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About Development Practice


We are not spectators of development. We are participants. We learn, we reflect and we act to bring about positive change.”

Prof. Jeff Sachs on the MPA-DP Program


The MPA in Development Practice (MPA-DP) trains practitioners to design, implement, and manage integrated approaches to sustainable development. Drawing on the extraordinary educational and research facilities of Columbia University, the MPA-DP emphasizes practical knowledge, skills, and opportunities in the field.

The MPA-DP curriculum framework is based on a series of competencies, which are achieved through the learning of core knowledge and the practice of key skills. In addition to core coursework, students develop competencies through participation in DP-lab (a series of skills clinics), field workshops, special events, seminars and the 3-month Summer Field Placement Program.

Core skills and competencies of a Development Practitioner

The core curriculum provides students with a foundational background in research and methods of development and an integrated knowledge of food systems, public health, business and economics, ecology, infrastructure, and environmental sustainability. All coursework includes skills training and client-facing group projects focused on equipping students with the management, communications, technological, quantitative and analytical skills needed to work fluidly across the disciplines.

Graduates of the MPA-DP degree will possess the the knowledge and skills needed to demonstrate competency in these core areas:

  • Problem Appraisal
  • Program Design
  • Implementation and Management
  • Monitoring and Evaluation
  • Technology use and integration
  • Communications
  • Capacity Building
  • Cultural and Interpersonal Interaction

Please click here for a full list of skills MPA-DP students can learn and strengthen while at Columbia University.

See how these skills are are delivered in our Development Practice Labs (DP-lab), a key part of the MPA-DP cross-disciplinary curriculum:



A New Approach to Development Education

The creation of the MPA-DP was one of the core recommendations of the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. Co-chaired by Jeffrey D. Sachs, Director of The Earth Institute at Columbia University, and John McArthur, former Executive Director of Millennium Promise, the Commission comprised 20 top thinkers in the field of sustainable development, including the CEO of CARE, the then Executive Director of UNICEF, and a former president of Mexico. This expert commission concluded that there is significant and growing demand for skilled individuals trained in a set of cross-disciplinary competencies that prepares them to address the increasingly complex challenges of development. 


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