Aleem Ahmed was working for the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency’s Teff Value Chain Program in 2012 when he had a good idea. Ahmed learned of innovations that could help Ethiopian farmers of the ancient super-grain teff increase their harvests, and he began contemplating ways to make it easier for them to get their grain to market.
This sparked the idea for a company that would leverage American consumers’ demand for whole grain foods, while also boosting the incomes of Ethiopia’s six million teff farmers. To gain the skills he needed to navigate global trade and agricultural development, he enrolled in a Master of Public Administration (MPA) program at Harvard Kennedy School. Today Ahmed is the proud co-founder of Wild For Co, which produces teff chips using Ethiopian grain and sells them to U.S. consumers.
Founding a social enterprise is one of the many paths for which an MPA can equip you. A master's degree in public administration teaches students to work within or alongside the public sector, whether in federal, state, or local government, nongovernmental organizations, multinational financial institutions and global development banks, or strategic consulting firms. Its curriculum is focused on executive organization and management, principles of public administration, and public policy management and implementation.
Considering that healthcare is such a large and growing sector in U.S. society, MPA graduates have particularly strong prospects in being able to apply their administrative learning to healthcare policy and implementation. Regardless of sector, a master's in public administration sets the foundation for a career focused on finding solutions to problems, and improving lives around the world.
1. You are (or want to be) a strategic problem-solver. Studying public administration will involve learning new ways institutions can work together to solve societal problems—sometimes big and intractable ones. If you want to be part of the solution, an master's degree in public administration is a good way to get started.
2. You’re drawn to public service. The MPA degree is geared toward public service, so it’s a good place for those who have an interest in working in government or with organizations that help governments implement good policies.
3. You can do good in the world. Public administration focuses on helping solve societal problems; a career built around that goal is a great opportunity to do good in the world while also earning a good living.
4. You’ll be trained to work in or out of government. MPA graduates aren’t restricted to working in government; while that’s a path that matches well with the MPA, you’ll also be well-trained to work with nongovernmental organizations, multilateral organizations, and consulting firms. You can take leadership roles in the private sector. And as Ahmed’s story demonstrates, you can even start socially responsible companies.
5. You can work in various sectors. There are public agencies and nongovernment organizations involved in every major aspect of societal life, so MPA graduates will have their pick of which sector to engage in. Health and human services is a major sector that MPA grads do well in, but there’s also education, employment, housing… the list goes on.
6. You can get an in with government. Government jobs are stable, well-paid, and come with excellent benefits; it’s a desirable career path but it can be hard to break in if you don’t have public service experience. An MPA will put you ahead of the pack when it comes to applying to work at federal, state, and local agencies.
7. You can look forward to solid earnings. MPA graduates draw salaries that range widely, depending what type of job they have and which institution they work for. Social and community service managers can expect to make around $64,000 a year, for example, while emergency management directors pull in a $73,000 salary.
8. You can bump your pay as a consultant. Some MPA graduates opt to work for strategic consulting firms, where they assist clients with operations, performance measurement, and ensuring accountability and transparency to constituents. Median pay for management consultants weighs in around $82,000, but these jobs often come with bonuses and profit sharing.
9. You may find a career path you hadn’t anticipated. An MPA is by design a fairly broad-based educational program that provides skills that can be applied in a variety of roles in the public and private sector. If you’re simply interested in public service but aren’t yet sure what aspect you’d like to pursue, going through an MPA program may shed light on possibilities you’d never considered.
An MPA degree is good for those who have a strong inclination for public service and truly enjoy grappling with and finding solutions to big societal problems. Students are exposed to skills that can serve them well in a diverse array of agencies, institutions, organizations, and companies. Wherever they land, they’ll be able to pursue a career that’s a force for good in the world.
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