February 7, 2017

Written by Tricia Petruney

The years leading up to the 2015 benchmark for global goals saw enthusiastic calls for doing development differently, reaching a crescendo as the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted to guide our work through 2030. Specifically, the new SDG era’s focus on integration among previously siloed social, economic and environmental aims has aid agencies wondering how to better address complex, 21st-century development challenges through meaningful cross-sector collaboration. In this industry, we like staying in our lane: doing what is familiar, what we are good at, and what we can count. As a result, we’ve become so focused on a plethora of micro-targets in isolation that we’ve lost sight of how families, communities, and societies actually work. How can we start moving beyond the long-entrenched, single-issue programs run by highly specialized staff? What can we do differently to better respond to people’s multifaceted lives?

To flip the script and make decisions based on actual problems (and their many root causes) rather than shaping them to fit the status quo development siloes, we designed a decision-making tool called the Development Sector Adjacency Map. The map offers insights about common relationships between development fields (called adjacencies) and strategic considerations to leverage those linkages through strategic adaptation and expansion.

Importantly, the map draws significant inspiration from the private sector. Indeed, businesses are skilled at customizing their products and services based on a deep understanding of what their customers need or want. Corporations and development organizations are both trying to meet people’s needs. Yet, given the different end goals (profits versus improved quality of life), the latter too often ignore opportunities to learn from the former. Now would be a good time for that to change.

One specific lesson that businesses offer development is smart diversification. Described in a Harvard Business Review piece as growth outside the core, companies often deploy a strategy using “adjacent markets” to examine other goods or services their current customers want, and then expand or diversify accordingly. For example, the strategic expansion by the sporting goods giant Nike from shoes into the adjacent markets of clothing and sports equipment was a critical factor in the company’s emergence as the leader in its industry. In the context of global development, adjacencies are represented not by commercial products and services but by typically siloed sectors (e.g., health, education, agriculture or livelihoods) that are closely related and provide ripe opportunities for strategic integration. Different fields of development can be connected by two types of adjacency relationships.

To read the rest of the post, check it out at the USAID Learning Lab site.

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