Faculty Spotlight: Mitchell Cook

Name: Mitchell Cook 

Course: Theories, Histories, and Practices of Development 

Department: Graduate Program in International Affairs


We sat down [virtually] with Mitchell Cook to learn more about his background and journey from GPIA student to faculty member. Mitchell is currently teaching Theories, Histories, and Practices of Development at The New School, holds a Ph.D. from MIT, and has previously worked for the World Bank, the Government of Ethiopia, Gates Foundation and UNICEF. 

Q: Can you tell us about your professional and educational background before joining GPIA as a faculty member?

A: I did my M.A. in International Affairs at The New School (GPIA) from 2007 to 2009, and my Ph.D. at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning (School of Architecture and Planning). My Ph.D. was in Urban and Regional Planning and my focus was on urban economic development and municipal finance.  My professional background, in addition to university teaching, has predominantly included consulting work on diverse range of challenges and issues around managing cities and urbanization in Africa and Asia, such as sustainable urban  infrastructure finance and planning, property tax policy, and local service delivery for a variety of organizations and governments including the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank, the Government of Ethiopia/Bill and MelindaGates Foundation, Cities Alliance, UN-Habitat/Green Climate Fund and UNICEF. 

Q: What are your areas of interest? 

A: My areas of interest are broadly on how countries and cities improve policies and systems for financing urban infrastructure and inclusive services. This includes strengthening local financial management in the context of decentralization and financial globalization. On the more applied level, I am trying to focus on examining where cities fit within the evolving multilateral climate finance system, and how strategies and programs at the local level can be organized to accelerate efforts in cities to redesign and channel their existing resources, taxes, and financial instruments more effectively to develop urban systems with the goal of mitigating the harmful effects of pollution and adapting to existing and expected impacts of climate change. 

Q: Can you talk to us about THPD, your course goals and what you hope for your students to gain? 

A: THDP is a really interesting course because it is an advanced introductory exploration of international development. We get to cover a wide range of theories and country experiences, take a look at the historical performance of different regions and countries, and work through what all of it means for the actual practice of economic, social, and political development. It balances the sweeping views and the big questions that are out there with how material and institutional progress happens on the ground. We try to understand what options are available for countries, cities, and the main actors in international development, to improve and accelerate progress across economic, social, political, and other dimensions. I find the course to be a really great opportunity for students to build their own thinking and ideas, while going a little deeper on the issues that they are most concerned about. The goal is to expand their exposure to the main theoretical paradigms for explaining the causes and consequences of change and equip students to really make an impact in the world. 

Q: What was your experience like when you attended GPIA? Did you tale THPD and were there any lessons that stuck with you?

A: I was a student in the THPD class during the spring semester of 2008 — 12 years ago — when the course was called Comparative Development Experience. My professor was Max Fraad-Wolff, who is still teaching at GPIA. A lot has changed in the program since I took it, but the course remains a great stepping stone to going out and being able to be a reflective practitioner in the development field and to really understand how theory and history drives and influences current practices and current dominant paradigms that organizations and governments use to guide their vision of what they want to achieve. 

GPIA provides the space and opportunities to look at these paradigms through a critical perspective, and gain a really strong grasp of how different views guide policymakers, and then to take that knowledge and put it to work, out in the field and when working with organizations that are trying to make the world a better place. It’s great to come back and contribute to that environment and that experience for students that are looking to open up new opportunities in their careers and to move the field of the development forward in a complex and rapidly changing world. 

Recent Publications and Reports: 

  1. Pathways to Equitable Economic Growth in Cities: Pricing Municipal Services in the Global South. Washington DC: Cities Alliance. (with Michael Cohen, Achilles Kallergis, and Lena Simet).
  2. Between Policies, Programs, and Projects: How Local Actors Steer Domestic Urban Climate Adaptation Finance in India” in Climate Change in Cities: Innovations in Multi-Level Governance. Springer. (with Eric Chu).

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