‘Tis the season for commanding hope

Let’s call a spade a spade — the world has had it rough this year.

As it turns out, when Collins Dictionary declared “permacrisis” the word of the year in 2022, it was as much an exercise in foreshadowing as it was reflection. The word, used to describe a sense of ongoing instability and insecurity, feels as relevant as ever.

Every pundit and indicator is telling us as much. The climate emergency is nearing a point of no return (some argue we’re already there). World hunger is on the rise after a decade of steady decline. The Global Peace Index confirms that the world has become less peaceful over the past 15 years, with the average country score deteriorating by five per cent. If that weren’t enough, there’s the steady stream of tragedy flashing across the news ticker each day.

Despite all this, I am hopeful. I’ve witnessed too much progress to feel otherwise.  

Since 1990, the global mortality rate for children under five has decreased by more than half. Between 2000 and 2020, the maternal mortality ratio decreased by 34 per cent. Polio has been nearly eradicated, with immunization efforts reducing the number of cases by more than 99 per cent.

Then there is the progress that has come from international assistance more broadly. India has gone from one of the largest recipients of foreign aid to the host of this year’s G20 Summit. Bangladesh, another major recipient of aid, is set to graduate from the United Nations’ least developed country status by 2026.

As Thomas Homer Dixon says in his book Commanding Hope, “The best way to ensure we’ll fail to solve our problems is to believe we can’t.”

When it comes to global health and development, we know what works. We know the pathways that create small guarantees to better. With hope stretched thin at the end of a hard year, now is the time to stay the course, and to double down on the highest impact activities.

1. Rest

We can’t forget to step back, take a breath and allow ourselves the room to think without an imminent deadline. As difficult as it seems to be for those of us in the international development sector, taking time to recharge is just as important as the work that comes afterward.

2. Invest 

Invest in the areas we know to be successful. Invest in women everywhere, because when women and girls are empowered to reach their full potential, everybody wins. Invest in global health, because as COVID-19 made abundantly clear, disease knows no borders. And invest in partnership, because for international cooperation to be successful, the cooperation piece has to become more than a buzzword.    

3. Connect

Connect in ways that challenge your own thinking. Embrace the idea that we’ll never reach the best solutions if we keep the tough topics off the table. Whether at a holiday gathering or otherwise, let’s engage in conversations that matter, and look to deepen our own understanding in the process. 

In his book, Homer Dixon differentiates between “hope that” and “hope to”. The former implies a passive stance towards what happens around us. It’s a reliance on factors outside of our control to solve the problems we see. When we hope to on the other hand, we assume agency. We channel a different kind of hope that comes from identifying what needs to be done and doing it.

As this year draws to a close, I am recommitting firmly to the latter option. Because that type of hope, the kind that comes from trusting yourself to do the next right thing, is powerful beyond measure.


December 18, 2023


Julia Anderson, CanWaCH CEO