Focus Areas


The challenges of the 21st Century do not fit into the neat boxes of traditional disciplines. They demand new paradigms and new responses that cut across academic, institutional, political, economic and social boundaries. Accordingly, the MSFS Program offers several new “Focus Areas” of courses which cut across the three Concentrations of Global Politics and Security, International Development, and Global Business and Finance. They represent an opportunity for students to go deeper into cross-cutting areas of expertise and skills emerging in international affairs professions.


The Challenge. MSFS students increasingly desire and expect that their work, no matter whether they go on to work in the public, private, or social sectors, will achieve positive social outcomes. The lines are blurring: the role of business in society, the expectations of the state, and the capabilities of civil society organizations are evolving. In recent years there has been an explosion of innovative ways that organizations from governments to nonprofits to private businesses and everything in-between create sustainable social and environmental value. From the practice of governments issuing so-called Social Impact Bonds to new legal structures like benefit corporations to the launch of impact venture funds to nonprofits developing earned revenue strategies, this is a rapidly changing global landscape. Such trends, coupled with growing social and economic interconnectedness between nations, have created a vast new space for energetic, creative people who are determined to improve the human condition parallel to and in complement of traditional development actors.

Opportunities. Students wishing to initiate or participate in impact initiatives have more opportunities and tools than ever before. Instantaneous communications, low-cost technologies, a global banking system, new forms of financing, and new ways to connect with funders are just a few of the tools MSFS students must master in order to effectively lead in this new impact environment. 

The MSFS Response. MSFS courses in this Focus Area, together with courses offered in other SFS programs, seek to nurture students’ entrepreneurial drive and creativity in social impact and equip them with skills that allow them to turn intentions into reality. MSFS courses will expose participants to new actors, approaches and philosophies that are currently influencing the global social impact movement. They will examine the concept of “doing good and doing well,” how the private sector and impactful individuals are changing traditional conceptions of aid and development, and how governments and other traditional development actors are responding. Students will be exposed to market based approaches, ranging from socially responsible investing to for-profit social enterprise to venture philanthropy. The courses listed below are currently offered within this focus area, with further courses under development. Co-curricular activities such as a clinic on Private-Public Partnerships complement these course offerings, along with opportunities to work with research centers on campus, such as the Beeck Center for Social Impact & Innovation.

  • MSFS-581 Corporate Social Responsibility in the 21st Century
  • MSFS-543 Business, Human Rights, and the Internet
  • MSFS-622 Financing Social Impact
  • MSFS-587 Impact Analysis
  • GHDP-511 Social Enterprise and Development 

The ChallengeFrom weapons proliferation to failed states to pandemic disease to financial stability, transnational problems in the world require collective action. Collective action involves traditional intergovernmental organizations and banks of global and regional scope, but increasingly other players. This array of players includes corporations, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), and philanthropic institutions like the Gates Foundation. Hybrid arrangements and partnerships are blossoming, such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria – which includes UN agencies, multilateral banks, foundations, and private sector actors as partners.

Taken together, these Global Institutions and Partnerships are critical to establishing solutions for and governance of some of the thorniest contemporary problems—political, economic, social, and security-related. The United States and other leading and rising powers in the world need them to leverage their own capabilities.

Opportunities. Irrespective of which Concentration they choose, MSFS students will benefit from a practical sense of the impediments and challenges to achieving collective action, partnership, and governance--and the strategies to surmount them. More specifically, they will benefit from mastering how these institutions and partnerships work, which are best suited to address various issue areas, and how to operate within and build coalitions among them. Understanding evolving governance architectures and arrangements will be important to their work, whether in intergovernmental organizations, government, NGOs, or private sector firms.

The MSFS Response. Courses in the focus area are centered on particular types of institutions and partnerships – global and regional, “maxilateral” and “minilateral” -- as well as key issue areas requiring the governance arrangements. The following courses are currently offered within the Global Institutions and Partnerships focus area, with further courses under development:

  • MSFS-531 Global Powers, Institutions, and Governance
  • MSFS-534 The UN and Global Institutions
  • MSFS 557 Nuclear Weapons in International and Regional Security
  • MSFS-565 Political Economy of International Organizations
  • MSFS 573 Institutions, Development, and Growth
  • MSFS 584 Europe, Russia, and Western Institutions (new Spring 2015)
  • MSFS 591 Multistakeholder Negotiation Strategies (new Spring 2015)
  • MSFS-594 International Financial Institutions
  • MSFS-655 International Law
  • MSFS-733 Policy Innovation and Coalition Management
  • GOVT 779 International Relations and Diplomacy of East Asia
  • INAF 503 WTO Dispute Settlement (IBD Program’s permission required)
  • INAF 508- 03 and 06 (not 02) Topics: IBD, Business, Government and the Global Economy
  • INAF 698-01 Introduction to Humanitarian Crises
  • INAF 698-02 Introduction to Humanitarian Crises

The Challenge. Science and technology are fundamentally and inexorably reshaping the physical, political, economic and social landscape within which MSFS graduates will be working. New information technologies create both new opportunities and new threats to global security, both strengthening the efficiency and resilience of global institutions and empowering dissident minorities and violent sects. Technological innovation is also disrupting old markets, challenging the established rules of the game, and creating both new markets and new centers of power across all regions and sectors. The ever-increasing demand for energy for transportation, manufacturing, housing and communications is a key driving force behind technological innovation. At the same time, technological innovation is creating new industries and recreating old ones, while transforming energy and resource markets. The rapidly escalating appetite for energy and the increasing demand for raw materials threaten to overwhelm prudent and sustainable management of scarce resources.  Critical resources such as water or rare earth minerals will increasingly need to be managed to better provide for ecologically sustainable, economically viable, and politically acceptable access.

Opportunities. No MSFS graduate will be unaffected by this process, which will create both new challenges and new opportunities.  National governments and multilateral agencies will need to negotiate new rules of the game.  Private sector firms will need to be quick and agile in identifying new markets and assessing new risks.  Development agencies will need to discern new paths toward sustainable economic growth, involving new partnerships and new ways of doing business.

The MSFS Response. MSFS courses provide students with the opportunity to understand the drivers of innovation and technological change, and the political and economic forces and institutions shaping the global responses in the public and private sectors. They also allow students to explore the political, economic and social dimensions of energy markets, and the evolving frameworks and strategies for promoting sustainable resource management. The following courses are currently offered within the Science, Energy, and Sustainability focus area, with further courses under development:

  • MSFS-524 China’s Energy Challenges
  • MSFS-549 Petroleum in the Global Economy
  • MSFS-556 Cybersecurity
  • MSFS-563 Science, Technology and Global Politics
  • MSFS-580 The Future of Food?
  • MSFS-604 Climate Science and Policy
  • MSFS-611 Geographic Information System (GIS) in Development
  • MSFS-649 World Energy Security
  • MSFS-681 Oil and World Power