The Sanford School, like most public policy programs, started with a heavily domestic orientation. But since the 1980s, its perspective—from faculty research to its student composition—has become increasingly international.

While Bruce Kuniholm brought his expertise in foreign policy and the Cold War to Sanford in 1975, the first major step came in 1984, when Sanford hired three men—Malcolm Gillis, William Ascher, and Sudhir Shetty—with strong research interests in how to foster economic growth in least developed countries.

While Shetty soon left for a long career at the World Bank, Gillis and Ascher founded the Center for International Development Research (CIDR). Through CIDR’s mid-career program to train public officials from developing countries, the Sanford Institute brought a more diverse array of students to campus.

Ascher, who directed CIDR until he left Duke in 2000, describes mixed motives for the mid-career program.

“At that time it was pretty clear that most developing countries had really bright people who had not really been trained in how to think comprehensively about policy and the policy process. That was the unselfish motive,” says Ascher. “The selfish motive was bringing the experiences of all these people here. I learned more about what was going on in developing countries from the fellows of this program, then from my own direct research.”

The program offered a venue where civil servants from Nigeria could pass along tips to those from Mexico about successes and failures in energy policy, and vice versa.

MIDP 1992 Class Photo


Through CIDR—and thanks to the support of U.S. Senator Terry Sanford, elected after fifteen years as Duke’s president—the Institute convened the International Commission for Central American Recovery and Development in the late 1980s.

“The idea was that if you could put together people from the right and the left from government, from academia, and so on, that you could pull off something that would be pretty impressive,” explains Ascher.

The commission fostered regional cooperation to reduce violent conflict and improve economic development.

“It got considerable amount of attention, and I think that overall Governor Sanford’s vision of it was actualized,” says Ascher .

In 2001, CIDR was renamed as the Duke Center for International Development (DCID), which continues to run the mid-career program and other executive education trainings, now under the direction of Edmund Malesky.

Students in Geneva Office
Geneva Program participants pose for a photo.

As “globalization” became a watchword during the 1990s particularly at Duke under Bruce Kuniholm (then serving as Vice Provost for academic and International Affairs) and Robert Keohane, the Sanford Institute expanded its course offerings on international issues for its undergraduate and MPP students.

Bruce Jentleson, hired as director in 1999, made internationalization a big priority.

In 2002, it expanded its footprint with a summer program in Geneva, Switzerland, home to a wide array of international organizations.

Frederick “Fritz” Mayer, a faculty member who sought to build a more international program, founded the Geneva program.

“I wandered around Geneva asking people, ‘Would you take my student as an intern? Would you take a student as an intern? Would that work?’ And the answer was, ‘Yes.’”

An initial cohort of six became the Duke Global Policy Program that now involves roughly 50 students a summer.