Beyond the Classroom

The Faculty of Arts newsletter

It was an idea that came to him—quite literally.

Robin McLay joined McGill’s Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID) as its first Executive Director in January 2011, and before long his inbox was full of e-mails from people wanting to know more about his line of work.

“I’d get several emails each week from people curious about international development work—from public servants, teachers, business owners, health professionals and people look for better opportunities, people wanting to know more about issues and opportunities in the fields of human rights, global health, governance and sustainable development,” says McLay, who also holds the title of McGill’s first Public Servant in Residence, a role that comes with a fair bit of experience.

A former Fulbright Scholar at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, McLay has dedicated his career to public service, having worked as Director of International Partnership Projects at the Canada School of Public Service, and as Director of Research at the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA). Today, he continues to serve as a Founding Member of the Harvard University School of Public Health’s Leadership Council and maintains an impressive global network of contacts including policymakers, government officials, NGOs and academics.

McLay, along with ISID’s Founding Director, Professor Phil Oxhorn, quickly realized that the constant queries from people outside the University meant there was a need to go beyond the classroom and find a more hands-on approach to teaching the ins and outs of international development work.

“Students come out of degree programs with pretty big knowledge gaps,” explains McLay, who credits Oxhorn’s strong vision and mandate of creating research and teaching with relevance and impact.

“We needed to come up with something practical and felt this is obviously something we could do.”

And so just months later, armed with a business plan and an aggressive grassroots marketing campaign, ISID’s Executive Education Program in International Development was born.

Designed for individuals who are interested in working overseas or pursuing careers in international development, the Program is ideal for people looking to manage a major career transition into this realm, as well as those who are interested in enhancing their knowledge and understanding of important global issues and trends.

The four-day program includes an introduction to international development theories, concepts, approaches, and policy frameworks relating to international development taught by some of North America’s leading academics and practitioners. It also includes insights into how best to leverage one’s existing skills and expertise to pursue work opportunities, including post-program support to develop tailor-made work plans and ongoing mentorship. While the courses are non-credit, participants receive a Certificate of Completion from the Institute.

The first Program was held in Montreal in October 2011 and McLay explains how it exceeded any and all expectations.

“We originally planned for 20 seats, but before we knew it, more than 40 were sold,” says McLay, who admits that some had tried to deter him with warnings that registration is typically low for similar executive programs. Just the opposite happened.

Due to the high demand, the Institute has so far held programs in Vancouver (June 2012), Rome (March 2013), Johannesburg (May 2013) and most recently in Montreal at McGill University (October 2013).

McLay says the Program continues to attract a diverse group and participants have included CEOs of corporations, government officials, and a balanced mix of women and men from around the globe, including Norway, Zimbabwe, Pakistan, Latin America and the Caribbean. And with a teaching team that has included the likes of David Morley, President and CEO of UNICEF Canada, representatives from CIDA and an impressive array of professors from ISID, the upcoming programs promise more exciting line-ups.

“We are always looking for more outreach opportunities,” says McLay. “This Program is something real and tangible.”

The fee for the four-day intensive Program is $1,995 (plus applicable taxes). All course material, breakfast, lunch and health break refreshments are included. For further enquires please call 514 398-5923 or send an email to 


About ISID

Development research and teaching has never been as strong at McGill as it is today. This is reflected in the creation in 2008 of the Institute for the Study of International Development (ISID). ISID now generates impressive levels of original research, at the same time that it trains future generations of researchers, teachers, policymakers and development practitioners through some of the largest teaching programs in the Faculty of Arts.  This past year witnessed a further expansion of ISID through the launch of its Executive Education Program in International Development.


ISID’s continued growth depends in many ways on the generous support of alumni and our community. To learn more, visit



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