Economic Development News & Insight


The Higher ED Blog: 4 Ways Economic Developers Are the Key to Solving Global Issues

Elijah Raji / June 5, 2017

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The Higher ED Blog: 4 Ways Economic Developers Are the Key to Solving Global Issues

Climate change. Gender equality. Food security. War. Labour unrest. Healthcare access. It seems like the world is only getting worse. When you turn on the news, you hear of new battles being fought, people suffering due to lack of basic necessities, sudden changes in government and much more. As time goes by, not only are there more global issues, but the issues are more complex.

Vigorously focusing on one issue can lead to offshoots that not many people plan for in their models. For example, in Tanzania, foreign donations played a major role in moving the nation towards democracy, but none of the foreign donors could have predicted the other effects: the foreign aid ended up entrenching the former leaders in a false form of democracy where they had all the power. Instead of using the funds to develop the country, the leaders in power used the donor funds to initiate massive public spending to win votes. This has led to severe economic irrationalities within the nation, limited accountability among members of government and shady infrastructure.

As global bodies struggle with these kinds of issues, it is my hope that Economic Developers will engage their communities to play a greater role in solving world problems. Here are four reasons why we are the best people to help tackle global challenges.

1. Scope

As Economic Developers, we have the ability to connect the global world with the local issues in each community. Fighting against climate change for a local community can involve implementing car-share programs to have fewer vehicles on the road; or investing in community gardens to decrease food miles. Such a globally complex issue can be tackled in relatively simple ways when Local Economic Developers act within their own communities. These communities can then interact with each other for a more sustainable world.

2. Access to Traditional Knowledge

Traditional knowledge refers to the knowledge, innovations and practices of indigenous and local communities around the world.” This type of knowledge is crucial to understanding the factors that are coming together to cause global issues. In a bid for better animal treatment, the media have been known to condemn members of the Inuit population for continuing to hunt seals. In this situation, an Economic Development Practitioner with local traditional knowledge understands the importance of the seal hunt to the lifestyle of the Inuit and the effect it has on the greater world. It is clear that the Inuit attempt to hunt seals in a sustainable manner. As Economic Developers, our connection to community allows us to make appropriate judgements on the changes in our environment, their causes, and the best policies and actions to help our communities. We can then use this knowledge to communicate local realities to the rest of the world, acting as a buffer against external expertise and theoretical solutions which may not be practical or feasible.

3. Separation from Politics

The Economic Development Office is one that is focused on moving a community forward economically, socially and environmentally. We are not elected to our positions, but are put in a great position of service to our communities. There is sometimes tension created when Economic Development Councils are not required to hold public meetings, but many acknowledge that this separation allows the organization to focus on the needs of the community without the pressure of the media, populism and politics. This does not mean halting dialogue with the public on the plans for the region, but it makes sure that the Economic Development Office can do its job. This allows them to implement long term strategies that are best for the community without the political pressure of winning votes.

4. Capacity for Action

Our jobs put us in a position to take action! We have access to many private and public sector organizations which listen to and respect our advice, but we can also see the big picture. We are the first point of contact on any new initiative in our communities. Despite the challenges, we understand that the world is changing and strive to make sure that our communities can be competitive in this new world. Through these realities, we have many tools to move our communities forward, and working together, can strive to build a better world.


There are many global complex issues that world bodies are struggling to handle. By virtue of our roles in local communities, we are in the best position to do something about it. We have manageable scopes to work with, access to traditional knowledge, separation from politics and a capacity/competence for action. One of the reasons developing nations continue to suffer is the lack of a locally generated development office. In North America, this profession is alive, well, and continuously evolving. It is my hope that Economic Developers will engage their communities for the advancement of humanity. If we don’t answer the call, can we really call ourselves Economic Development professionals?


About the author

Elijah Raji is one of those rare people who believe they can change the world. As a budding Economic Developer, he is constantly looking for new ways to apply Economic Development principles to complex issues around the world. His passion for development encouraged him to move to Waterloo for the Masters in Economic Development and Innovation Program where he is currently conducting research on Foreign Direct Investment leading to Sustainable Development in developing countries. He hopes to use this research to develop best practices for regions to be able to utilize business investments for community development. When he is not conducting research on Economic Development, he is consulting with companies around the world on new ways to grow their business and expand their impact on their surrounding communities.

About the series

Higher ED: Insights for the Next Economy is a platform for students, guest speakers, staff and faculty of the University of Waterloo’s professional and graduate economic development programs to share knowledge with the field at large. The series takes works destined for an academic audience and reworks them into a fresh, easy-to-digest blog article.

Established in 1987, the Master of Economic Development and Innovation (MEDI) is one of the only graduate programs in Canada focused exclusively on economic development. Students learn economic development theory and practice, and are exposed to leading edge knowledge, tools, and approaches to address contemporary challenges in cities and communities across Canada and internationally.

The Economic Development Program is a nationally-accredited provider of professional training. It delivers certification programs and seminars that offer a deep understanding of the Canadian context in a convenient block format. Peer learning is combined with informative lectures and practical case studies to provide dynamic instruction that is beneficial for junior and senior-level practitioners.

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