New executive master program gets to the heart of managing international organizations in transition

By Richard Jones 13 May 2016

Tomorrow’s social entrepreneurs, today. The EMMIO program contributes to a new generation of visionary, resilient and capable global leaders, equipped to navigate the challenges of implementing the SDGs.

Today’s world is riddled with complex global issues that require international cooperation at all levels — from confronting climate change, to mitigating the risks of international terrorism; coordinating humanitarian responses to earthquakes, floods and other natural disasters; and finding ways to respond to the largest refugee crisis since World War II, to name only a few.

International organizations — or IOs — have long played pivotal leadership roles in addressing such challenges. Over the past two decades, however, those roles have been undergoing a fundamental shift: from overseeing direct implementation of international development and technical programs, IOs are increasingly asked to become “capacity builders” and facilitators for local, on-the-ground organizations with a mission to disseminate knowledge, experience and proven processes, rather than delivering direct aid. The strategic focus of the United Nations Population Fund, for example, effectively summarizes this paradigm shift in its 2014-2017 strategic plan by stating that the organization needs to transition from “delivering things” to “delivering thinking.”

The U.N. system and other IOs are immersed in a fast-changing environment that exposes them to the key challenge of maintaining and continuously strengthening their relevance in an increasingly crowded international development architecture. Indeed, in an era in which competition for funds is fierce, global development and humanitarian aid players are increasingly in direct competition for funds and visibility.

In addressing this challenge, IOs are striving to show their donors, stakeholders and constituencies that they are indeed “fit for purpose:” That they have a comparative advantage over other players, and the ability to generate “value for money” makes it imperative for IOs to strengthen their efficiency and effectiveness; to be able to make a difference through innovative and game-changing aid mechanisms; to strategically manage relationships with implementing partners; and to contribute to a cohesive and coherent multilateral aid system.

In an effort to prepare current and future generations of IO leaders to confront these varied and paradigmatic challenges, the SDA Bocconi School of Management in Milan, Italy, created the Executive Master in Management of International Organizations — known as EMMIO, originally in partnership with the U.N. Staff College and the International Training Center of the International Labor Organization.

The EMMIO program contributes to a new generation of visionary, resilient and capable global leaders, equipped to navigate the challenges of implementing the SDGs. Learn more about EMMIO here.

Designed as a hands-on, practical program, EMMIO draws on the resources of Bocconi’s world-ranked business school and is tailored to fit the needs of working professionals in the U.N. and other international organizations, helping to unlock their full leadership potential as global leaders.

“The EMMIO is unique in that many alternative Master’s programs may see these challenges under the conceptual lenses of international affairs or public policy,” said Daniele Alesani, senior faculty member of the EMMIO program at SDA Bocconi, and management specialist at the International Atomic Energy Agency. “In practice they are actually management concerns, and should be approached that way.”

“This is a truly innovative program,” said Michael Emery, head of the human resources at U.N. Population Fund, and the faculty member leading the EMMIO course on human capital and change management. “It’s one of the first programs to actually look at what is needed in multilateral systems to make them the most effective. It’s not a generic Master of Business Administration — but is highly nuanced to our particular work and context.”

Changing roles of international organizations

Today’s development agenda is shaped by the recently issued Sustainable Development Goals. One of the key differences between the SDGs and its predecessor framework — the Millennium Development Goals — is the new approach that international organizations have committed to.

“The MDGs were more the ‘north’ dictating to the ‘south,’ whereas the SDGs are a much more inclusive, universal set of goals that require all countries to collaborate in order to achieve them,” explained Emery. “Partnerships, in every sense of the word, are going to be key in achieving the SDGs.”

For the U.N. agencies, that means a fundamental shift in strategic positioning and management strategies. Whereas U.N. agencies traditionally felt invested in the direct responsibility for planning, implementing and monitoring development projects on the ground, the SDGs trigger an approach based on partnerships — aimed at building capacity, as well as achieving self-reliance and long-term development sustainability.

“Rather than delivering commodities and services on the ground, we’re talking about delivering solutions,” Alesani commented. “The new paradigm of international development demands international organizations evolve, adapt, be selective in their modalities of engagement — advocacy, policy and standard setting, knowledge generation and management, service provision — and to carefully choose how to bring about value for their target beneficiary populations.”

This, Alesani said, requires U.N. agencies to “change gears,” to adapt their own organizational settings and evolve their core skillset. It also necessitates strategic vision, partnership orientation and the ability to mobilize resources and ideas — in other words, for IOs to be true facilitators and enablers.

To meet these challenges and to stay relevant and at the center of multilateral aid, Emery asserted that IOs “need a new generation of managers who can combine imagination, resilience, creativity and dedication to the cause with an in depth knowledge of managerial tools and systems.”

Tailored to fit the changing skillset required of IO executives

The professionalization of managerial and leadership skills in IOs requires dedicated efforts by everyone involved, including learning and staff development teams, professionals showing great potential and educational institutions. Together, they must create, disseminate and internalize new knowledge, codes and identities relevant for — and adapted to — the global development sector.

The EMMIO program aims to address this need for tailored education. Indeed, SDA Bocconi has invested its unique expertise and resources to effectively merge the core components of a world-class MBA with international public administration and international relations themes. The result, Alesani said, is a unique program that delivers hands-on knowledge about managerial tools and systems, comprehensively adapted to IO practices, experiences and challenges.

“This means responding to questions such as what does competitive advantage mean in the international development sector?,” Alesani continued. “What does it mean to analyze a competitive space for an IO and what constitutes a solid strategic positioning for it?”

EMMIO distinguishes itself by its hands-on approach, which aims to deliver concrete value for participants in tackling their day-to-day challenges.

