Working at the United Nations gives one a critical perspective on the international system. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic overran the globe, Paul Winters witnessed how health could be affected by a range of factors—from climate change to wealth inequality and from agriculture to nutrition. This complexity and interconnectivity of today’s global system creates challenges to achieving global objectives, he says, but it also offers new opportunities for graduates of international affairs.
“Nearly every aspect of the global development field now integrates technology and data in some way,” Winters says. Now, with an increased availability of data and a focus on gathering and using that information, students who can interpret, visualize, and communicate complex data will be more competitive in the field of international affairs. “The demand for these skills is greater than the number of professionals who have them,” he says.
The highest-priority skill graduates need is the ability to write on complex issues in a short, concise, and yet engaging manner.
Winters recently left his position at the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development to join the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs, where he is the Keough-Hesburgh Professor of Global Affairs and director of the school’s sustainable development concentration in the Master of Global Affairs program.
Educators must respond to several current trends in international development, Winters says. “The highest-priority skill graduates need is the ability to write on complex issues in a short, concise, and yet engaging manner,” he says. “Even with the overwhelming issues facing the world, everyone wants their content to be distilled down to brief or a tweet—something that can be posted on social media or published in policy documents that are no more than five pages.”
The second-greatest need is the ability to visualize and interpret data. “Because so much of the work in international development and in humanitarian interventions is project-based, there is a need to be able to monitor and assess the impact of a project,” Winters says.
To help students be competitive in international affairs, the Keough School provides a global curriculum for the 21st century. This includes courses on quantitative analysis, visualizing data, Information Communications Technology for Development (ICT4D), and policy writing. The school also hosts skills-based policy labs where students get intensive, hands-on experience in topics such as big data, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
To apply these skills in real time, the school’s Integration Lab partners students with global organizations to solve real-world problems. In doing so, students develop sought-after “soft skills,” such as leadership, design thinking, and problem solving.
“All the ingredients are there: every student gets practical experience and connectedness to the realities of the world.”
A version of this story was originally published at fpguide.foreignpolicy.com.