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Educating global leaders for sustainability at Berkeley

David Zilberman, professor, agriculture and resource economics | May 8, 2010

Last week the MacArthur Foundation announced that UC Berkeley will receive a grant to establish a Master’s in Development Practice (MDP), or as it was referred to, a Master’s in Sustainability Studies. This grant is both a wish come true and the beginning of a new challenge.

I appreciate development. I grew up in Israel when it was a “developing country.” My father was chopping wood once a week so we could take a warm shower. We got our first radio when I was 10, but by the time I was 22 I was working in a very sophisticated computer company. During this period the country made a quantum leap and to me it was associated with the emergence of new generations of competent managers and experts, mostly locally trained by teachers who studied abroad (that’s where I first learned about Berkeley). I moved to Berkeley to do my Ph.D. in agricultural economics and I was assigned to a project on dairy waste. Studying cow manure wasn’t my dream when I applied to Berkeley, but actually it was my golden opportunity. I didn’t know it at the time, but research in animal waste is really “multi-disciplinary.” You need to know about cows and milk production, you need to understand waste generation and disposal, as well as water and hydrology, and you need to know the economics of agriculture and the complexity of environmental policy. I was able to write some papers that landed me a job at UC Berkeley and unintentionally I became an expert on economics, the environment, and agriculture.

Being a Ph.D. student Berkeley taught me much more than the intricacies of cow waste. In most people’s mind (including mine, since my official introduction to Berkeley was through The Graduate) Berkeley is about protests and hippies. But, what I realized was that beyond the protests and fun we had a university that emphasized rigor and diversity. Our professors were tough and uncompromising in their desire to be the best. But, most of my learning was from other students from all over the world. When I compared my experience with people who were educated elsewhere, I felt fortunate. I also felt that the world would be a better place if more people will be exposed to intellectual chaos and creativity that we have here. When I was appointed to run my college’s (CNR) Center for Sustainable Resource Development one of my priorities was to establish a training for environmental leaders to provide many with the flavor of Berkeley and to establish a network of virtual alumni. I was fortunate that one day an incredible benefactor, Dick Beahrs, provided us with the initial contribution to establish a summer program, the Environmental Leadership Program (ELP) that I have been co-directing with Robin Marsh for the past 10 years.

The program has already more than 300 alumni from all over and it continues to grow and evolve. The participants were much more fantastic than I could have dreamed and we really learned a lot about what we can contribute. Future leaders need management skills that incorporate basic science with the practical reality of development, society, and the economy, which will lead to effective action. They appreciate being connected and being able to interact with collaborators all over the world. We are now living in a world where globalization is a personal experience and we depend upon mechanisms that connects the dots. As the program grew we realized its limitation. What was really needed is scaling up – a real professional master’s program that will combine the management training of an MBA with emphasis on environmental and development issues and will mix learning in the classroom and training in the field. During the last 10 years Berkeley established many other centers and activities that were geared towards solving problems of development and the environment.* When the MacArthur Foundation put a request for proposal for universities to develop a Master’s in Development Practice, we were ready to go.

Our proposal is for a campus-wide program centered in CNR. We will have about 50 students that will take two years of classes and two stints of about four months of internship in the field (or international organization). The classes will include training in environmental and development economics, decision theory, project management, basics in science and public health and will emphasize a lot of interaction between the students with a wide network of experts and activists that frequent Berkeley. The Berkeley program will be part of an emerging network of at least 20 universities that will have similar programs of Master’s in Development Practice all over the world and I expect that our program will be central in setting much of the direction of this emerging field. The world needs competent well-trained leaders that are driven by ambition and desire to solve environmental and complex societal problems globally, while at the same time are pragmatic and rigorous. The MDP will strive to help such leaders to emerge and grow. The diversity, excellence, and passion of Berkeley make it uniquely situated to house this effort.

* For example, the Berkeley Institute for the Environment, the Energy Biosciences Institute, Center of Evaluation for Global Action, the Claussen Center for International Business and Policy, the Blum Center for Developing Economies, and the program on Global Health and the Environment to name a few.

Comments to “Educating global leaders for sustainability at Berkeley

  1. All the best for the Masters Program in Sustainable Development. Hope to get further news about this program, very soon. Congratulations to you and Robin.

  2. It’s a big leap forward towards sustainable development. Dedication and commitment of ELP family at Berkeley has eventually bore fruits. Congratulations to David, Robin and all others in ELP Berkeley.

  3. All the best for the new Masters Program in Sustainable Development. Hope to get further news about this program, very soon. Congratulations to you and Robin.

  4. David, Robin and ELP Team: What a wonderful news! Congratulations and thank you for this superb achievement. Aren’t you living a dream? UCB & CNR look into the days ahead, standing tall, high and bright to reward the world with leaders it deserves to solve her problems. The MSc program could not have come at a better time. I look forward to hearing more on this initiative.

    Wams, ELP 2005, Nairobi, Kenya).

  5. This is wonderful news. Congratulations David, Robin and team for the success leap with MDP. Very timely for the ELP -10th anniversary celebrations.

  6. David, Congratulations! Well said. I look forward to seeing this program grow under your leadership. Kathryn

  7. Fantastic news, David, congratulations! I still have such fond memories of my two weeks at UC Berkeley for the Beahrs ELP. A full two years Masters Programme would have been a dream!

  8. David, I would still very much like to have an answer to the question in my
    May 09, 2010, 10:49 am post:

    Can anyone at Berkeley find any of the “Special Report on Climate Change” papers on the Internet that were originally published in the September/October 2006 “Global Warning” issue of CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE.

    Their extremely important work dedicated to saving the Earth from Global Warming was produced by passionate, committed, brilliant UC professors and students and they do not deserve to be ignored by the Powers That Be as if they had been banned by Berkeley, especially after celebrating the 40th anniversary of Earth Day.

  9. This is a wonderful news David.
    All the best for the new Masters Program in Sustainable Development. Hope to get further news about this program, very soon. Congratulations to you and Robin.

  10. David, relative to global leaders sustainability at Berkeley, can anyone at Berkeley find the following on the Internet?:

    The September/October 2006 “Global Warning” issue of CALIFORNIA MAGAZINE had an extremely valuable Special Report on Climate Change produced by Roger Cohn, Sandy Tolan and Orville Schell who were at the Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism at the time, and the stories are:

    Extreme science by Michael Zielenziger
    Jay Keasling’s synthetic solutions by Erik Vance
    Plug and go: new hybrids by Daniel Kammen (surprise!) and Jim Williams
    Remarks from the China-U.S. Climate Change Forum
    Global warning: Map
    Global warning reports
    Kilimanjaro by Kate Cheney Davidson
    Churchill, Canada by John Mooallem and Nick Miroff
    Bangladesh by Emilie Raguso and Sandhya Somashekhar
    Tanganyika by Jori Lewis
    Tuvalu by Alexandra Berzon
    Flower power: a profile of John Harte by Peter Alsop
    California at risk: Map by the Geographic Information Science Center
    China’s sorrow by Orville Schell
    The blackest market by WuNan
    The unforbidden city by Harrison Fraker
    Can we adapt in time? By Sandy Tolan

    The issue won the 2007 Best Politics and Social Issues/Consumer Magazine, Western Publishing Association annual awards (aka the Maggies) for “Global Warning” issue (September/October 2006).

  11. Being a geographer, I have always been puzzled by fields that were NOT multidisciplinary, and this MDP makes sense on all levels. Congratulations, and I’m looking forward to being involved with this innovative new program!

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