You are here: American University School of Public Affairs News Promise: View from the Eyes of a Development Management Expert

Contact Us

Kerwin Hall on a map

AU School of Public Affairs 4400 Massachusetts Avenue NW Washington, DC 20016 United States

Back to top


Promise: View from the Eyes of a Development Management Expert

hands uplifted in unity

Looking back on his career of more than 30 years in development management, Jerrold Keilson knew that economic, political and social development worked. Yet, many of the students in his graduate-level class were only reading about the problems, challenges, and issues to avoid. They were eager to make a difference in the world, but were discouraged.

One student asked: So where are the good stories? Are there any successes? Where are they?

Keilson, an SPA adjunct professor since 2005, set out to find examples to share with the young professionals and give them hope. The result is his new book, The Practice of International Development, co-edited by Michael Gubser of James Madison University and published by Routledge.

The collection of essays from practitioners and academics provides concrete examples from the field of development projects around the world. "It's more thoughtful than war stories. The contributors analyzed what they did, what worked, why it worked, what they could have done differently and better, key things to pay attention and choices they had to make," said Keilson, who works at the American Institutes for Research as Vice President, International Policy, Practice, and Systems Change, in Washington, D.C.

Keilson has worked for the U.S. State Department and a variety of nongovernmental agencies overseas on programs to improve education, health, and address refugee issues. He has witnessed progress in food production and maternal and child health, resulting from targeted programs. "If you want people to do things differently, then you need to provide positive examples of what to do," said Keilson. The book is designed for graduate students who want to work in the field, entry-level professionals, and volunteers for international organizations such as the Peace Corps.

One chapter by Katherine Merseth describes her work with a school readiness program in Jordan. Another chapter by Mark Lynd focuses on a teacher training program in Guinea, while Joshua Muskin writes about the importance and challenges of building long-term sustainability into development programs.

Keilson contributed a chapter on the often-overlooked importance of cross-cultural awareness, such as respecting traditions and gender roles. "If you don't get those human matches right, the best-technically designed project in the world will be a failure," he said. "If you get those matches right, you increase the chances of success and you can take a poorly designed project and turn it into success if everybody listens and understands each other. Development is about changing human behavior. It's not always about technical approaches."

Authors describe the details associated with implementing development programs - the meetings, paperwork, site visits, and negotiations that must be managed for a project to be successful. "Some think of development work as glamorous - and it can be. But at the same time, there are practical, logistical issues," he said, such as limited travel during rainy reasons, challenges getting gasoline, and interrupted cell phone service.

Keilson says the book is intended to highlight implications of decisions and approaches using real-life scenarios. "It is meant to highlight the pros and cons and be somewhat inspirational," he said.

In March, a group of the book's contributors will gather in Mexico City for a panel at the Comparative International Education Society's annual conference.