Last week Georgetown University celebrated the launch of an innovative new graduate program: Master of Arts in Global Human Development, beginning in 2012 with the first degrees to be awarded in 2014. The program aims to deepen the understanding of the challenges of development and provide students with tools and experience to address those challenges. As Carol Lancaster, Dean of Georgetown’s School of Foreign Service put it, “The establishment of this program recognizes the importance of effective international development to our shared future and the importance of training professionals for a life of innovation and leadership in a field that is rapidly changing itself.”
Dr. Steve Radelet, Chief Economist at USAID, delivered keynote remarks, placing this new academic prorgam in the broader context of the state of development around the world. He emphasized that, historically speaking, tremendous progress has taken place in low-income countries. In 1820, 85% of the world’s population lived on under $1 per day (in real terms) and the number of people in this category kept rising until 1981 up to 1.5 billion but has since dropped in almost half to 800 million. Notably, between 2005 and 2008 the number of people in poverty for the first time fell in every region of the world and the number of countries classified by the World Bank as low income dropped from 63 in 2000 to just 35 now.
Another momentous change in recent decades that Radelet emphasized has been the surge of democratization since the end of the Cold War: never before have so many low-income countries shifted from dictatorship to democracy. These changes created new opportunities for development and necessitate new ways of international cooperation. In particular, the following three aspects of today’s global reality are changing how we think about development:
- Democratization of the developing world means an opportunity to work in partnership with leaders who are more accountable to their people.
- Technology, such as the widespread reach of cell phones, presents an opportunity for innovation in key areas ranging from health to agriculture.
- The rise of private capital flows into developing countries – which increased sevenfold in the last 10 years – is an opportunity to leverage financial resources coming from investors, foundations, and remittances.
Steve Radelet concluded that even though we face serious global challenges such as climate change, demographic pressures, or risk of armed conflicts, we also have unprecedented opportunities to help advance development around the world because of the abovementioned factors. To fully take advantage of those opportunities, the efforts of donors and developing countries themselves must focus on delivering essential services such as education and health, creating job opportunities for sustainable livelihoods, and providing democratic channels through which local populations – and in particular young people – can gain a meaningful voice in the political process and hold their leaders accountable.
What does that mean for aspiring development professionals in Georgetown’s Global Human Development and similar programs? They need a mix of tools and on-the-ground experience to effectively work with local partners. And they need to be facilitators and synthesizers of that knowledge, always providing a range of options while ensuring local ownership of reforms. With its educational philosophy of cura personalis - educating the whole person – Georgetown University is well poised to help students dedicated to reducing global poverty achieve just that through a new multidisciplinary approach to international development.