Independent development consultants hard hit by Covid-19

07 July 2020 3 min. read
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All aspects of the travel-intensive consulting industry have been hit hard by the Covid-19 international travel ban, however those specialising in international development have been impacted worse than most. According to a new study, funds have been redirected to emergency concerns by clients, rendering swathes of development staff around the world jobless, and programmes halted altogether.

Global development workers increasingly fear that their organisation will not survive the Covid-19 pandemic, with concern greatest among those in Africa. According to recent research from global development media platform Devex – which asked 580 professionals from 162 countries how the virus is affecting them – in May 60% of respondents were worried the pandemic could mean the end for the organisation they work for – with those in Africa most anxious.

Of the majority of development organisations worried about the future of their organisations, 39% of respondents in Africa and 33% of those in the Middle East were “very concerned” for the future of their employer. In contrast, in both North America and Europe, just 6% of respondents were similarly expectant that their organisation could collapse thanks to coronavirus pressures. Of the respondents based in Africa, 31% worked for a non-governmental organisation (NGO), while 18% identified as independent consultants – suggesting the impact on development spending could have a big impact on the consulting sector.

Percentage who are “very concerned”

On respondent from a development consulting firm based in Africa told researchers, “Covid has paralysed most development organisations that entirely depend on donors… Funds have been redirected to emergency concerns rendering most staff jobless and programs halted altogether.” Another, this time an independent consultant based in Asia, added that a “lack of clear government direction has made donors weary,” and this is causing some organisations to lose funding.

Indeed, just weeks later a further survey from Devex found that many development professionals had been right about their short-term futures. According to the researcher’s next update, an increasing number of professionals said they or someone they knew had recently lost their job. The rate of job losses reported stood at 34% in April, but in Devex’s latest update, this grew to 39%. Independent consultants appeared to be hardest hit, making up 43% of those who reported having lost their job. Respondents said the contracts they usually relied on had been cancelled or had become hard to come by.

One US-based consultant said professionals working on short-term and consultancy contracts, or facilitating workshops and meetings, were worst affected. Meanwhile, a second American consultant who specialised in training in Africa – particularly on projects for the US Agency for International Development – said travel restrictions had left them without any work contracts at all. In-country consultants have not been immune to these job losses either, having had to contend with domestic travel restrictions. One professional in Kenya noted that his colleagues had advisory work cancelled or put on hold due to such restrictions.

Since the first week of the survey in late April, there has been an increase of 10% in the proportion of independent consultants saying they have lost their own job or know someone who has lost theirs. Of those who are still working, almost one-quarter are “very concerned” about their long-term job security.