The Commission


January 2008


The interwoven challenges of sustainable development – including extreme poverty, disease, and ecosystem vulnerability – can be solved only by connecting insights from a range of disciplines. Progress requires that the contributions of social, health, earth, and engineering sciences be integrated and translated into practical and well-managed policies and programs. Unfortunately, multi-disciplinary training and problem-solving remain rare, with very few practical connections across communities of expertise, particularly between natural sciences and social sciences. Individual disciplines tend to value inward-looking specialization rather than outward-looking problem-solving, rendering it rare for individual organizations or professionals to have the background required to conduct cross-disciplinary policy management or problem-solving.

In an effort to bolster the leadership and training of development practitioners, the Earth Institute is convening a group of eminent scholars and practitioners from a variety of disciplines in a year-long Commission on Education for International Development Professionals. Launched in early 2007 and supported by the MacArthur Foundation, the Commission aims to identify practical initiatives to support an emerging field of cross-disciplinary “development practice.”

Emerging Findings and Recommendations

The Commission recommends that new educational programs are needed to forge links across disciplines, with particular emphasis on bridging the natural and social sciences. A new type of generalist practitioner is required, one who understands the complex interactions among fields and is able to coordinate and implement effectively among the insights offered by subject-specific specialists. Moreover, the rapid pace of scientific advancement and the requirements for skill upgrading through life-long learning underscore the need for a “lifecycle” approach to education. The Commission is therefore considering an integrated package of recommendations, including:

  1. New graduate programs for generalist development professionals, tentatively named “Masters in Development Practice” (MDP). Drawing upon the key disciplines of natural science, social science and management, the Commission has identified a basic set of core competencies required for sustainable development problem solving, grouped under two headings: (1) substantive knowledge for problem solving; and (2) management and leadership skills for implementation. The MDP should teach these skills and include intensive field training programs to foster practical, cross-disciplinary competencies, providing a holistic preparation for future practitioners.
  2. Mid-career and executive education programs to support cross-disciplinary learning at all stages of individuals’ careers. Drawing from the core MDP curriculum, academic institutions should offer cross-disciplinary mid-career degrees or certification programs. Such programs should also be made available for generalist practitioners who wish to demonstrate proficiency in substantive and functional areas of competence pertinent to sustainable development, such as malaria control or ecosystem management.
  3. Organization-based protocols to foster ongoing professional development and ensure minimum cross-disciplinary competencies. The Commission has identified the need for certification protocols that staff can pursue as they prepare for senior positions with multi-sectoral responsibilities. For example, a senior government planning official or country director for a multi-lateral or bi-lateral development organization requires a minimum degree of MDP-type expertise in order to manage her or his country programs. Certification systems should be introduced and linked to relevant competency-based criteria for promotion to ensure professionals have an appropriate minimum level of knowledge and skills.

Launch of Recommendations

The Commission has adopted a “real-time” approach to supporting the launch of academic initiatives among interested institutions. This semester, the Commission has coordinated a “global classroom” among twelve universities around the world, serving as a microcosm of the interactive, cross-disciplinary and cross-cultural curriculum being proposed by the Commission. The Commission’s final report is scheduled for presentation in mid 2008, with a formal launch and announcement of follow-up slated for June 2008.

Commission Structure

Commission members (see below) participate in their personal capacity and are drawn from the social sciences, health sciences, physical sciences, academic administration, international organizations, private philanthropy and non-profit organizations. The Commission is co-chaired by John McArthur and Jeffrey Sachs and managed by Katie Murphy, all based at the Earth Institute, working in close collaboration with the leadership of the MacArthur Foundation.

Commission Membership (as of January 2008)

John DeGioiaPresident, Georgetown University
Helene GaylePresident & CEO, CARE
Lawrence Haddad* Director, Institute of Development Studies, Sussex
Jim Kim François-Xavier Bagnoud Professor of Health and Human Rights, Harvard School of Public Health
Jeffrey Koplan* Vice President for Academic Health Affairs, Woodruff Health Sciences Center, Emory University
Freddie Kwesiga* Division Manager, Agriculture and Agro-industries Department, African Development Bank
Lee Yee-Cheong President, ASEAN Academy of Engineering and Technology
Livingstone Luboobi Vice-Chancellor, Makerere University
Mohamedbhai President, of the International Association of Universities
John McArthur** Associate Director, CGSD, Earth Institute at Columbia University
Milena Novy-Marx Program Officer, MacArthur Foundation
RK Pachauri* Chairman, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
Alice Pell Director, Cornell Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development
Jeffrey Sachs** Director, Earth Institute at Columbia University
Paul Samson Director General, Policy Analysis and Development, Canadian Development Agency (CIDA)
Laurence Tubiana Director, Institute of Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI)
Ann Veneman Executive Director, UNICEF
Virgilio Viana* State Secretary for the Environment, Amazonas, Brazil
Xiao Geng* Director, Brookings-Tsinghua Center, Tsinghua University
Ernesto Zedillo Director, Yale Center for the Study of Globalization
* Denotes Regional Coordinator ** Denotes Co-chair