Development Studies

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Is this the programme you're looking for?

In our MA programme, you'll immerse yourself in cutting-edge theories and lively debates within the field of development studies. You'll be equipped to effectively apply this knowledge to address real-world challenges in development and catalyze social change.

Key Facts & Figures

Mode of study
Full-time | Part-time
Instruction language
16 months
Study points (EC)
Start date
Application Deadline (EEA)
1 July
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The study programme in a nutshell

The Master of Arts in Development Studies at the International Institute of Social Studies offers a strong academic foundation coupled with hands-on training in essential theories and methodologies vital for the field of development studies. Designed for those aiming to kickstart or elevate their careers in development, our programme provides a holistic framework for both academic rigor and practical skill development.

Why this study

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What you will learn

In our MA programme, you'll immerse yourself in cutting-edge theories and ongoing debates within your field. Through rigorous study, you'll not only master these concepts but also cultivate the skills to adeptly apply them to real-world challenges in development and social change.

Programme overview

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Career opportunities after graduation

Numerous candidates pursuing an MA at ISS transition from their prior roles in search of fresh challenges within the academic or developmental spheres. Upon completion, some of our MA graduates opt to further their academic pursuits by pursuing a PhD, while others gravitate towards opportunities in local and international development, humanitarian efforts, civil society, or public service. For additional details, kindly explore our ISS Career Services page.

This could be your future

What do our students think?

Meet ISS Changemaker Sergio Martinez

Sergio Martinez, Colombia

I want to be engaged in projects related to sustainability.
I want to be engaged in projects related to sustainability.

Name: Sergio Martinez
From: Colombia
Major: Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies
Background: Economist and business manager with interests in sustainability and agriculture

Sergio Martinez is the first of three siblings to complete a master’s degree abroad. He was born and raised in Colombia and travelled South America to learn from the experiences of rural communities and their sustainable initiatives. That journey brought him to the International Institute of Social Studies, in particular to the Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies major, which opened new academic and professional opportunities in the field that he is passionate about: sustainability and social justice. 

Martinez is an economist and business manager from Bogota, who, from an early stage in his career understood economics as a social science. That is why Martinez made the connection with people the centre of his professional career. ‘The biggest achievement that I had was adding value to different projects from different organizations and connecting with them. Not only from the business perspective, but mainly sharing values, right, connecting our shared values’, says Martinez.  

His will to support initiatives started when he finished his undergraduate degree. Martinez launched his own consultancy project where he helped organizations shape their businesses. For four years, the company that he and his friends had built gave advice to NGOs on management issues, specifically on strategic planning, project management and project formulation. After four years of collaborating on the managerial perks of social activism, Martinez jumped to an agribusiness company that changed his interests.  

Watch Sergio in this video

Meet ISS Changemaker Sergio Martinez

Martinez moved to a reforestation company that planted pine trees for timber, cashew trees for cashew nuts and rubber trees for latex. The company used to outsource the operation of the project but was not getting good results. His role became to plan and oversee the activities to be performed on the plantations. Plantations that, as is common in this type of businesses, were in the marginalized areas of the country. At the edges of Colombia, where time stops, paved roads disappear and opportunities are slim, Martinez understood that it was the connection with people that added value to this agriculture initiatives. ‘I really connected to these workers at a personal level. I could get to know the stories behind every product, the stories that are contributing to these projects from different positions, from the guy who drives the tractors, to the supervisor in the field and so on.’ 

A life changing experience 

Learning from the farmers in the remote areas of Colombia was just the start for Martinez. This idea of combining sustainability initiatives and social justice became real when he and one of his consultancy-mates launched another project, one that was socially driven and more ambitious both in time and location. ‘I was with one of my friends with whom I had started the first company—the first NGO project portfolio. We said, "Hey, we should come back to this, not necessarily opening a company, but just helping or trying to get to know other organizations in South America. We should do it by bike”’, recalls Martinez.  

'The biggest achievement that I had was adding value to different projects from different organizations and connecting with them.'

The conversation that started with friends and some beers on a Friday night, turned out to be a two-year-long project called Bicionarios. The three enthusiastic friends packed their bikes and travelled with a professional photographer and graphic designer to visit over 20 projects in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia that addressed environmental and social challenges. They volunteered to help the organizations in what they needed, in exchange for food and a place to stay. They took professional pictures of some of the projects, and for others they wrote blog posts or recorded videos. 

The whole idea was to bring visibility to what these organizations were working on and how they were promoting local development. Bicionarios visited grassroots projects that addressed local problems based on local expertise rather than international organizations. They wanted to share the stories of these projects and build conversations among them so the social businesses could exchange their experiences as well. But they learned much more than that.  

