My most disappointing course this semester was International Organizations Management. I chose the course because I work in this field and was curious what the instructors would present. The course was taught by a group of professors from the University of Geneva, all of whom are on the faculty of that university’s international MBA program. As I’ve mentioned previously, most of the jobs in international development, and I would imagine in international organizations more generally, are management jobs. However, our training is mostly theoretical, so one must learn the practical skills of management while on the job. I was hoping that this class would cover some of these skills, especially since the recommended background for the course was Graduate students of international relations/business management/international law and/or professionals with a few years of relevant work experience.”   

I was sorely disappointed – yet another class longer on theory than practice.
I was hoping for best practices related to the work that I do, for example:

  • Managing a project budget
  • Conducting and participating in meetings
  • Creating a work plan and project timeline
  • Crafting a monitoring and evaluation plan, including setting targets and choosing indicators
  • How to design a public private partnership (the course did touch on this, but didn’t get into specifics)
Alas, what I got instead was more an overview and history of the UN system than any practical tools for operating in the international arena (in which, incidentally, the UN is only one player, and not necessarily the most important player at that!). 

Interestingly, the one module of the course that I really enjoyed was the one on marketing, not a topic in which I had any prior interest.  What I liked about the module was that it spoke about particular techniques for making a marketing plan, including specific questions that an organization needs to answer in order to make a strong plan. The course also made me realize that I have had the wrong understanding of marketing, probably because most international organizations approach marketing as though it were of secondary importance – an afterthought. 

The following graphic shows the place of marketing in most international organizations. 


Marketing falls below communications, which itself is a third-tier category. Contrast that with the position of marketing in the private sector. 


In a private sector company, marketing is directly under the CEO and is responsible not just for PR and promotion but is integrally involved with crafting the overall strategy for the company and in building its identity. 

Even though I didn’t learn much in International Organizations Management that I can apply on the job, I did benefit from the course in that it piqued my interest in marketing  - one of the topics for next semester. So in the end, I’m glad I stuck it out. 

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