Students encouraged to get out of classroom for hands-on training in rural development

International Fund for Agricultural Development grant supports training and research opportunities to Masters in Development Practice Students globally

Photo © Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos Pictures / Department for International Development

Photo © Abbie Trayler-Smith / Panos Pictures / Department for International Development

NEW YORK, February 4 – With the goal to cultivate a new generation of professionals in rural development, the Earth Institute at Columbia University announced today that it has been awarded a US $925,000 grant from the United Nations International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in support of a new joint venture designed to create fieldwork practicums and research opportunities for students globally. The initiative will help build the capacity of eligible students to compete for employment opportunities through hands-on training as well as to increase their understanding of the analytical and institutional knowledge required of IFAD-supported operations at the project and country level. The Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) Secretariat housed at the Earth Institute at Columbia University will oversee the implementation of the project.

Among the highlights of the new initiative, MDP students will receive funding to complete the required Field Practicum component of the MDP program at an IFAD-supported project. The MDP program emphasizes direct learning through participation in projects and programs in the field that contribute to solutions for real-world problems. It is expected that through this Field Practicum MDP students will be able to strengthen their interest and motivation to remain engaged in rural development; apply knowledge gained in the classroom in a real-world setting; develop technical skills relating to development activities; and gain an understanding of sustainable development that comes with in-depth research.

“We look forward to working with the MDP Secretariat and IFAD-supported projects,” said Professor Y. Mashalla, the Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at the University of Botswana, an MDP academic institution. “All of the proposed activities will entail a lot of hard work and funding. Hence, we are committed to working together to make this unique project successful.”

At any given year, more than 400 eligible student are enrolled in the MDP programs around the world. The overall mean student age is 25.8 years old. Female students typically outnumber male students, often representing two-thirds of the MDP programs. The large majority of MDP students have had years of practical experience in the field before tackling the rigors of the program. A large number of the students are from Asian countries, followed by South American and sub-Saharan African countries. Over the next three years at least 120 eligible MDP students will be selected to participate in this project. Priority will be given to financially disadvantaged students who are from the global south. As early as May 2016, MDP students will begin completing their Field Practicum at IFAD-supported projects.

At the heart of the project lies the match between IFAD projects’ demand for support in a variety of thematic areas and the supply in the form of students keen to apply their knowledge during their Field Practicum. An online platform will allow IFAD-supported projects and partners to list thematic areas they request support in. This demand will be displayed to the MDP students, who then can apply to specific projects with their research proposals. The MDP Secretariat, will lead the matching process, which is followed with pre-fieldwork discussion between the IFAD-supported project, the supervisor of the student and student to agree on deliverables and practicalities of the fieldwork.

To learn more about the application process, please go here .


IFAD invests in rural people, empowering them to reduce poverty, increase food security, improve nutrition and strengthen resilience. Since 1978, we have provided US$17.6 billion in grants and low-interest loans to projects that have reached about 459 million people. IFAD is an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency based in Rome – the UN’s food and agriculture hub.

The creation of the Master’s in Development Practice Program was a key recommendation of the International Commission on Education for Sustainable Development Practice, whose report was released in October 2008. The Global Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) is an innovative graduate degree program designed to training practitioners to understand and manage integrated approaches to development challenges.  Specifically, the degree will provide students with substantive knowledge required to analyze and diagnose multi-dimensional problems such as malnutrition, extreme poverty, climate change, and infectious disease control by integrating the core disciplines of health sciences, natural sciences, social sciences and management.  At the same time, the programs help develop practical skills through extended periods of field training to provide hands on, problem solving experience for students in a developing country. More information is available at

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