The power of attitude: preparing for the future of international cooperation

As an experienced professional in today’s international cooperation world, you probably already have a wealth of knowledge and technical skills that have helped you succeed. However, with the changing landscape of global challenges, it has become crucial to recognise the growing importance of social and personal skills and the power of attitude.

Power of attitude

The future of international cooperation is being shaped by several trends that will impact the sector significantly. According to Future Trends and Competencies, the recent study conducted by ETH Nadel and cinfo, these trends include climate change, human displacement and migration, water scarcity, growing inequalities, fragility, nexus approaches (development, humanitarian, peace), private sector engagement, localisation, and digitalisation.

You may already have many of the technical skills and knowledge needed to address some of these challenges. In parallel, however, developing personal and social skills such as critical thinking, self-awareness, and humility is increasingly important. These skills will become more and more valuable in the future as they facilitate understanding, cross-cultural communication, and collaboration.

Let’s look at work situations that illustrate this perfectly.

Scenario 1 – The power of introspection and metacognition

Imagine that you are leading a team of specialists from different countries. Together, you work to develop a “community-based project” in a low-income area. When brainstorming ideas for the project, some team members propose solutions based on assumptions about the community and its needs without considering the perspectives of the people who live there.

As the team leader, you encourage everyone to stop and reflect on their assumptions and biases and to engage in open and respectful dialogue with community members. Through introspection and metacognition exercises, team members become more aware of their own biases and listen more actively to local perspectives.

By examining their own thoughts and feelings and better understanding their own cognitive processes, the team will be more likely to co-create a project that meets the needs of the community and promotes a shared sense of ownership.

This example illustrates the importance of introspection and metacognition as social and personal skills in international cooperation. It shows how taking the time to reflect on personal attitudes, biases, and assumptions can lead to more effective communication, collaboration and programme design. By developing this skill, professionals can become more self-aware and better equipped to work in diverse and complex international contexts.

Scenario 2 – The power of communication and adaptability

Imagine you are a programme coordinator for an international NGO based at headquarters. Your role is to oversee the implementation of various projects in different countries, ensuring that they align with the mission and values of your organisation. One of your main responsibilities is coordinating with one-site teams and partners to ensure that projects are implemented effectively.

In this scenario, your attitude is crucial to your ability to coordinate effectively. You can establish stronger relationships and build trust with stakeholders in different countries by maintaining an open mind, showing empathy, and demonstrating respect for different perspectives.

Two essential skills in this scenario are communication and adaptability. As a programme coordinator, you must communicate effectively with diverse stakeholders, including local and expatriate staff, partners and senior management. This requires strong listening skills, clear articulation of ideas, and the ability to adapt your communication style to different contexts and interlocutors.

Overall, the success of your role depends not only on your expertise but also on your attitude and social and personal skills. By valuing these skills, you can strengthen your ability to work effectively in the dynamic field of international cooperation.

To prepare for the future of international cooperation, every professional should take a proactive approach.

Attitudes can be trained, to some extent

To prepare for the future of international cooperation and successfully navigate the complex challenges and changing contexts that lie ahead, every professional should take a proactive approach. Here are some recommendations:

  • Embrace the challenges of adapting to new contexts and be open to learning from experience.
  • Mentor younger professionals and prioritise self-management: do not only delegate tasks but also maintain your responsibilities.
  • Combine training with work to address the perceived need for more expertise in newer topics.
  • Proactively seek opportunities for in-house training, short-term coaching, peer-to-peer learning and systematic mentoring.
  • Engage in self-reflective practices and actively improve your communication, collaboration and empathy skills.
  • Stay up-to-date with emerging trends and best practice: read sector-related publications such as our study on Future Trends and Competencies, conducted in collaboration with ETH NADEL, and follow thought leaders in your field.
  • Learn more about the Inner Development Goals (IDGs), a set of attitudes and responses whose individual application should contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.