Along the way, Martinez and his friends saw the world from a different perspective. They witnessed expressions of solidarity and care, and witnessed the freedom, tranquility and peace of mind in connection with nature. ‘This was the spirit behind this...behind going on bikes and doing it, not only for the passion for cycling, but also for the coherence of doing things in another way. Doing things differently — travelling differently, engaging differently’, explains Martinez. 

Check out this Bicionarios' clip

Sharpening the knowledge for a better world 

This journey brought Martinez to ISS. He knew that he would join a master’s programme after finishing with Bicionarios—it was always part of the plan—but he did not know what to study. It was the connection with the projects and people he came to know that made him realize that he wanted to give meaning to what he had lived in the past years. ‘I think that was, for me, not only a very nice confirmation of what I had experienced but also my future’, says Martinez.  

He joined the Agrarian, Food and Environmental Studies major for the sake of knowledge, to understand the current debates and trends  that he had been exploring in the field for the past two years. The major broadened his perspectives. The themes and discussions in the courses that Martinez took opened his eyes to new areas of knowledge. He became particularly interested in critically analyzing digital technologies in agriculture, which eventually led to him doing his master’s thesis on technology adaptation for biodiverse agriculture in the Netherlands. Martinez researched the way that farmers’ knowledge interacts with the technical knowledge of the developers of those technologies.  

Like a snowball, this research paper opened new doors for Martinez. He knows that digital technologies are becoming more ingrained in our societies, and he wants to be at the forefront of these developments in agriculture. While he does not know what the next chapter in his life will be, he is certain that he wants to keep exploring and learning about these topics from a social perspective. ‘I want to stay engaged in projects related to sustainability that contribute to the challenges that communities face. I think there are many ways to connect with others to do this. You can do it with a private company, with a start-up, a big multilateral organization or a grassroots organization’, concludes Martinez. 

Interested in our programmes after hearing Sergio’s story? Learn more about our MA in Development Studies programme

Meet ISS Changemaker Adraida Banda

Adraida Banda, Zambia

The greatest potential lies where you are standing.
The greatest potential lies where you are standing.


Name: Adraida Banda
From: Zambia
Majored in: Governance and Development Policy (GDP)
Background: Experienced development professional in the public sector

Before studying at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS) in 2021, Adraida Banda was an experienced district policy officer working in the public sector in Zambia, her home country. From Chililabombwe and Solwezi to Kasempa municipalities, she is devoted to bringing key stakeholders together to serve local communities. After 11 years, she was inspired to make a change. In 2020, she was admitted to the Governance and Development Policy (GDP) major and awarded the coveted Orange Knowledge Programme (OKP) scholarship. We sat down with the latest ISS Changemaker to hear more about how she credits her MA in fusing her experience with critical knowledge to take her career to the next level.

In 2009, Banda began her path as a District Planning Officer in in the Solwezi and Kasempa Town Council in Zambia. Her role was primarily focused on bringing public institutions and civil society organizations together to implement the expansion of urban planning. Zambia is unique in its abundance of copper. The country's northern and southern regions are coined the 'Copperbelt' of Central Africa, with the resource reaching far into the Democratic Republic of Congo. The municipal council of Solwezi implemented a strategy to pave the way for mining investments in this resource, a plan that meant resettling communities elsewhere.

Banda spearheaded a programme to help relocate communities. She worked with key stakeholders to carry out needs assessments for programmes and benefits tailored to needs in the region. 'My role [as District Planning Officer] was to document and invite the municipality and civil society organizations to review challenges and best practices on a quarterly basis. Together, we hoped to learn lessons from this to see how best we could serve the communities.' Another aspect of her role was to do outreach. She spread the word about existing regional organizations, informing community members about how they could take advantage of services and subsidies.

Governance is the issue

However, as Banda later found out, the expansion meant things changed rapidly in Solwezi. Despite their best intentions, public institutions and civil society organizations sometimes failed to engage with communities. As a result, crucial information was simply getting lost. Banda couldn't help but notice a massive disconnect between key stakeholders. 'I discovered that people had no documents to protect their parcels of land, despite the municipality being there. I learned that people didn't even know that they could secure their pieces of land so that, in the event of anything happening, they would have a better negotiating position.'

