In the world of international health and development, a new model is taking shape. The traditional structure of aid agencies in Sweden, the United States and other donor countries pouring their own resources, tools and programmes into African communities is being transformed by dramatic shifts in global economic paradigms. Demographics and living standards are changing, as are policies and assumptions that guide the development of new technologies and commercial markets. Surprisingly, the biggest shifts are not rooted in economic crises, but rather in the positive trends created from the healthier, increasingly connected world that is unfolding.

This week, the World Economic Forum is shining a spotlight on Africa, where nearly half of countries have reached middle-income status, yet the continent still faces rising inequality, widespread unemployment, and fluctuating commodity prices. I’m in South Africa to visit the child health projects led by my organization, PATH, and I’m also here to form strategies with other leaders from government, business, and civil society about how we can deepen the sustainability of Africa’s development as the continent continues to transform amid dramatic growth.

The first of these big shifts is that innovation is happening everywhere. New products from Brazil go to the United States, India exports to African countries and great ideas along the innovation value chain – from research and development all the way to last-mile delivery – are bubbling up from around the globe.

Second, the power shifts in economic, political and innovation structures are moving aid and development away from the supply side “build it and they will come” models of the past to a demand-driven enterprise. As many African countries build their own strategies and capacities for health, education and development, the aid market is shifting to more of an import business. The most effective programmes will be in close partnership with, if not at the direction of, the leadership of the countries they serve.

This dynamic environment creates challenges and opportunities for international non-governmental organizations (INGOs). While there are many new and different actors in the development space, the experience, technical expertise, resources, networks and insights of INGOs are more indispensable than ever. Yet, we must rethink where and how to deploy our assistance and support. We must become more cohesive in our approaches and more focused on demonstrating impact and value for money.

We must also know our beneficiaries – and the country leaders who are setting the agendas – better than ever before and understand how we can work with them directly to create change. We must find a strong way to connect investments with projects that can leverage social innovation and expand new ideas to reach entire populations. And, we must deliver on the promise of increasing the scale of innovations that can bring about real transformations.

At the World Economic Forum Annual Meeting in Davos, Switzerland, earlier this year, I had many discussions with leaders across all sectors who truly believe that INGOs are integral for addressing these questions and guiding the way forward. There is a clear global appetite to align investments, harness financial and philanthropic capital, and create a positive impact that will benefit the common good in Africa and beyond.

For PATH and many INGOs, our ability to bridge public, private and civil society sectors in sophisticated partnerships and engagements will be the key to mission-driven impact. As INGOs in today’s dynamic environment, we have the opportunity to find new ways to respond to the powerful voices and drivers here in Africa, so that together we can meet Africa’s needs and guide sustainable growth, competition and resilience for a stronger future.

Author: Steve Davis is President and Chief Executive Officer of PATH. 

Image: A girl looks at water from the Nile flowing from a pump in eastern Cairo. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh