Levy Teaches Community Empowerment to New UN Master’s Program in Madrid

Faculty; Policy; Public Health; Social Work

Making sure community concerns and participation are top of mind was the aim of a course taught by Jessica Levy to the inaugural class of the Master in International Development program, a partnership between the UN System Staff College and IE University in Madrid.

Levy, associate professor of practice at the Brown School, developed the week-long course with Brian Burke, assistant professor at Appalachian State University. It was taught in November 2019, the inaugural year for the master’s program, which focuses on sustainable development to equip graduates to be at the vanguard of change at the UN or elsewhere.

“It was essential to include community empowerment during this first semester of the program. Students need to have community concerns and values front and center as they work through other courses on development economics, the political economy of climate change, and program management,” Levy said.

The 39 students in the program come from 18 countries. Many already have worked at the United Nations or other development organizations, and all plan to pursue development in the private or public sector after graduation.

“We developed this course using simulations and case studies so students could really feel the changing dynamics and challenges of community work,” Levy said. By the last two days, students were applying their new skills to actual development projects launched by the World Bank, the United Nations, and the Minga Foundation. Levy helped found the Minga Foundation, a U.S.-based nonprofit that works in long-term partnership with grassroots organizations pursuing health, gender equity, holistic well-being, and social change.

Levy said it was a challenge to fit all the material in to a one-week intensive graduate course, but the students responded well and many would not have been exposed to it otherwise. As one student said at the end of the week, “We need to be talking more about these issues. This class has given me a new lens to think about power and inequality as a central part of well-being.”