Time and time again she witnessed this cruel cycle in her work. 'Many public institutions and civil society organizations in my region had initial visions on how best to serve the local communities, but there was a gap in terms of what people understand they could benefit from.' And then suddenly everything clicked into place for her. She laughs, 'I began to think…we have a governance problem here! I thought, how can we best organize ourselves and try to improve people’s livelihoods? Everything we do should be for the greater good. Development still comes at the expense of safety and people. We should try as much as possible to minimize these effects so that we end up with a win-win situation for everybody.' It's this cycle that stimulated her to further her studies.

On the ISS experience

Banda spoke to a colleague about her dream of pursuing a Master's. They recommended the Master of Arts in Development Studies programme at ISS. She applied and was admitted to the Governance and Development Policy (GDP) major — an ideal combination given her experience — for the 2020-2021 academic year. In addition, she was awarded the Orange Knowledge Programme scholarship, a grant for mid-career professionals.

Once at ISS she specialized in local economic development with an emphasis on entrepreneurship. For her master’s thesis she spoke with 21 agro-dealers to assess whether the implementation of an electronic voucher, the Farmer Input Support Programme (FISP), influenced their participation in the supply chain and whether the programme ultimately sparked job creation in Zambia's Katete district. Her work experience tangibly helped to inform her topic. 'Where I come from, people tend to think that improving their livelihood should come from somewhere else instead of looking within themselves. What matters is where you are standing and what you can do. It's necessary to network, but the greatest potential lies where you are standing.'

Aside from her studies, she found a real community at ISS. She shares that within her batch a few African students formed a support group to stay on top of their studies during the lockdown. If a fellow student fell behind, the group was there to pick them up: 'We came at a time when we had so many challenges. It was difficult for certain people to attend online classes. I have this strength of bringing people together because I could see who was ahead and who was behind. We were able to overcome the challenges because we started this academic journey at a very difficult time.'

Where I am coming from, people have this notion to think that improving their livelihood should come from somewhere else instead of looking within themselves. What matters is where you are standing and what you can do.

Continuing what she started

Banda is infectious in her positivity. When speaking with her, you can't help but feel motivated. She is now happily back in Zambia, working in the public sector as a Chief Settlement Officer for Chililabombwe Municipal Council, this time with a Master’s degree in her pocket and seasoned expertise in governance and development policy. But, despite calls from loved ones to climb the career ladder into upper management, she doesn't want to miss out on working with communities. 'I'm still determined to go and sit with the same communities and organizations and see how we can do things differently at a local level.'

Are you interested in ISS after reading Adraida's story? Learn more about our MA in Development Studies programme.

Meet ISS Changemaker Fatima Abbas

Fatima Abbas, Pakistan

I feel motivated to continue working [in the fields] of social justice and inclusion.
I feel motivated to continue working [in the fields] of social justice and inclusion.

Name: Fatima Abbas
From: Pakistan
Major: Human Rights, Gender and Conflict Studies: Social Justice Perspectives (SJP)
Background: Development professional with expertise in the area of gender 

After hearing Fatima Abbas’ story, it is no surprise that her academic path led her to the doors of the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS). Abbas is pursuing a Master’s in Development Studies, currently undertaking the Human Rights, Gender and Conflict Studies: Social Justice Perspectives major.

Abbas begins her story with us in her youth. Originally from Pakistan, she remembers moving quite often due to her father’s involvement in the army. After being stationed in Islamabad, her parents would settle their family in the lush capital where she would attend secondary school. In these formative years, Abbas studied psychology and would later attend university to earn her BSc in Anthropology. She marks this as the start for activating her academic interests:

‘I really fell in love with [anthropology]. It started to open my mind and made me question things I used to take for granted or wouldn't think about. Culture, norms, values — all those things. It really drew me in. It made me realize there was much more out there outside of Islamabad.’

Watch Fatima in this video

Meet ISS Changemaker: Fatima Abbas

Becoming a young professional

Like most undergraduates she was met with the post-bachelor’s identity crisis, asking the age-old question: ‘what’s next?’. What she knew for certain is that she wanted job experience. ‘I realized after I graduated, it was a bit difficult to realize where to go from thereon. I think that was a tough time figuring out what I wanted to do and where I see myself going. I wanted to work in the development sector.’ After undertaking two roles in education, Abbas took a bold step to look for other opportunities. This led her to do an internship at the Pakistan branch of Oxfam International in their Gender Justice department. Coincidently, that is also where she learned about ISS’ programming in a serendipitous chit chat with a visiting colleague from the Netherlands.

She says, ‘I was working on a project on child marriage prevention, and I was getting a lot of exposure of what it meant to work in a development organization and an international NGO. I ran into [a colleague] there while we were making tea for ourselves. We were talking and he asked me about my future. I told him that I always wanted to do a master’s and he said: “Oh, [ISS] is a great institution. You should check it out!”. That was back in 2018. I kept it in mind because I didn't want to apply right away, and I wanted to gain some professional experience.’

And that, she did. After her internship, she landed a job in Karachi with Citizens Archive of Pakistan, an NGO preserving the historical and cultural heritage of Pakistani citizens. This role was no typical 9-to-5. She would work on a project where she would interview those who survived the upheaval during the India-Pakistan partition over tea and sweets, a familiar circumstance that her own family members had faced. These conversations with elderly locals unearthed their painful experiences marred by a legacy of colonialism and interstate violence. 

'I hadn't studied feminism formally, and [at ISS] I got to finally dive deeper into the different kinds of feminisms that exist.'

On the ISS experience

Her experience as a young professional directed her to cross the paths of influential women who left a profound impact. In large part, these meetings impacted her choice to apply for the Social Justice Perspectives major. ‘I got to speak with this woman who had become the first high court judge in the province of Sindh, her experience of studying law as the only woman in a class full of men, and how she broke those stereotypes. I think there has always been a gender dimension to much of the work I do.’

She is part of the 2020-21 cohort whose academic year has been complicated by the pandemic. Although this semester has been difficult to navigate, she tells us that she is enjoying the courses and the theoretical perspectives she has gained so far. ’Academically, I've been really liking the way we are taught about development and feminist perspectives. I hadn't studied feminism formally, and I got to finally dive deeper into the different kinds of feminisms that exist. One course I am taking is called Gender and Sexuality, and that’s been interesting and making me question things I never thought of. Another course I really like is Transitions to Social Justice Lab. That's exposing me to new theories of post-development and decoloniality.’

Abbas now heads into her MA thesis with two different research paths in mind. She says, ‘I have a lot of different things that I am interested in like gender fluidity in pre-colonial India and how it was policed with the onset of colonization. I am also looking at transgender rights in Pakistan today. Recently, we had a legal act passed two years back which guaranteed some fundamental rights, so one idea I have is to look at the politics of citizenship and identity in Pakistan regarding transgender identities. It was quite funny because after hearing about gender fluidity, my supervisor advised me to narrow down my [thesis] topic, but I ended up expanding it even more!’

'I feel motivated to continue working [in the fields] of social justice and inclusion.'

Future ahead

Abbas, jovial and multifaceted, has a bright future ahead. And, she keeps busy, to say the least. She is currently undertaking an internship as a creative researcher at a local science and cultural museum in The Hague in combination with doing her master’s thesis. She is keen on any opportunities arising as they come, but she knows that her career path will be rooted in inclusion and social justice efforts: ‘I am a Muslim, but I also belong to a minority sect in my country, the Shiite community. Although it is the largest minority group in Pakistan, there is a lot of discrimination and marginalisation against the community. Even regarding other communities, I feel motivated to continue working [in the fields] of social justice and inclusion.’

Interested in our programmes after hearing Fatima's story? Learn more about our MA in Development Studies programme

Meet ISS Changemaker Dina Chaerani

Dina Chaerani, Indonesia

I speak on behalf of my inner-child.
I speak on behalf of my inner-child.

Name: Dina Chaerani
From: Indonesia 
Major: Social Policy for Development (SPD)
Background: Development professional with expertise in gender and child and youth participation and protection 

(The following profile addresses the topic of sexual violence. We understand this content may be difficult for many. We advise you to read with caution for your wellbeing.) 

Dina Chaerani was sure that she would pursue her graduate degree at the International Institute of Social Studies (ISS). She even knew the major and specialization that aligned with her goals at the age of 14. The Social Policy for Development (SPD) major, specializing in Child and Youth Studies. Dina is ambitiously pursuing a career in gender and child and youth participation and protection. She is maintaining her work as founder of the burgeoning mobile app, Lapor Yuk!, a reporting tool for survivors of sexual violence in Indonesia. 

When speaking with Chaerani, we learn that her aspirations are rooted in personal experience. The SPD student is originally from Indonesia, growing up in the coastal city of Jakarta. Her original path veered far from her current interest in development studies. 'I had a very chaotic experience because when I was in [secondary] school, I studied accountancy.' While in school, Chaerani became a beneficiary of Plan International's branch in Indonesia and participated closely in anti-harassment programmes.    

It was at Plan International that a new field of interest grew.' I got a lot of training in gender and children participation and child protection,' she says. 'I felt like, oh, I really like the field of gender and child participation.' Chaerani was inspired by the field's core aspects, namely children and youth being valued for their views and opinions. She decidedly no longer wanted to pursue accountancy in university but, instead, would apply for a degree in the social sciences. During her tenure as a beneficiary at Plan, she learned about ISS: 

'Many of the staff were ISS graduates who specialized in Children and Youth Studies. I thought, "What is that? What is ISS". They said that ISS was the best development studies university in the world. I researched the Children and Youth Studies curriculum. I thought it was very specific and something I couldn't find in Indonesia.' 

Watch Dina in this video

Meet ISS Changemaker: Dina Chaerani

But, according to Chaerani, this did not come without struggle. 'I applied [for university], but I got rejected. It was kind of hard. I continued to apply, but my last option was to pursue a German Language Education degree.' She was eventually admitted, and although she wasn't accepted on her desired terms, she took great interest in learning a new language and found the opportunity to study abroad in Germany.    

Founding a new venture 

Chaerani was a diligent undergraduate student, participating in youth panels and working at Plan Indonesia while keeping up with the rigorous expectations as she neared the end of her studies. During her third year, she devised an idea with her friends to create the mobile app Lapor Yuk! to prevent sexual violence against children and youth. The app, only available in Indonesia, is another route for children and youth to report instances of sexual violence that they have witnessed or experienced.  

Chaerani believes that digitizing the process helps people, particularly girls and youth, navigate the stigma of sexual assault and report it anonymously. 'In Indonesia, we have very low process of reporting mechanisms,' she clarifies. 'You first have to report it to the lowest level, and then it will move to regency level, and then it will go to the national level until it goes to the judicial process. I see that many girls and children don't want to report because there is stigmatization. They don't know the mechanisms or to whom they should report.'  

Impassioned, she also explains her connection to the app's purpose. 'When I was in junior high school, I experienced sexual violence as well. I reported to my teacher, and they asked me irrelevant questions. They asked who did it to me, and I didn't remember. He even said that I must've enjoyed it. I wasn't brave enough to tell anyone else, and I kept it a secret for seven years until I received a lot of information and training on this topic and became strong enough.'  

Now she collaborates with several institutions to implement Lapor Yuk! as an alternative reporting route. 'You can download [the app] and click the bottom when you or someone you know encountered sexual violence. The app leads you to the specific institution to alert. For two years, I worked together with the police department, the hospital, and other institutions for reporting. Now, it has been applied by one of the regencies in Indonesia.' 

'I want to combine my research with agency, looking at how children can feel safe to report [sexual violence].'

Into the research process 

Chaerani is happy to continue her dream of attending her first-choice master's programme at ISS, focusing on Child and Youth Studies as an SPD major. For her master's thesis, she decided to stay close to her passion of child and youth protection by conducting research on Lombok Island. Her research (which she shares is entitled 'Conquering Fear') hopes to contribute to research on stigmatization and children’s agency when reporting sexual violence. 'We already know it's about fear, stigmatization and victimization that is happening to victims when they report cases. I want to combine my research with agency, looking at how children can feel safe to report and that they have their own agency to report it.' 

A positive aspect of her study experience has been the opportunity to take cross-cutting courses from the other majors at ISS. This allowed her to learn about policy evaluation more broadly, a benefit for her thesis. 'When I was entering the second term, I found that the courses from GDP were more relatable for me.' she says. 'I found it beneficial to choose courses in the [Governance and Development Policy] major, because it complemented my study and specialization. I took the public policy courses, and now I can relate it to youth and children.' 

'...I don't want to see other girls or boys encounter the same experience I was in.  I speak on behalf of my inner-child...'

Future ahead 

When reflecting on her goals, Chaerani dreams big. 'When I was in junior high school, I wanted to be the president of Indonesia,' she says, laughing. Now? 'I want to be the Minister of Women Empowerment and Child Protection in Indonesia because I see that my passion is about children and youth. My thing is that I don't want to see other girls or boys encounter the same experience I was in. I speak on behalf of my inner-child because I wasn't brave enough to tell on my perpetrator.' 

After graduation, she wants to build her career in humanitarian and grass-roots organizations that she believes are working effectively across the regions in Indonesia. In addition, she hopes that the data revealed in her thesis will help her expand on the success of Lapor Yuk! in the future. She tells us, 'I believe my [research] will be a stepping- stone to expand the app that I created, and the research data will help me expand upon my app. In Indonesia, the government aims to be more child-friendly by 2030. This would expand to all 416 regencies. I want to use that as well as my agenda. I say, let’s do it!' 

Interested in our programmes after hearing Dina’s story? Learn more about our MA in Development Studies programme

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