Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is a Master’s in Development Practice degree?

The Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) is a two-year degree providing graduate-level students with the skills and knowledge required to better identify and address the global challenges of sustainable development, such as poverty, population, health, conservation, climate change, and human rights. The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation committed $16 million to create MDP programs at 20 universities worldwide. The MDP degree has been been established, self-funded, at several additional universities.

2. Why did the MacArthur Foundation create the Master’s in Development Practice degree?

In 2007 the MacArthur-supported International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, found that worldwide, many people working in the field of development are not sufficiently prepared to tackle the challenges they face. The creation of MDP programs is an acknowledgment that addressing extreme poverty and sustainable development throughout the world requires expert knowledge and an interdisciplinary approach.

3. Why create a new degree, and how is it different from other programs in sustainable development?

Currently the bulk of development leaders are trained in narrow fields, usually in the social sciences, such as economics. By broadening their training and providing them with a knowledge base including health sciences, natural sciences, social sciences, and management, and by taking an integrated, holistic approach to finding solutions to development challenges, they will be able to more effectively understand and address the root causes of extreme poverty and the challenges of sustainable development.

4. What type of student pursues this degree?

A wide range of early and mid-career development professionals are pursuing the degree, including officials with inter-governmental organizations, developed and developing-country ministries, aid agencies, non-governmental organizations, academic institutions, and the private sector. The broad array of MDP programs, worldwide, provide these individuals with training beyond the typical classroom study of economics and management found in most development studies programs.

5. How long has it taken to get these programs up and running?

The first MDP program, at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA), conferred degrees to the first cohort in May of 2011. As of September 2012, twenty-three programs have admitted students—with graduates to finish within two years of starting.

6. What are the qualifications needed for being accepted into the Global Network of MDP programs?

The universities that have been accepted to offer the MDP were selected for a number of reasons, including support from top university leadership and the quality of faculty across four core competencies: natural sciences, health sciences, social sciences and management. They also were chosen because of the strength of their infrastructure and academic programs; their ability to serve as a regional hub; the geographic representation among students; and a timeline and business plan for financial sustainability.

7. Why did the MacArthur Foundation select Columbia as the first program and what role does Columbia play in the Global network of MDP programs?

John W. McArthur, then-CEO of Millennium Promise, and Jeffrey D. Sachs, the director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University, were instrumental in creating the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, which the MacArthur Foundation supported. The Commission provided the insights and recommendations that ultimately led to the development of the MDP degree. As an outgrowth of that preliminary work, Columbia University’s Earth Institute, in cooperation with the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia, created the first MDP program that launched in the fall of 2009. In addition, MacArthur established a Global Master’s in Development Practice Secretariat based at Columbia. The Secretariat helps manage the development of the MDP programs, is developing an open-source repository for the MDP curriculum and other teaching materials, and offers an online, 14-week global classroom on sustainable development for students in the worldwide network. The Secretariat also manages the MDP association of universities; maintains and updates its Web site; organizes and facilitates its annual Summit; and initiates additional programs for MDP faculty, students, and graduates, including cooperative workshops, task forces, curricular material design, and networking to help graduates find meaningful employment.

8. How do I find out more about the MPD programs throughout the network?

To learn more about the Master’s in Development Practice programs offered at the more than 22 universities in 16 countries, on six continents, click here.

9. Beyond the number of students graduating, how will success of the program be determined?

By September 2012, close to 400 students had enrolled in programs worldwide. Beyond that, in the future we hope to see over the MDP become an internationally recognized degree, much like a Master's in Business Administration (MBA).  Quality assurance processes are being put into place for the entire Association.

10. How competitive were the original seed money grants?

The grants were very competitive. There was widespread global interest in establishing local MDP programs; the MacArthur Foundation received 140 letters of interest the first year the request for proposal was put out, and more than 100 the second year. Ultimately, over 250 universities in North America, Africa, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Latin America submitted proposals. The quality and diversity of the proposals indicated strong interest in expanding development studies around the world.

11. How did this grant fit into the rest of MacArthur’s work?

This program is the natural outgrowth of the MacArthur Foundation’s commitment to building a more just, verdant and peaceful world. MacArthur is an international foundation with offices in the United States and four other countries - and works in 60 countries. The challenges of sustainable development touch every aspect of the Foundation’s work to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, support reproductive health, and make cities better places to live.

12. What do these grants mean for the regions where the universities with MDP programs are located?

The grants give recognition to some of the very fine universities across the globe that have the infrastructure, interest, and ability to strengthen their expertise as world leaders in the future of development. Every one of the universities that was selected to establish an MDP program was well positioned to create a program that attracts strong regional, national and international support in terms of students and faculty. These universities are developing innovative, inter-disciplinary programs that will become models for other institutions of higher learning to emulate.

We understand that you may have questions that are not addressed by the FAQs. If you have further or additional questions, please let us know at the Global Master’s in Development Practice Secretariat: