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About the Project

CSIS, through generous joint-support by Chevron and the Royal Danish Embassy in Washington, has conducted a research project that assesses the future of work in a set of developing countries, going beyond technological disruptions. The research and analysis make the case why the United States has a stake and present a set of policy recommendations to better prepare the future workforce in developing countries.

For this project, CSIS conducted desk research, carried out four country case studies (Brazil, India, Kazakhstan, and Nigeria), and convened a high-level taskforce to inform the discussion. The insights and findings contained in this report are drawn mainly from qualitative research. The present CSIS study is a complement to other research efforts on the topic. Our value-added relies on original research based on in-person interviews, access to high-level experts, and a new take on the topic.

Key questions we set out to answer include:

  • What are the current challenges and future forces in the “world of work” for developing countries? How is the “world of work” changing in developing countries?
  • Why should the United States care about this topic?
  • How can we manage the future of work? What can developing country governments and other stakeholders do?
  • What steps could the United States take using diplomacy, development, and security tools to influence this agenda?

The Issue

The future of work has recently attracted much attention from a variety of institutions, from governments to universities to private companies and news outlets: a simple Google search of the term future of work produces more than two billion results. Our world of work—both in rich and poor countries—is changing fast. Technology, globalization, environmental changes, and shifting demographics are impacting workplace environments and the types of jobs that will be available in the future. Everyone can relate to these issues, since people depend on work for their livelihoods.

This study makes the case for why the United States has a role to play in helping developing countries create enabling environments for job creation and develop resilient workforces and what that role is. Although U.S. policymakers and citizens are rightly concerned about the future of work and employment at home, we believe that generating employment abroad is vital to U.S. national security interests and will be neglected at serious cost to the United States. If developing countries cannot create jobs and meet the economic aspirations of their people, this could impact our economic health, national security, and future global stability in the form of fewer customers for our goods and services, an increased vulnerability of youth to unproductive, extremism or illegal activities, and more people migrating to look for better economic opportunities.

There are myriad reports and initiatives on the future of work already. Many institutions have tackled the topic of the future of work by focusing on the impacts the coming technological revolution (4IR) will have on the workforce. There is no doubt that automation, robotics, artificial intelligence, and other technological drivers are impacting the world of work. Yet, in developing countries, technology changes need to be evaluated in a larger context that includes multiple work-related challenges and opportunities such as exploding youth bulges, high informality, resource constraints, and urbanization.

Taking this reality into account, CSIS assessed the current and future work environments in a set of developing countries, going beyond predicted technological disruptions. As a premier international security institution, CSIS brings unique insights to the topic by weaving defense, diplomacy, and development lenses together to assess the challenges these countries face. Our main audience for the study is the current U.S. administration and bilateral agencies, including USAID, the Department of State and the Department of Defense.