School broadens global reach thanks to two-way pact with Colombian planning agency.

The University of Chicago Harris School of Public Policy extended its growing list of international partnerships in June by signing an agreement with the Colombian National Planning Department (DNP) that will result in both mid-career Colombian professionals enrolling in the MPP program and Harris students undertaking summer internships at DNP.

Located in the capital of Bogota, DNP is the cabinet agency of the executive branch in charge of defining, recommending and promoting public and economic policy. The new director general of DNP, Luis Fernando Mejía, holds a master’s degree in economics from University of Chicago (2007) and is considered a PhD candidate, although that was only one of several reasons why the pact came about, says Ranjan Daniels, associate dean of student recruitment and global outreach for Harris.

Harris has undertaken a broader strategy of forming similar international partnerships, a list that currently includes agencies in Peru and Mexico, the Japanese finance ministry and central bank, and could soon include [the Bank of Indonesia. “Our interest is in forming these partnerships with institutions that deliver students who are already well-versed in the processes and challenges of designing and assessing public policies,” Daniels says. “We’ve had a very good pipeline of students from Latin America who bring new ways of thinking about sustainable economic development.”

“Many DNP officials have already gone to Harris, and if someone comes from Harris, we tend to hire them because we know they have very strong quantitative skills. That way we can have our officials enhance their policymaking skills and then come back to DNP to apply what they have learned to real world issues.”

- Luis Fernando Mejía, director general of DNP

Harris professors James Robinson and Chris Blattman have done extensive work on the peace process in Colombia, and while they were not directly involved in brokering the agreement, Daniels figures their reputation probably helped pique officials’ interest. In addition, officials in Colombia were well aware of the University of Chicago’s elite status, as well as Harris’ reputation for producing graduates well-versed in data-driven public policy, he says.

The DNP staff will apply to Harris for this fall and will start in fall 2018, Daniels says. “They’ll be mid-career, [roughly] 8 to 10 years of experience, and many of them will have a prior graduate degree,” he says. These students will need to be nominated by the agency and then subsequently gain admission to the school, as do entrants from other international governments.

DNP staff are technical specialists who put together a quadrennial national development plan based on their respective areas of expertise, Mejía says. “Most of our officials are highly educated people who want to study more if they can,” he says. With that in mind, DNP has had a scholarship program for the past decade that sends them to the most prestigious PhD and master’s programs around the world.

“Many DNP officials have already gone to Harris, and if someone comes from Harris, we tend to hire them because we know they have very strong quantitative skills”, Mejía says. “That way we can have our officials enhance their policymaking skills and then come back to DNP to apply what they have learned to real world issues.”

The DNP students will study everything from conflict resolution to early childhood education, within the common framework of economic planning, Daniels says. “There’s a great global network of people who are thinking about financial policy and economic development in emerging markets and developed markets coming together,” he says. “We’ve always believed that we don’t train people to be hyper-specialists. We’re bringing people who have different policy interests together so they can unlock innovation.”

As mid-career officials, the Colombian DNP students will bring their own ideas to the classroom, and what they learn will have a direct impact back home, Daniels says. “That’s why our faculty like teaching them,” he says. “They’ve had experience with some of the problems, but they’re looking for solutions.”

DNP became interested in the Harris students for internships, which also will start in 2018, after learning about the types of backgrounds they have, Daniels says. “The DNP found their skill set very attractive,” he says. “They’re interested in trying to see if they can harness that talent in terms of real issues like economic development and finance. We have a really strong group of students from Latin America—Chile, Mexico, Peru. But even U.S. students are interested in working in Colombia. That combination seemed good.”

DNP believes the Harris interns will contribute their skills and enthusiasm while gaining valuable hands-on experience, Mejía says. “It’s not limited to Colombians, but to any Harris student who wants to come,” he says. “We will benefit from the diversity of people coming from all over the world and bringing their ideas. … It’s about having people who have seen the world working here. We look forward to implementation and think that both the Harris School and DNP can benefit greatly from this arrangement.”

Read more about Harris Public Policy's international partnerships.

Watch University Professor James Robinson, Faculty Director of The Pearson Institute for the Study and Resolution of Global Conflicts, as he discusses Columbia's peace agreement with the FARC.