Spurring Graduate Study in Global Development
March 6, 2018 | 40 Years, 40 Stories

In an effort to bolster the leadership and training of global development practitioners, Columbia University's Earth Institute convened a group of 20 eminent scholars and practitioners from a variety of disciplines in a year-long International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice. Launched in early 2007 and supported by MacArthur, the Commission aimed to identify practical initiatives to support an emerging field of cross-disciplinary "sustainable development practice."  

The Commission's 2008 report created a new standard for universities around the world hoping to design graduate-level, multidisciplinary development degree programs. Specifically, it defines the core skills and knowledge required of a practitioner who understands the complex interactions among the health, natural and engineering, social, and management science fields and is able to coordinate and implement effectively the insights offered by subject-specific specialists. 



The report led to the establishment of the new Global Master's in Development Practice (MDP) program. The MDP is an innovative graduate degree program designed to provide students with substantive knowledge required to analyze and diagnose multi-dimensional, global problems such as malnutrition, extreme poverty, and climate change. At the same time, the program helps to develop practical skills through extended periods of field training that provide hands-on, problem-solving experience for students in a developing country. One shared global course on the Foundation of Sustainable Development is offered to all MDP programs around the world.

The first MDP program began in the fall of 2009 at Columbia University in New York. Today, the consortium consists of 34 MDP programs (and growing!) in 23 countries on six continents – 15 of which (44 percent) are in nations with developing economies—with 3500 graduates.

Students come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds; represent multiple cultures, languages, and ethnicities; and have knowledge, skills, and interests that run the gamut of development issues. The mean age of students is 25.8 years old; a majority has previous work experience. Female students typically outnumber male students, often representing two-thirds of the MDP programs. A large number of students are from Asian countries, followed by South American and sub-Saharan African countries. After graduating, many of the students worldwide end up working in NGOs, the public/private sector, as well as governments.


Other collaborating organizations have taken note of the advances of the MDP program and its many talented students and graduates. These organizations have contributed funding to the development of case studies that are currently in use in MDP classrooms and provided paid field experiences for students interested in rural development projects. 

We hope to continue developing MDP programs around the world and look forward to reporting on the continued achievements and impact of our graduates in the future.


From 2006 to 2010, MacArthur awarded $3,275,000 to Columbia University's Earth Institute to develop the Master's in Development Practice curriculum, as well as establish the MDP Global Secretariat. An additional $14.4 million in grants were awarded to 21 institutions around the world to create Master's in Development Practice programs. Those institutions were:

BRAC University
Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs
Emory University
James Cook University
Sciences Po
TERI University
Trinity College Dublin
Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center
Tsinghua University, School of Public Policy and Management
Universidad De Los Andes
Universidade Federal Rural do Rio de Janeiro
Universite Cheikh Anta Diop De Dakar
University of Botswana
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Davis
University of Florida
University of Ibadan - Nigeria
University of Peradeniya
University of Sussex, Institute of Development Studies
University of Waterloo
University of Winnipeg


Related Content

Evaluation of the Master's in Development Practice Initiative (February 2012)

Report of the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice (October 2008)

Video: Presentation of the Global Master's in Development Practice report (October, 2008)

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