Framing Remarks by Jonathan Fanton, First Meeting of the International Commission on Training for Development Policy and Practice
March 23, 2007 | Speech | Master's in Development Practice

Let me begin by thanking you for joining the International Commission on Training for Development Policy and Practice.  It is an important topic and this distinguished group has just the right mix of backgrounds and experience to produce a report that we hope might have the transforming impact on development training that the Flexner Report had on medical education a century ago.

MacArthur is the sole funder of the Commission and is grateful to Jeff Sachs and John MacArthur for organizing, indeed for suggesting the idea in the first place.  Jeff thought it might be useful for me to give some background on how we got here.

The MacArthur endowment has enjoyed spectacular growth over the last three years, up 16.8% annually to over $6 billion.  With that increase comes a higher grant budget.  While most of the additional money will be invested in our current work, the Trustees reserved a portion for new projects.  We believe a foundation is at its best when it is exposed to a continuous flow of new ideas, some of them only dimly perceived, reflecting trends or inventions that will have major significance in the future.  Others could well be sharply different perspectives on well-known issues.  Most would have in common a higher level of speculative risk than our established work.

We have in mind a continual process through which we invite a couple hundred smart and imaginative people – some of them MacArthur Fellows – to be in communication with us when the spirit moves.

Our first round brought forty-five responses – and almost 100 topics.  One letter that caught the Trustees eye came from John McArthur.  It said, in part, “[u]nfortunately, most development professionals understand only a small piece of the development picture and there are no institutions in place to provide integrated training across core substantive areas.”

The Board/Staff Committee on New Ideas selected the Development Studies issue as one of five to pursue.

How to think about training for development professionals is a topic that resonates with some of the Foundation's earlier work on economic governance and development.  In an earlier initiative that made a small number of grants, MacArthur provided support for research and policy on how some of the world’s poorest countries could better reap the benefits of globalization—and how rich countries could help them do so.

And while development per se is not a direct MacArthur program, it is the context for all our international work.  It is very much on my mind having started this week in Nigeria visiting rural medical centers.  We are active in sixty countries in conservation, population, human rights, migration and mobility.  Progress in any of these areas is advanced or retarded by sensible development policies and practices.

We were attracted to the idea of strengthening the training of development professionals, especially bringing science, engineering and management into the mix.  The prospect of a deep clinical experience in the developing world as an integral part of the training seemed useful.

So in conversations with Jeff and John we decided to undertake a scan of existing programs, consult with academic leaders and practitioners, and, if there were support for the idea, create a Commission to recommend models for strengthening the training of development professionals.

As I mentioned a moment ago, an inspiration and possible model for this exercise is the Flexner Report, which revolutionized US medical training when it came out in 1910.  When the Carnegie Foundation commissioned Abraham Flexner to write his report, many American medical schools were small trade schools unaffiliated with a college or university. They were run to make a profit. A degree was typically awarded after only two years of study. Laboratory work and hands-on experience were not necessarily required—clinical training was often not part of the picture. 

Flexner’s recommendations led to requirements for collegiate study in basic sciences prior to medical school, and to a four-year medical degree: two years of academic course work followed by two years of clinical training. It also led to the incorporation of medical schools into universities, and regulation of medical schools by state licensing boards based on standards set by the American Medical Association.

Now, international development is not medicine--there are clearly important differences.  In development, the goals are arguably more varied and diffuse. The field of development is not governed by national associations, and one cannot be sued for making a mistake that costs lives.  Yet in many ways, the stakes are much higher. A single individual can make a decision that affects millions. 

How does the latest knowledge in a variety of key fields inform the training of development professionals – for national ministers and their staff in developing countries; for UN, World Bank and IMF personnel; for the staff of NGOs?  In order to get a better grip on the current landscape for training in international development, we commissioned a modest scan by Daniel Morrow of existing programs around the world, which you received as background reading for today’s meeting.

The report examined a sample of 20 masters’ programs in development worldwide. This was not a comprehensive study but a review of select prominent programs. 

The report found that the vast majority of leading Master’s programs in development focus on the social sciences, with economics and policy analysis the staples.  Some of these programs offer electives in health, environment or agriculture, but these are focused on policy (as opposed to hard science). 

Only a small handful included any training in core aspects of the health and physical sciences pertaining to economic development, and even this training leaned more towards policy than science. While many require internships, they do not require the equivalent of clinical training which brings deep immersion in the challenge of working in the developing world.

Today is really the start of a conversation and process of investigation that are now in your hands—with no foregone conclusions in place.  Together, you will consider whether there is indeed a need to create a new curriculum to improve the training of international development professionals in light of twenty-first century challenges posed by persistent poverty, but also the opportunities presented by new technologies.  And if so, what principles would inform the construction of the curriculum, how would its content be different from current practice, who should be consulted, how can a broad consensus be created so the recommendations can find their way into practice at leading universities.  A very inclusive process was the genius of the Flexner Report.

MacArthur is fully committed to helping you with an inclusive process that yields a report that will make a difference.  We very much hope your work will reach beyond universities in the developed world and make recommendations about reforming or creating programs in universities in places like Nigeria.  MacArthur is part of the Partnership for African Higher Education working with universities in ten countries.  Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller, Hewlett and Mellon are with us, so there is a vehicle to take your findings to scale.

Milena Novy-Marx will represent the Foundation as a Commission member, but I want to stay in touch.  As you engage in consultations and develop your recommendations, please feel free to draw on us for further assistance including additional funds if needed.   And please be clear that our minds are open: we seek your candor and your expertise.  We have no set agenda.  As the first of several discussions, this meeting should put some ideas on the table, allow you to get to know each other a bit, and begin to set a roadmap for the Commission’s work over the following year.   I thank you for allowing me to sit in, and if I may, I will come by from time to time because this topic is of great personal interest to me.

Thank you.

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