Master in International Development - Study Plan

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United Nations System Staff College
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Driving sustainable development.

The Master in International Development is an innovative program that revolves around the 5 Ps of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development: people, planet, peace, prosperity and partnership.

The following key topics give students the tools to understand the mechanics of international development in today’s world. Students will gain the analytical, critical thinking and management skills they need to propel their careers into the future and drive positive global change, through a combination of independent research projects and classwork.

The program is structured around practical examples and case studies, with a unique week-long immersion experience in several international Organizations, giving students the opportunity to apply the theoretical knowledge they have acquired to real-world challenges.


The 5 P's from the United Nations and the 2030 agenda

Students will receive an introduction to the world of development policy, structured around the 5 Ps of the UN's 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda: People, Planet, Prosperity, Peace and Partnership. This will deepen their understanding of the need to drive sustainable, positive growth that respects the environment and local communities.

Human Rights and Social Inclusion

Students will discover how respect for human rights and social inclusion can lead to sustainable economic growth. They’ll use practical examples to evaluate the roles of gender, religion, language and regional identity in social inequality.

Development Economics

Students will use macro and microeconomic perspectives to understand the main factors at play in emerging development and economic growth challenges. They’ll learn to navigate the key debates regarding economic theory and to evaluate the roles of public policy, historical legacies, governing institutions and labor markets in economic development.

Political Economy of Climate Change

Students will gain an in-depth understanding of how public policy, economic progress and environmental protection can either work together or against each other. They’ll explore the rise of economic development initiatives that care for the environment while also being economically sustainable.

Governance and strong institutions

Students will analyze the complex interface between political governance and civil conflict, determining the importance of the historical and cultural context in how political conflicts arise and are resolved. They’ll address the role of democracy, civil society, ethnic diversity and political corruption in harmonious civil order.

Partnership and Multi-Stakeholder Engagement

Focusing on case studies, students will examine the legal, cultural and political challenges that affect cooperation between the public and private sectors. They’ll learn to identify and apply effective coalition-building methods to multi-stakeholder environments.

Policy Coherence: Externalities and Multipliers

Students will examine case studies of the virtuous and vicious cycles that derive from the ways in which different initiatives and environments interact with one another. They’ll then use this knowledge to practice designing policies that have a positive impact on all parties involved.

The next generation of international development professionals need strong analytical and management skills in order to lead teams and ensure that projects are positive, sustainable and efficient. Students will become familiar with data analysis, project management, impact assessment and risk analysis, and learn to apply this information when designing and implementing development projects.

Probability and Statistics

In order to rigorously compare and contrast case studies and analyze real-world data sets, students must master probability theory, statistical analysis, maximum likelihood and both linear and non-linear economic models.

Econometrics and Data Analytics

Students will tackle time series analysis and learn to communicate their results clearly, simply and effectively. By acquiring statistical programming skills in programs such as Python, R and Stata, they’ll gain the capacity to assess and predict how development initiatives can optimize their efficiency and productivity.

Results-Based Management

Students will learn to use project management methodology to effectively manage development projects in a variety of environments. This will teach them to successfully promote and lead positive change in public, private and non-governmental organizations.

Risk in International Development

This topic equips students with the required skills to lead international development projects in risky or uncertain contexts. They’ll learn to analyze risk management cycles in order to manage organizational, individual and country-wide risks, such as a changing political situation, economic, legal and security risks. This analysis will empower students to manage unforeseen circumstances, and provide strategic consulting to stakeholders.

A strong foundation in emotional intelligence and other soft skills will help students grow both personally and professionally, and teach them how to effectively lead teams in multicultural environments. By focusing on case studies, they’ll acquire practical management techniques and learn how to drive long-term positive change in communities.

Adaptive Leadership and Community Empowerment

Once they fully understand the roles of democracy, civil society, ethnic diversity and corruption in establishing civil order, students will learn to use game theory to analyze concrete examples of conflict resolution and develop negotiation strategies to effectively deal with unpredictable situations, including bluffs and cheap talk.

Negotiation and Political Acumen

The students will have a greater understanding of the cultural implications of negotiating with other cultures, demonstrating a higher degree of cultural intelligence. They will know how to adapt their negotiating skills to the international context and will have the practical tools to prepare and carry out successfully cross-cultural negotiations.