“It’s an extremely practical program,” said professor Greta Nasi, director of the public management and policy at SDA Bocconi. “EMMIO is based on solid theoretical foundations, but it delivers immediately usable tools and concrete skills that are needed in the everyday business of managing an IO.”

EMMIO is a fully accredited, European Credit Transfer and Accumulation System credits-backed program designed to fit with the busy schedule of full-time working professionals already well into their careers.

“This is a Master’s on steroids for tomorrow’s social entrepreneur,” said Alesani. “It is an action packed, nine-month path to fast-track your professional development and growth.”

In order to be compatible with full-time employment, the EMMIO program is broken into two blocks of on-campus coursework held at SDA Bocconi in Milan, Italy, and two intermediate blocks of distance learning, delivered through a variety of media in a lively and engaging virtual classroom environment.

The average age of the first EMMIO cohort is 41, and all participants have already been working as professionals for between five and 10 years, which brings a great wealth of experience to classroom discussions, in addition to boosting the peer-to-peer learning component.

“We are training people who are already managers,” said Nasi. “In our class, we have HR directors, chiefs of technical and support units, and managers of large field-based development programs. It’s our aim to enable them to make a real impact, applying valuable lessons learned — in other words, shaping the mindset of a new generation of international civil servants to make the difference and improve the world around them.”

SDA Bocconi has invested in EMMIO the full force of its decades-long commitment to shape public management reforms and the “extraordinary reach” of a network faculty, which merges internationally renowned scholars with innovators, change agents and senior managers of U.N. agencies.

“EMMIO is a work in progress, and we are proud of this,” said Nasi, who explained that the program is among the school’s strategic priorities for the 2016-2020 period. “It is designed to be a ‘living’ thing and we aim to evolve EMMIO’s contents around the requests for new knowledge and solutions to concrete problems coming directly from the IOs.”

Starting from the 2016-2017 edition of EMMIO, Nasi said that SDA Bocconi is engaging learning and staff development specialists of U.N. agencies and major international nongovernmental organizations in a “continuous dialogue,” to gather inputs and insights on the emerging learning needs that should be incorporated into the program.

Real-life learning and individualized executive coaching

Case studies based on real IO practices and challenges are a fundamental part of the original contents created by the SDA Bocconi faculty.

“Case studies that we use in our classes are taken from actual scenarios that professionals have had to deal with, and solutions are translated into a toolkit that EMMIO participants can use,” said Nasi.

What's it like taking part in EMMIO? We spoke to Leonard Otti, chief career support and HR capacity building unit at the U.N.’s Department of Field Support and from the EMMIO class of 2015-2016.

Why did you choose to participate in EMMIO?

EMMIO is a unique Master’s program, combining rigorous and internationally renowned management education with a tailored approach focused on the specific management issues faced by modern international organizations. As a staff member of one of the major U.N. agencies, I was looking for a program that would focus on the international public sector, be compatible with my extremely busy schedule and allow me to concretely apply what I learned to my day-to-day work. I found this and much more in the EMMIO program.

How does EMMIO prepare you to do better in your current job?

EMMIO enabled me to consolidate what I know in a systematic way by merging a solid theoretical component with a hands-on approach to learning. It focuses on management systems and tools specific of international organizations and I consider this a really interesting opportunity for professional growth. Attending the program has also given me an opportunity for personal development and strengthened my soft skills through targeted contents on leadership and problem solving, ethics, negotiation and conflict management, communication, project management and risk management — among others. It truly allowed me to unlock my management potential and boost my leadership skills.

One of the main pillars of the program is the “Capstone project.” Throughout this assignment, EMMIO participants act as senior management advisers on a key challenge faced by their own organizations, working collaboratively with their peers and SDA Bocconi mentors.

“Through the project, participants become actors for change,” said Nasi. “This isn’t a theoretical exercise, but a process that leads to a concrete blueprint for realistic, implementable solutions to real managerial issues.”

To fully achieve its value proposition as “an effective path to professional growth,” the upcoming edition of the EMMIO program has introduced an individualized executive coaching component.

Stefano Olmeti, EMMIO faculty member and former head of executive coaching at the World Bank, explained that “certified coaches will work one-on-one with participants throughout the program to serve their individual development goals — the coaching works as a personalized career compass.”

Federico Yanez, a Uruguayan national working for UNFPA and part of the inaugural EMMIO cohort, shared that the program has provided him with invaluable insight into how to work effectively within the U.N. system.

“EMMIO has given me a different perspective about international cooperation,” he said. “In my case, while working at the U.N. you experience and practice international development through various aspects, you collect a lot of the pieces of the puzzle — EMMIO helps you to put them together in a coherent framework; it shapes your knowledge on what’s going on and generates a strategic mindset for professional success. It’s very useful and thought-provoking.”

It also looks great on the resume. Already, Yanez, who hopes to move quickly through his international career in the U.N. system, has fielded a number of calls from potential recruiters — and he believes that the EMMIO program is one of the key factors that made all the difference.

“It’s definitely helping me. I started applying for new positions to advance my career before I started EMMIO, but now recruiters are calling me,” he said. “It’s clear that they really value this Master’s program.”

Learn more about the EMMIO program at the SDA Bocconi School of Management here.

About the author

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Richard Jones@richard_devex

Richard oversees editorial content for campaigns and media partnerships at Devex. Previously an associate editor, he covered the full spectrum of development aid in Europe, the Middle East and Africa, supervising a team of correspondents and writers, penning articles and conducting high-level video interviews at events across the EMEA region. Currently based in Barcelona, Richard brings to bear 12 years of experience as an editor in institutional communications, public affairs and international development. His development experience includes stints in the Dominican Republic, Argentina and Ecuador.


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