As a student, imagine taking courses from experts at the Earth Institute and the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, living in Nigeria for two months while helping villages problem-solve the complex challenges of sustainable development, and graduating from your home institution in Costa Rica. Picture meeting at a university campus every three weeks for intensive courses six or eight times a year, and traveling back to your job and home while professors provide online support. Well, this dream is closer to reality than you may think. This past Saturday, February 6, leaders from around the world participated in the international launch of the Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) program at the Delhi Sustainable Development Summit, India. This program was made possible by the leadership and founding supprt of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Hundreds of people were in attendance: All were excited about the many possibilities and opportunities that the new Global Master’s in Development Practice offers student-practitioners around the world.
The launch on February 6 was the beginning of many discussions that followed. Over 30 MDP faculty members and leaders from universities in Senegal, Australia, Ireland, USA, Canada, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Nigeria, India, Botswana, and China met throughout the weekend to discuss their proposed MDP program. Columbia University’s Glenn Denning, director of the Master of Public Administration in Development Practice or MDP program and Milena Novy-Marx, program officer and MDP degree program leader from the MacArthur Foundation were in attendance.
During a two-hour breakfast meeting with the Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute and one of the intellectual authors of the MDP program, Jeffrey Sachs shared his vision with the group and took their questions. At another meeting, the MDP professors engaged in a healthy discussion of the proposed MDP curriculum which consists of course work in the social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences and management sciences. Talks also touched upon student and faculty exchanges. In the future students will be able to take courses in one campus while graduating from another. Faculty will be able to spend real or virtual time teaching at their home institutions and traveling to others. Hybrid model courses which combine local face-to-face interaction with live, online, global discussions on integrated approaches to sustainable development, for example, will be the norm for most MDP programs.
The Global Master’s in Development Practice programs promise not only to equip students with the knowledge and skills of development practitioners, but will integrate a field experience component that will have students rolling up their sleeves and working with practitioners who are engaged in cross-sectoral development approaches in the Millennium Villages Project in Ruhiira, Uganda; participating in food system initiatives in Sri Lanka; and taking part in AIDS, Malaria and Tuberculosis projects at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As I often heard during this past week in New Delhi, “The MDP program is truly different. It is for leaders who are tired of talking about sustainable development and are ready to tackle poverty and make a difference.”
By September 2010 more than 22 MDP programs will be available worldwide. Sixteen universities–Emory University, USA; TERI University, India; James Cook University, Australia; Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin, Ireland; Tsinghua University, China; University of Cheikh Anta Diop, Senegal; University of Botswana , Botswana; University of Florida,USA; Universityof Ibadan, Nigeria; BRAC Development Institute/ BRAC University, Bangladesh; CATIE, Costa Rica; University of California, Davis, USA; University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka; University of Waterloo, Canada; University of Minnesota, USA; and the University of Denver, USA—will be ready to launch their two-year program. Columbia University admitted its first cohort of MDP students this past September of 2009.
The creation of the Master’s in Development Practice Program was a key recommendation of the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice and made possible by a $15 million seed grant from the MacArthur Foundation. Established in 2007, the year-long Commission was co-chaired by John McArthur, Chief Executive Officer of Millennium Promise, and Jeffrey Sachs, Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, and comprised of 20 top thinkers in the field of sustainable development from around the world. More information about MDP can be found at www.mdp.ei.columbia.edu.