.

So what do you think? Do you agree that excessive risk aversion is hurting development? Do you think that implementing risk management strategies will actually encourage people to take “smart risks”? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section!

Experiences, Learning

After The Internship: What I have learned

It’s almost two weeks into September, and I’m only now coming to terms with the fact that summer has come and gone. While most students dread the end of summer because it marks a return to the daily grind of juggling classes, coursework, a job, and a social life, for me heading back to school has always been something to look forward too. A challenge of sorts.

However, this year, for the first time ever – I’m not excited about it. I suspect that some of this unwillingness to return to the classroom stems from the fact that I’ve had a taste of my future career path and going back to school feels like a backwards step.

Like many students who use the summer months to attempt to gain a foothold in their chosen field, I landed a summer internship. My experience was with a Canadian policy research institution specializing in international development called the North-South Institute (NSI). Although I’m thankful to have had this experience, part of me wishes that I had gotten this internship after I graduated instead of before – stopping my newly found career momentum feels counter-productive. But that’s the way it goes.

In the months leading up to my graduation, I really could stand to benefit from a reflection on the valuable lessons that I have learned throughout my internship. At the end of the day, it’s all about building on what you know and refining your skill set to become the best candidate possible for future positions.

Working for the North-South Institute was not my first internship in the field of international development, but it was by far the most educational and enriching experience I have had to date.

When people ask about how my internship went, the first thing that comes to my mind is how fortunate I was to have such amazing colleagues. I can’t oversell the importance of networking and building personal connections with your coworkers! An integral part of success is your ability to cultivate emerging relationships and how well you can leverage your network. Working at NSI provided me with many networking opportunities, and I even got to meet many key international figures, ranging from the President of the World Bank, to member of the Post-2015 High-level Panel, to high ranking officials of the Canadian Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade, and Development (DFATD).  Of course, building strong relationships is critical to advancing your career, but developing a rapport with your coworkers is about so much more than reaping the benefits of networking.

Throughout my work term, I held the position of research assistant with the Governance for Equitable Growth team. I was completely blown away by their passion, their work ethic, and the innovative research they were doing.

At first, I was extremely intimidated and felt like I was in way over my head.

My research skills were inadequate, my writing skills far inferior, and my ideas bland and uncreative. When I was first asked to help draft a policy brief I distinctly remember glaring at my computer screen in frustration, overwhelmed by the desire to send it to the trash instead of to my supervisor for review.

Luckily, by the end of my work term I had lightened up a bit and realized I was being far too hard on myself. At 22 years old, and having only studied international development for two years, to place such unattainable expectations on myself was not doing me any favours. For every aspect of life there is a learning curve, and while it is essential to aim high and push yourself in order to improve, there was just no way I was going to be spewing epoch-changing genius when I have only just begun to scratch the surface of the issues I was writing about.

Over the summer months, I continued to become better versed in many of these subjects which helped me to accept that gaining expertise takes time. This learning process can be accelerated in an environment where you have the opportunity to consult experts and ask questions on a daily basis. In my opinion, that is the true benefit of getting work experience and building a rapport with talented coworkers. I’ve often heard the saying ‘surround yourself with greatness, and you will become great’, and I think that will most likely be my strategy moving forward.

Now to get back into student life!

Commentary, Platform

3 Ways To Improve International Youth Day

Franklin D. Roosevelt once said “we cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future”. This sentiment was certainly relevant in the 1940s, in my opinion it rings even more true today, and perfectly captures the spirit of the International Youth Day. The global community may not be able to guarantee a perfect and rosy future, but they are capable of equipping young people with the tools, knowledge and experience to face these challenges themselves.

Every year on August 12, the United Nations and its member states observe International Youth Day, an occasion to celebrate the achievements of the world’s youth, and bring attention to the issues faced by this rapidly growing demographic. Which sounds great but I don’t think it’s clear how this day is actually meant to help anyone.

In fact, I feel like International Youth Day is more about paying lip-service to ‘youth issues’ than actually getting anything done.

Research has shown that countries with burgeoning youth populations are more susceptible to destabilizing forces, civil unrest, and conflict. When developing countries undergo the demographic transition, rising birth rates and falling death rates contribute to the emergence of a youth bulge within society. Having a large youth population can be a window of opportunity for economic growth and human development (see: the demographic dividend). But more often than not youth bulges are viewed in a negative light.

As we saw in Egypt, when a country fails to create opportunities for its young people (especially when they are trying to enter the work force), social and economic exclusion can fuel civil unrest, political protest, and even violent conflict.

Policy-makers are at a cross-road; find ways to incorporate youth, or suffer the consequences.

Youth make up approximately 1.8 billion people in the world today, and will inevitably have an enormous impact on shaping the world and its future. Finding new ways to engage, employ, and incorporate youth into society will be essential to realizing positive development outcomes around the world. These issues are not exclusive to developing countries. Low youth employment rates, disparities in education, rising inequality – sound familiar? We are facing these challenges in the West too.

While our experiences of economic exclusion may not be enough to culminate in a violent conflict, I can personally attest to feelings of hopelessness, neglect and disenchantment when searching for a job in my field. When millions of youth share this sentiment, it doesn’t exactly set the stage for growth, prosperity, or a golden age of human development.

So, what can be done? How can we engage youth so that they contribute towards a virtuous cycle of growth, stability, and development? While it’s certainly not rocket science, it will require a multi-sectoral approach with governments, the private sector, NGOs, and civil society working together and playing a role. Here are three simple strategies that I think would make a big difference:

1. Listen

Societies can become more inclusive by listening to youth, and providing channels for them to express their opinions and participate in public life. Luckily, we live in a hyper-connected world, and the prevalence of ICTs has opened the door to this consultative process. Young people have the right to participate in the decisions and structures which affect their lives, and governments should facilitate this.

2. Collaborate

When adults collaborate with youth, it is a win-win situation; young people gain practical experiences that can help to reinforce their role as active citizens, and adults learn how to look at old problems in new ways, gaining new insights through a youth perspective. Organizations should make more of an effort to facilitate internships, co-ops, and volunteer opportunities for youth. If they emphasize the benefits of getting involved and ensure that these positions are adequately broadcast, young people will capitalize on the opportunity.

3. Invest

Investing in youth not only brings rewards to the individual, but also to their family and their community at large. Building human capital through investing in youth education, skills training and health care must be the cornerstone of development efforts today and in the future. For me, one of the biggest benefits of investing in youth is enhanced self-confidence. When you have people investing in your future and supporting you every step of the way – the sky is the limit. It is in this type of environment where the entrepreneurial and innovative spirit takes root, and sets the stage for growth, stability, and development for years to come.