How this organization supported staff development through minimasters

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Having gained popularity in the past few years, minimasters programs are now offered by many top tier institutions and provide more accessible and affordable pathways to university credits and career progress. Yet these online programs are still priced out of reach for many individuals. On top of that, remote and solitary learning in addition to a full-time job can be challenging for those already in the workforce.

To make these programs more accessible, Chemonics has now incorporated minimasters programs into some of its staff training and development. For staff enrolled in this course, fees and a support network are two things they don’t have to worry about.

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In April this year, almost 100 Chemonics staff graduated from a MiniMasters in Global Supply Chain Management, which was funded through the organization's corporate training fund and delivered through a partnership with Arizona State University — which has an abundance of research and resources in the area.

This partnership was cemented by Chemonics’ prior internal conversations about how the organization could best provide high-level professional development to its global staff, explained Jamey Butcher, executive vice president at Chemonics. A minimasters was then chosen as the best approach to share these resources and deliver high-level professional development to its large staff of supply chain professionals.

Of the staff who graduated earlier this year, 80% achieved an A or B grade, Butcher continued, which indicates that the program has been a wide success. This is in part because the course was designed to fulfill four criteria: affordability, accessibility, applicability to middle- and lower-income country contexts, and accredited, he explained.

Devex reached out to a Chemonics communications spokesperson to find what exactly had made the initiative a success and how staff felt they benefited from the opportunity.

Global participation

There was no competitive selection or screening process for those who expressed interest in completing the program, Butcher explained. Staff had only to get approval from their supervisor, following discussions around the time commitment for the coursework. “Beyond that, it’s really up to each professional to decide if they think they can make it work,” Butcher said.

Over 350 supply chain professionals from 25 countries, including Kenya, Nigeria, Zambia, Afghanistan, and Moldova, came forward to participate. They were then broken into three cohorts, all of which will have completed the course by July this year. The cohorts were decided based on their date of application, maintaining a mixture of participants from different countries, and ensuring a balance of both field office and home office staff. Ideally, each cohort would have two students from each participating country and be made up 80% field staff and 20% home office staff, a Chemonics spokesperson told Devex.

Accommodating such a global cohort did mean adapting plans to ensure accessibility. On realizing that some staff had limited internet access in their home and were staying late in the office to complete their coursework, specific workspaces were set aside for students and, in some cases, additional office security was arranged, Butcher explained.

The whole course was online to allow the participation of staff who were not based in a major city or hub. For example, Daniel Menge, country coordinator for the U.S. Agency for International Development Global Health Supply Chain procurement and supply management project in Kenya, often works in underserved populations and regions. As a result, he doesn’t have time to travel for classes, so found online learning to be the most convenient option.

Upon completion of the minimasters, staff had the credentials to apply for an on-campus program and work toward a master’s degree.

Peer learning and support

The minimasters consists of three courses over six months. Students also participate in an online learning platform where they could chat and interact with others in their cohort. Many students told Devex that studying as part of a cohort was a source of encouragement and shared learning.

Being part of a cohort increased the chances of seeing the course through to its end, said Andres McAlister, deputy country director for the U.S. Agency for International Development Global Health Supply Chain Program in Mozambique. Having tried previously to complete online courses while working full time and balancing family responsibilities, the cohort concept added “a layer of accountability” that didn’t exist in his previous learning endeavors, McAlister said via email.

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For Menge, studying alongside people from all over the world and learning how things are done in different countries also made the learning experience interesting. Some students reported that when there were several staff in the same office who were participating, the online modules sparked lunch break discussions.

Course material relevant to day-to-day work

The course content was tailored to global supply chain work and covered different sectors within this area, including pharmaceutical supply chain. This was key to its success, McAlister explained.

“I was learning key supply chain management terms and concepts that helped me understand the context, framework, [and] theory behind the thousands of decisions that are made in a given PSM [procurement and supply management] country,” he said.

Menge said that the modules and lectures allowed staff to develop their knowledge of key terminologies and concepts in areas such as inventory management. As a result, he feels more confident in his ability to manage contracts and vendors, negotiate with suppliers, and has a deeper appreciation of different cultural orientations of suppliers and customers around the world. Other students who participated told Devex that they also now had a better understanding of the experiences of staff and procedures from around the globe.

Menge also noted that the course provided him with the knowledge and skills “to build the capacity of health workers who work in target health facilities.”

Devex, with financial support from our partner 2U, is exploring the skills and education development sector professionals will need for the future. Visit the Focus on: DevPros 2030 page for more.

About the author

  • Emma smith

    Emma Smith

    Emma Smith is a Senior Careers Reporter at Devex, based in Barcelona. She focuses on bringing the latest career and hiring trends, tips, and insights to our global development community. Emma has a background in journalism and, in addition to writing for news publications, has worked with organizations focusing on child rights and women’s rights in sustainable development.