Better Sustainable Development for the Future

A United Nations Volunteer from India (right) assisting a farmer in Bhutan. Photo | UN Photo

What should a student be taught if he or she is going to be in charge of billions of aid dollars or plot the course of an entire country’s development?

For many years, students who wanted to be leaders in humanitarian development typically focused their studies on economics and management. The belief was that sustainable development could be achieved by efficiently coordinating the flow of aid dollars and resources. Last year, the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice concluded that while economics and management are important, future leaders of development need a broader base of knowledge.

The commission’s final report states that “extreme poverty in much of the world is rooted in a complex set of causes including poor agricultural productivity, the stress of climate change, the burden of tropical disease and the absence of basic infrastructure.” As a result, it recommends that professionals striving to eliminate poverty train in the fields of public health, agronomy, engineering and environmental science alongside economics.

The MacArthur Foundation, in response to this report, has provided grants to nine universities throughout the world in order to help them establish a Master of Development Practice (MDP) program that incorporates these different studies. The foundation hopes that these programs will allow future leaders—such as ministers of finance, managers of aid organizations and heads of international financial institutions—to better address complex development issues in a more sustainable manner.

“Through our work around the globe, we at MacArthur understand that poverty, population, health, conservation, and human rights are all interconnected, requiring sustained and comprehensive interventions,” said foundation president Jonathan Fanton. “These new programs are a model for training the next generation of these critically needed professionals.”

The first MDP program will launch this fall at Columbia University in New York. Aspiring that this master’s program will catch on at other schools, the foundation has committed money for up to 15 universities to receive MDP seed grants over the next three years. They expect to have helped produce 250 graduates by 2012. If this program is a success, these graduates will be able to become leaders in the humanitarian world who have the proper knowledge base to recognize the underlying causes of the need and foresee some of the ripple effects of development action.

By broadening students’ focus, the MDP program is endeavoring to make future development better suited to individual problems. If holistic sustainable solutions can be fostered by these students, then they may someday eliminate the necessity of new development programs, putting themselves out a job. An unemployment line full of Master’s in Development Practice who did their job well is a future scenario that I, for one, look forward to.

The MacArthur Foundation

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