Remarks by Jonathan Fanton at the International Commission on Education for Development Professionals
October 10, 2008 | Speech | Master's in Development Practice

Release of the Commission’s Report

It is my great pleasure to welcome you here today as we release the recommendations and share the vision of the Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice.

Each year I write to more than a hundred of America’s smartest people asking them to identify trends, needs, or challenges that the Foundation might address. We call it the “new ideas process.” In 2006, John McArthur, Chief Executive Officer of Millennium Promise, alerted us to the growing range of skills needed by development professionals, in everything from the natural sciences to public health, economics to management, and suggested that we should look at how training in the field could be improved.

That idea resonated with MacArthur’s Board and staff because of our large commitment to working in developing countries. MacArthur dedicates about 40 percent of its budget to programs in 60 countries, including conservation, population, human rights, migration, and peace and security. The alleviation of poverty through sustainable development is central to our hopes for a more just and peaceful world. We understand the critical role of well trained development professionals in achieving that goal.

We knew of the Earth Institute through a grant to support its work in the UN Millennium Project, and then also to the Millennium Village project to improve reproductive health. MacArthur has mounted a major initiative to advance programs toward MDG #5, reducing maternal mortality by 75 percent. And we have great respect for Jeffrey Sachs and John McArthur – their passion, experience, global perspective and networks, made them the ideal leaders of a commission.

So creating a Commission to study the way development professionals are trained was an easy case to make to our Board.

Our model was the Flexner Report of 1910 that examined America’s system of medical education, galvanizing deep systemic changes and establishing norms that are still in place today. These included the institution of the standard four -year medical degree, including two years of classroom training in the sciences and two years of clinical training.

As we thought about that analogy, we were struck by the fact that medical training (with internship) takes at least six or eight years altogether, including a deep clinical experience, while typical development programs average two years, with a light clinical experience. And yet decisions made by development professionals can affect hundreds of millions of lives – and literally make the difference between life and death.

So our Board enthusiastically voted to establish the Commission.

A member of our staff, Milena Novy-Marx, an international development economist, served on the Commission and kept us in touch with its deliberations.

Jeff and John assembled an all-star cast, scholars and practitioners from five continents representing fields from economics to climate change, public health and agronomy. Like Flexner before it, the Commission consulted broadly, holding consultations on five continents. Through these conversations, a consensus about the way forward took shape. This report reflects the best global thinking in the field. It is not a theoretical piece fashioned here. Its core principles were tested along the way through a global classroom in a course which the Commission offered to over 300 students in 11 countries. More broadly the Commission’s efforts have helped to galvanize a strong and growing global network of institutions committed to the recommendations we are announcing today.

Jeff and John will preview the Report’s central recommendations. We will then hear from several of the Commissioners, via video conference, regarding how the report’s recommendations impact their regions and institutions.

Announcement of MacArthur’s investment
Thank you to all of the Commissioners here in person and remotely for your passions, your vision and for concrete recommendations that will dramatically improve the way development professionals are trained.

The Commission’s diagnosis of what makes a good development professional resonates with MacArthur’s experience in the developing world. We know that most of the 500,000 women who die every year giving life can be saved through a package of interventions addressing such causes as postpartum hemorrhage or eclampsia. We know that biodiversity conservation depends on adaptation to climate change and that science can help us locate protected areas in resilient places. We know that massive human rights abuses can be spotted easily using satellite imaging from the sky and simple technology on the ground. And we know that poverty, population, health, conservation, human rights are all interconnected, requiring a sustained and comprehensive intervention.

We need development professionals who understand that, appreciate how science and technology can help, and have seen first hand the challenges of working in places of extreme poverty and strife.

The Commission has given us a blueprint for training a new generation of development professionals. It has mobilized a call for action. It should not – and I anticipate will not – gather dust on a shelf as so many Commission reports do.

It recommends establishing new Master’s programs at universities around the world. Students will address concrete development challenges through a rigorous case-based curriculum. Two summers of field training will complement the classroom work. Drawing on knowledge from across the natural, health, and social sciences and management, the courses will train students to recognize the complex causes of poverty and to address them in proven, practical ways.

So today, I announce that MacArthur is committing a further $15 million over the next three years to create 2-year Master’s Programs in Development Practice – or “MDP” programs – at up to12 universities worldwide.

Our hope is that this investment will encourage other universities to establish similar programs, that these programs will quickly become self-sustaining, and that they will set a new standard for development education. We hope that that the MDP will become as familiar and ubiquitous as the MBA.

The Earth Institute will begin its program in fall 2009, based in the School of International and Public Affairs. That program will serve as a model for other universities to build upon. The Earth Institute will also be home to a Global MDP Program Secretariat.

The Secretariat will administer an open source, online curriculum that will be accessible to all universities around the world. It will assist in running interactive courses such as the global classroom at other centers, bringing students from different countries together to tackle development challenges, and will be the engine for building a new field of development practice. Eventually the Secretariat will help design mid-career training programs for those already working in the field.

MacArthur looks forward to hearing from universities everywhere that are interested in introducing the new MDP curriculum. We will host an open competition for funding through an RFP process – details can be found on the websites of the Foundation or the Secretariat in the coming weeks, or you are welcome to contact us directly.

Proposals for the first round are due in March 2009, and decisions will be made by mid-June of 2009 for programs to start in the fall of 2010. A second round of proposals, for programs to start in the fall of 2011, is due in December 2009.

The Foundation will make a final selection with the advice and counsel of the International Advisory Board for the Secretariat. Perhaps two-thirds of the grants will be to universities in the developing world and we welcome partnerships among these universities and universities in the developed world.

The challenge of successful, sustainable development cannot wait for another generation to address. It is urgent, and it wears a human face. MacArthur believes that it is possible, practical, and imperative for us to make progress toward better health, greater justice, and more robust economic opportunity. We hope that this initiative will move us forward along that path. We believe that a new generation of well trained development professionals can make a difference.

Let me conclude by quoting the words of Kofi Annan in Lisbon last year:

We are all bound together as human beings. If we remain indifferent to the suffering of others, we are only depriving ourselves of our own humanity. We need to act together as humanity for humanity. And now is the time.

Thank you for joining us this morning, and for sharing our vision of a more just and secure world at peace, a world in which all people will have opportunity to achieve their fullest potential.

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