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Worthy Competition for the MBA, the MacArthur Foundation’s MDP?

Tom Jacobson's picture

A notable new initiative in development training has recently been undertaken by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.  In October the Foundation released a request for proposals to establish Masters in Development Practice (MDP) programs worldwide. This RFP is the outcome of a year long effort by the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, established in early 2007, also supported by the MacArthur Foundation. The aim of the Commission was to identify the core disciplines and areas of expertise needed to develop a global network for interdisciplinary training in sustainable development.

The new Global Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) program is one of the key recommendations of the Commission. The two-year, graduate level program has been designed to train a new generation of “generalist” practitioners able to diagnose and address priorities for sustainable development. The proposed curriculum challenges students to seek integrated approaches to development drawing on the health sciences, natural sciences, social sciences and management, and includes two intensive field training experiences.

Of particular interest to those working in communication and governance reform efforts are the program’s social science components.  Core competencies will include not only written and oral communication skills, but also negotiation and facilitation skills and training in how to work collaboratively with multiple stakeholders.  Units on the political economy of development will include studies in development theory, governance, human rights, and the influence of culture, religion, and gender.  Other interdisciplinary social science studies will address “participatory planning and evaluation,” “institutional and political mapping skills,” “community organization, education, and mobilization,” and “stakeholder mapping.”

The overall effort is an ambitious one. The first phase of the MDP program aims to establish 12 MDP degrees globally some starting as early as 2010.  A few of these will be in the United States and Europe with the rest in developing countries. A second phase, beginning about 2012 aims to expand to 50 universities, development organizations, government agencies, UN agencies, foundations and bi-lateral organizations, including private sector institutions offering the MDP masters degrees and also offering continuing education and certification programs. This network is clearly a substantial effort, but the Foundation’s ambitions reach well beyond it. As MacArthur President Jonathan Fanton explains, “We welcome the time when the MDP will become as familiar and ubiquitous as the MBA.” 

I might wish that training for work with civil society organizations and efforts toward government transparency were more adequately represented.  This initiative’s vision seems to focus on project level and sectoral interventions.  And public communication is not identified as a sector in itself.  However, given the program’s broader ambitions, it is unlikely that the Foundation wouldn’t value, welcome, and support work in these areas as well. In any case, it is relieving to see an organization like the MacArthur Foundation exercising some leadership in promoting interdisciplinary training in sustainable development, and including communication and governance training. While it comprises a much needed contribution of resources to future planning needs, it also represents a widening recognition of the need for non-technical, or extra-technical, solutions to development assistance.

Video: Oct. 10, 2008 launch of Commission report and findings