Photo Credit: Thomas Cristofoletti for RTI International

In a year that started out with great hope, the COVID-19 pandemic continued to derail plans, upend projections, and stymie progress toward development goals. But the challenges of 2021 did not detract from important conversations, heroic global efforts and hard-won changes. This year saw the development community once again coming together—taking actions large and small to tackle complex problems, strengthen communities, and improve lives.  

As 2021 comes to a close and we look back on the challenges and achievements of the past year, here is a list of the stories that most interested you and a few of our favorites. They demonstrate diverse efforts to keep going in the face of adversity, and a commitment to development and improving the human condition.

  1. Adapting in a Pandemic: Simple Innovations for Big Impact in Trachoma Elimination
    Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, neglected tropical disease (NTD) experts like Dr. Jeremiah Ngondi have been focused on how to keep people safe while continuing efforts to eliminate NTDs. Now, a simple innovation has the potential to have a big impact on the global fight against trachoma, an NTD that can cause significant pain and lead to blindness.  
  2. Digital Learning Dispatch: Teacher Training in the Philippines during the COVID-19 Pandemic
    Twenty-two million Filipino children started school on October 4th. From home. And thanks to the ABC+: Advancing Basic Education in the Philippines project, 5,000 teachers were better prepared for helping students adapt to online learning.
  3. Preventing “Development in Reverse”: Building a Systemic Anticorruption Approach
    As the world focuses on the climate change crisis, emerging security issues, and the long-dragging COVID-19 pandemic, another international challenge is getting global attention: Corruption, along with the way it undermines democracy and human rights, deepens inequality, and corrodes natural resources. We highlight seven best practices that should form part of a systematic approach to combatting corruption.
  4. Opinion: Moving forward on climate and development post-COP 26
    Limiting global warming to below 1.5 degrees Celsius and increasing the resilience of infrastructure, communities, and individuals will cost trillions every year. Given this chasm between the funding needed to accomplish our goals and the funding that is available, perhaps the most important question facing the world coming out of COP 26 is: How can we make the biggest impact with limited resources? For the international development community, three of the most important solutions are evidence-based decision-making, multisectoral programming, and accessible funding.
  5. A Planetary Health Approach: Striking the Balance to Conserve Resources in Emerging Economies
    What human beings do on this planet affects all living beings and the environments on which they rely for survival. A Planetary Health Approach illuminates the relationships between factors and acknowledges that we are not just interconnected but interdependent. In other words, it tells us simply that saving the planet saves ourselves. Here are some practical steps to get you thinking through a Planetary Health Approach lens.
  6. Pipes, People, and Policy: Bringing Institutions and Communities Together for Sustainable Water Systems
    Water experts around the globe are increasingly aware — especially in the face of worsening floods and dramatic weather events — that investing in climate-smart infrastructure is no longer optional. But infrastructure isn’t everything. Laying pipes and turning on the tap will only get us part of the way to providing affordable, safe, and clean water to all, Creating sustainable water and sanitation sectors is about more than pumps or sewerage systems — it’s about people.
  7. A Beacon of Hope: Thailand’s data-driven fight against drug-resistant malaria
    Thailand’s integrated drug efficacy surveillance system expanded into national policy with USAID’s support through the Inform Asia program, implemented by RTI, offering a beacon of hope in the fight against malaria. The end goal? Every single person that gets malaria is treated, monitored, and cured.
  8. Localizing Development: Evidence from Social Emotional Learning Assessments in Tanzania
    The challenge of cultural adaptation is felt keenly in educational programs to promote social-emotional skills: the skills that help children make decisions, understand emotions, and interact with others. Our new study aimed to develop an assessment of social-emotional learning for Tanzania, based on a more rigorous analysis of culture. The study illustrates three principles to guide more meaningful cultural adaptation of programs and assessments.
  9. Tracking COVID-19's Impact on Food Security in Senegal
    To help understand how the COVID-19 pandemic is affecting low-and-middle-income countries, we set out to assess how Senegalese farming families had been affected by the pandemic and how the farmer networks they belong to were responding. The study identified how the farmer networks themselves are monitoring the shock and provided them with data to test their own assumptions and adapt their future strategies when responding to shocks and stresses.
  10. Beyond Poles and Wires: Emerging Trends in Tunisia's Energy Sector
    Demand for electricity is rising alongside economic growth and development in Tunisia. From solar-plus-storage, to smart grid technologies, to private sector investment in renewable energy, we examined how cutting-edge technologies and data-driven solutions can help Tunisia achieve higher levels of renewable energy penetration and electricity system efficiency.

Disclaimer: This piece was written by Jennifer Brookland and Hiske Leegstra to share perspectives on a topic of interest. Expression of opinions within are those of the author or authors.