Track 1: Development Innovation & Emerging Technologies

This track trains students to operate at the intersection of development and the digital revolution. Today’s emerging technologies present enormous opportunities for development practitioners, and the use of data and technology by local governments and international organizations could drastically improve public services in the developing world.

Harnessing these technologies, however, comes with its own set of challenges, and potentially negative outcomes. This course will help students navigate these difficulties moving into the future.

Track 2: Governance & Social Inclusion

The Governance and Social Inclusion track will provide students with in-depth training on the design and implementation of governance systems to reduce ingrained social inequalities. As a result, they will gain a secure understanding of the complicated interface between governance and economic development.

These are crucial skills to ensure sustainable, durable development that rectifies inequalities—from gender to race, from age to ethnicity—rather than reinforcing them.

Track 3: Environmental Politics and Climate Action

This track is about preparing students to face the ecological challenges that will characterize development work in the 21st century. Development projects and policies which do not prioritize conservation and ecological adaptation are doomed to failure.

For this reason, students will learn how to combine sustainable development with ecological values and carry out strategic planning that takes ecological risks and realities into account.

Track 4: Finance, Trade, and Business for Sustainable Development

With the Finance, Trade and Economics for Sustainable Development track, students will gain the expertise necessary to operate in the complex, ever-changing world of global economics.

This is especially relevant as the sustainable finance movement continues to gain global momentum. New forms of international trade and finance, combined with context-appropriate fiscal, monetary, and social policy, may hold the key to unlocking the potential of the world's developing economies.

In the final part of the course, each student will have the opportunity to take a more independent approach to their educational journey. They’ll carry out an in-depth research project on a subject of their choosing, gaining valuable skills that will prove useful later on in their career. This final project can take the form of either a traditional master’s thesis or a capstone consulting project.

Master’s Thesis

The master’s thesis presents an opportunity for students to gain true expertise in a certain aspect of international development. Each student is allocated an academic tutor, who supervises them and guides them through the challenges of multidisciplinary research. This gives them the chance to put the critical thinking skills they’ve learned over the course of the program to the test.

Capstone Consulting Project

Students who take on the capstone consulting project are placed with an international organization for the final two terms of the program. Each student is supervised by a coordinator from the host company, who regularly monitors them as they carry out risk assessment and impact reports, putting their theoretical knowledge into practice.

Students will have the opportunity to take part in a number of career development workshops over the course of the program, in order to help them develop their personal brand, find a career that encompasses their interests and allow them to use the skills they’ve gained at IE.

Introduction to Career Services

How to improve your CV and Cover Letter

How to use LinkedIn

Personal Branding

Interview Preparation and Salary Negotiation

Job Hunting Workshop


For their final project, students of the Master in International Development can choose between an individual, research-oriented thesis or a practical team-based Capstone Consulting Project. Underneath you can find this year´s capstone partners for the Master in International Development.
  • United Nations System Staff College logo
  • unwto-logo
  • logo_fundacion-recover-hospitales-para-africa
  • guggenheim
  • IE-Africa-Center
  • puentes-global-logo-capstone-projects
  • logo-ashoka
  • IE-Center-for-the-Governance-of-Change
  • Ayuda en Acción logo
  • Vizzuality logo
  • Club de Madrid logo
  • UNDP logo
  • Unesco logo
  • IE University Sustainability logo
  • Inter-American Court of Human Rights logo


Two types of students can undertake a Master in International Development:

Recent Graduates

Graduates who have just finished their undergraduate studies in political science, international relations, economics, social sciences or an equivalent area of study. This program is designed for someone who has an interest in entering the professional world of international development and would like to pursue a master’s degree in order to complement or strengthen their undergraduate education.

Young Professionals

Professionals who are already employed or have practical experience in the development field, who are ready to build upon their knowledge and capabilities to meet the challenges of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. These individuals would like to assume higher responsibilities, enhance the way they work and generate greater impact at their company or organization.

Gain valuable experience and put theory into practice!

As part of the Master in International Development, you’ll have the option of taking part in the H.E.A.T program, a unique week-long outdoor activity that gives you the knowledge and techniques needed to manage dangerous situations. Find out how you can learn and apply practical skills in real-world challenges.

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