On the Ground

A new program at Emory is training the next generation of development leaders to face our toughest global challenges, from gender inequality to climate change.


Each summer, Emory sends Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) program students on fieldwork assignments around the world to tackle complex development issues—whether it’s implementing GBV laws in Rwanda, combating food insecurity in Ethiopia, or improving literacy in Bolivia.

What sets the MDP program apart from traditional development studies programs is its capacity to link the classroom to the field. “We train our students in the conceptual aspects of development so that they will understand the abstract policy dimensions and then also look at what happens as projects get implemented in the particular contexts where students are working,” says David Nugent, the program director and a professor of anthropology. “What does sitting here talking about this stuff in class or in the comfort of my office mean for doing real work on the ground in poor parts of Rwanda? It means nothing.”

This gap between classroom learning and on-the-ground work was one of the limitations of existing programs that the International Commission on Education in Sustainable Development Practice identified three years ago. The commission also found that traditional development training was “very siloed,” according to Nugent. “You could get really good training in economics, you could get really good training in public health, in human rights or policy. But it was really hard for people to talk and work across those boundaries. There was all this expertise and all these research results out there, but nobody could make sense of them in an integrated way. Working on the ground, it’s immediately clear that this is a crucial issue.”