10 things to be excited about in 2021
2020 was a complex and often difficult year for all of us in the development and humanitarian sector. From this summer’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office FCDO merger to the recent massive cut in Official Development Assistance (ODA) spending; the uncertainty of the Scottish Government development review to the postponement of COP26; and of course, on top of all that, the COVID-19 pandemic and ongoing lockdown casts a long shadow, disrupting work in many ways.
With all of this, as well as the chaotic political and social landscape of recent years, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and demoralised. But there’s a lot of good to come out of the last year, and a lot of opportunities for positive change in the coming year. We’d love you to share your own bright spots and things you’re looking forward to in 2021 on the community thread here, but for now, here’s ten things we’re excited about for the rest of 2021.
1. We’re getting the development sector’s voice heard ahead of the election
On 6 May, Scotland will elect a new government, which means a great opportunity in these first few months of 2021 for all parties to lay out their commitments and ideas for the development sector. Working with our members, we’ve put together a flagship report highlighting policy priorities so Scotland can help build a fairer world. Over the coming weeks, we’ll continue to speak with all political parties, and we’re excited to see the views of our sector reflected in party manifestos come April. In March, we’ll also bring together senior political party representatives from all the main parties so you can put your questions to them. Keep an eye on our website for announcements about that.
2. We’re building momentum for a Wellbeing and Sustainability Bill in Scotland
With our support, the SDG network recently published an open letter to Scotland’s First Minister and other Party Leaders in Scotland asking them to bring forward a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development (Scotland) Bill during the next Parliament (WSD Bill). Over 70 organisations from across Scotland have signed on. We have high hopes that, by coming together and building on existing legislation with a Wellbeing and Sustainable Development Bill, the next Scottish Government can ensure that policy-makers and decision-makers are bound by sustainable development principles in everything they do both, nationally and locally. We’re really excited about the possibilities this bill would open up, and we encourage our members to find out more and get involved.
3. The Scottish public are passionate about building a fairer, more globally responsible Scotland
Although the development sector has struggled with falling public support in recent years, particularly at UK level, evidence suggests that the Scottish public’s will for a globally responsible Scotland is there. Our December 2020 polling showed that almost three in four people think it is important that the Scottish Government ensure the global effects of policy decisions made in Scotland are taken into account, and over two thirds place importance on the Scottish Government taking an active role in working towards peace, equality and sustainability globally. Beyond this, the Citizen’s Assembly of Scotland, meeting for the first time last year, have laid out a vision for the future of Scotland that includes a Scotland built around wellbeing, sustainability, and openness and accountability, which we believe are values that must be intrinsic to our sector’s work. All the evidence suggests that the public desire is there for Scotland to be a force for good globally; the development sector just needs to keep finding ways to tap into that.
4. Across the sector, we’re finding new ways to do things
In 2020, COVID-19 changed everything about how we do our work. Working from home, moving what we can online, learning new tools for communicating with partners and delivering services, and building in new ways of working and new areas of support – we’ve watched our members rise to the challenges of 2020, and in 2021 we’re already seeing people carry on that creative, innovative spirit. From preventing poaching in a time of income loss to getting sanitation supplies to refugees, from using mask distribution to provide income sources for women to supporting community responses to the pandemic, COVID-19 has made a huge difference to the priorities and approaches of our members, and a shift to digital working has brought us to thinking differently about accessibility and how we approach our work. It’s been hard, but across the development sector and beyond, we’ve seen people react with inspiring creativity, courage and flexibility.
We’re excited to see how our members continue to build on what they’ve learnt, working towards a development sector that’s more accessible, flexible and responsive, and that can weather even these difficult times.
5. At UK level, the IDC seems here to stay
Towards the end of 2020, we were concerned to see that the International Development Committee, an influential and important Select Committee in the House of Commons was set to be scrapped. Its death warrant seemed pretty well assured with the end of the Department for International Development. But following pressure inside and outside Parliament, the UK Government has confirmed the IDC will remain. Its expertise and powers to launch inquiries and hold the Government account should really help exercise proper scrutiny over the international development work of the new FCDO.
6. We’re gaining momentum in the runup to COP26
As most of us are keenly aware, the 2020 COP summit, which was scheduled to take place in Glasgow, was delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic. We're still committed to working with our members to call for climate action that recognises the outsized impact of the climate crisis on those who have done least to cause it. In that spirit, our fantastic working groups have been hard at work working on activities around the Alliance’s COP26 strategy. You can read about what they’ve been up to and how you can get involved here, and members can join the conversation on the Alliance Community. We’re really excited for this opportunity for organisations from Scotland and around the world to have our voices heard at a critical time to address the climate crisis.
7. We’re planning an online exhibition on the climate crisis launching in the summer
The climate crisis often impacts most upon the lives and livelihoods of people who have done the least to cause it, particularly in lower income countries where resources to help mitigate and adapt and build resilience can be scarce. Through photography and film, this exhibition will present a collection of stories and accounts from individuals and communities that our members work with around the world that demonstrate these far-reaching impacts.
8. We’ll be hosting our annual conference themed around the climate crisis in September
We’re excited to announce that the 2021 Alliance conference will take place virtually on Wednesday 22 September with the overarching theme, ‘The Climate Crisis from the Front Line’. Our event will fall during a pivotal year in the fight to tackle the effects of the climate emergency, just six weeks prior to the 26th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 26) in Glasgow, when Scotland will provide the stage for the world’s leaders and climate experts to negotiate ways forward on this most pressing issue. Watch this space as we announce key speakers and our exciting programme over the weeks and months ahead!
9. Big changes in powerful countries could help drive progress on the SDGs
With a change of political direction in the USA, we can expect a shift in their approach to global sustainable development spending. President Biden has named Samantha Power, diplomat, writer and former US Ambassador to the UN, to lead USAID. Power has been acclaimed for her work towards principled American engagement in the world.
On the other side of the world, China is expanding its development assistance funding and making it more concessional. The Chinese Government’s recent white paper on international development cooperation details how China is supporting the SDGs through activities relating to poverty reduction, food security, and improving health care and education.
10. We're working with our members on important issues relating to power and privilege
In 2020, the Black Lives Matter movement once again brought our colonial past and racial inequality to the forefront of public discourse. This has rightly drawn attention to the need for change in the development and humanitarian sector, as it has in all sectors. We’ve been really encouraged to see how many organisations are committed to critically reflecting on inequalities and marginalisation in development work, and while there’s still a long way to go, it’s really great to see organisations across the sector embracing this important work with renewed energy.
The Alliance itself is also working to address issues of bias and colonial legacy in how we approach development, and is actively exploring ways we can support and connect our members on a range of issues in this regard.
We’ve begun working with our members to reflect upon our language use and framing, in order to build a better narrative for our sector and help us let go of outdated modes of thinking. We’re in the early stages right now, but we’re really excited to see this work develop into a public facing toolkit.
We’ve also been working hard to meet our members’ training needs and create space for discussion on issues like power and pay imbalances, ethical imagery and storytelling, and identifying and tackling bias; you can join us in the coming months for more conversations on decolonisation and shifting the power, including next week’s workshop on building more equitable partnerships.