The Value of Global Affairs

Courtesy of Scoula Holden
Courtesy of Scoula Holden

By Amanda Cardini, Editor-in-Chief

Recently, Thunderbird announced that the Master of Arts in Global Affairs and Management program (otherwise known as MAGAM, or MA, by those that prefer not to attempt that tongue twister) will be going on a temporary hiatus. The proposed plan is to eventually move the program to Washington, D.C., in order to place students in the direct proximity of the kind of jobs the MAGAM program is supposed to lead to, namely public sector opportunities like government and non-profit work. An implication of this decision is that from now on the Master of Global Management, or MGM, program will be open to students that do not have several years of professional work experience. In the past, the program required a minimum of two years of experience. This gave many prospective students no choice but to choose the MAGAM program despite not being interested in the global affairs side of the degree.

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Because of this, the announcement has been met with a mix of emotions from current MA students. Some are jealous of the fact that future MA students will have better opportunities in the public sector simply by being located in Washington, D.C. Others feel it is not fair that they weren’t able to join the MGM program but that future students of the same calibre, age, etc., will be able to do so. The frustration is valid to a certain extent, but the MA and MGM programs do have considerable overlap in the classes taken; both programs take key business classes like finance, accounting, marketing, strategy, leadership, etc. More importantly, this frustration seems to underestimate the value of the global affairs portion in the MA degree.

A CEO with a degree in global affairs is rare. In a 2018 list of America’s top CEOs, not one had a degree in this field. You’ll find plenty with traditional MBAs, a few generic Masters of Arts, but none with a specification in global affairs. Having this makes Thunderbird MA students unique and allows them to stand out from the rest. Especially because Thunderbird’s global affairs program was combined with the business side, the MAGAM program truly provides the best of both worlds. It gives an edge that traditional MBA programs simply don’t get.

More importantly, the application of global affairs to international business cannot be dismissed. If your goal is to go into international business, global affairs is just as important as the business side of things. Understanding political climates, cultural differences, developing non-market strategies through partnerships with NGOs and foreign governments, are all global affairs topics that are imperative to global business. It’s not possible to operate across the globe without taking these things into consideration. Global affairs gives you an understanding of how to be successful in other business markets that a traditional focus on finance and marketing just can’t incorporate as well.  

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It’s easy to mark the global affairs classes at Thunderbird as boring, or of lesser value, just as “soft skills” are often viewed as less important, or less worthy of spending time on in the business world. But these are some of the most important classes you’ll take. Where else would you get the chance to debate the reasons for the delayed action in humanitarian crises such as Rwanda and Libya? When else will your classes teach you about the implications of entering emerging markets, and how to work with the society you’re entering into instead of against it? Where else does the knowledge come from of how to mitigate political risk by working directly with governments instead of skirting around them? Other schools may attempt to tackle these topics, but no one does it like Thunderbird. Our professors are so highly regarded and specialize in these areas, and our fellow students teach us more through personal experience than books could ever fully articulate. The value of global affairs transcends all industries, even public and private. It is a key to success in the international sphere.

Even if you’re not interested in working internationally or for a global company, you will undoubtedly have to work with people from other cultures at some point in your career. Having the global affairs classes that Thunderbird provides under your belt will help you see the world in a different way, and better understand the differences and similarities between cultures. These are invaluable skills that will help you in ways that are not always immediately obvious.

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We should all bear in mind the Thunderbird mantra that states, “borders frequented by trade seldom need soldiers.” The world needs more people with an understanding of how to peacefully work with other nations, make business work for everyone (not just the private sector), and reduce tensions that lead to wars. If you’re at Thunderbird, you most likely want to work in some sort of global capacity, and this kind of work demands an understanding of global affairs and public policy. At the end of the day, the world is only becoming flatter, as Friedman would say, shrinking and becoming more global.

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