MPA-DP: Applying the SIPA Toolkit Abroad

By now, I’m sure you’ve read a little about the Summer Field Placement and/or internship requirement for MPA-DP students. So today, I’m sharing the second post in a guest series by current student Amanda Grossi, MPA-DP 2016, in which she reflects on her summer in Nairobi, Kenya.

Summer. For many students, the word means freedom from the grips of classroom lectures and taxing homework problems, a Houdini-like escape from the walls of Columbia’s libraries that seem to ensnare even the cleverest of students. For students in Columbia University’s MPA in Development Practice program, the word signals an explosion of fiery and impassioned development practitioners whose fallout scatters all over the globe, touching those with whom they work and leaving lasting marks as they carry out their summer internships. In doing so, students have the opportunity to unpack the SIPA toolkit from their first year on campus and take inventory of tools they need to acquire during their upcoming second year.

This summer, I had the honor of working in Nairobi, Kenya as a Policy Innovation Fellow at the headquarters of the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), which is one of the 15 agricultural research centers that makes up the Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) consortium aimed at achieving a food secure future. In a nutshell, my tasks were to complete a knowledge needs assessment of the outreach partners of the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry (FTA), as well as to distill the best practices of fellowship policies of FTA research centers. As I navigated these tasks, I looked into my own toolkit, both given and earned through SIPA—the classes, conversations, skills, technologies and relationships that defined my first year.

[Photo courtesy of Amanda Grossi | Amanda Grossi and her supervisor and office-mate in the Capacity Development Unit, Imelda, exploring the Karura Forest just behind the World Agroforestry Center campus during lunch break.]
[Photo courtesy of Amanda Grossi | Amanda Grossi and her supervisor and office-mate in the Capacity Development Unit, Imelda, exploring the Karura Forest just behind the World Agroforestry Center campus during lunch break.]

While the components of each student’s toolkit will differ, what I can say about mine is this. It was not the tools per se this summer that I found most valuable, but rather the box. Yes, I used the data analysis skills for dissecting information, the succinct and detailed writing skills SIPA has forced me to refine for compiling my research, and the visual aid tools to which I was exposed for communicating the ideas emerging forthwith. But all of these pale in comparison to the foundation that laid the success of my internship this summer, and that is speaking the language of development and science in conjunction with the ability to critically analyze.

In conducting my interviews of the outreach partners for the needs assessment—whether it was an organization describing payment for ecosystem services, the difficulties of impact evaluations, or the details of carbon sequestration or mitigation strategies—I hardly think I would have truly appreciated and understood the context of these conversations if I did not understand the buzz words and the meaning behind them imparted to me through SIPA’s classes and atmosphere.

And so, while the knowledge and skills imparted to me through SIPA are invaluable as they were for many students this summer and will be for students of future summers, internalizing the language of the development landscape and knowing how, when, and why to use the knowledge and skills in our toolboxes are all part of the fabric of SIPA life that has been woven into me as a student and professional in my field.

[Photo courtesy of Amanda Grossi | Amanda Grossi explains her research findings regarding the knowledge needs assessment of the outreach partners of the CGIAR program on Forests, Trees, and Agroforestry.]
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