Social Policy at Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy

Social policy is a broad subject that covers a variety of topics related to human needs, and how governments and societies respond to those human needs through public policy. Typically, social policy includes things like race, education, poverty, health, child and family policy, and often also includes environmental policy as it relates to communities. Because social policy is broad and encompasses many aspects of daily life, it means that social policy is often the main kind of public policy that regular people hear about and interact with on a regular basis.

MIDP fellows who choose social policy as an area of focus will get an introduction to these topics from an international context in the Social Policy and Development seminar course, and can choose elective courses in specific areas of social policy including social inequality, poverty, safety net policies, education, and health from a global perspective.


MIDP Social Policy Course Highlights

Still looking for more course examples? The Sanford School of Public Policy’s Career Services Office has created four “paths”  that draw on the core strengths of the School when it comes to social policy. Below, you can see these paths which include example courses and example internships that Sanford students have done.  For more complete information visit the Sanford Career Services Office


Social Policy Path 1: Poverty, Race, and Social Exclusion

This path focus on issues of equity related to socioeconomic status, race, and ethnicity.


Social Policy Path 2: Child and Family Policy

Child and family policy is concerned with aspects of poverty and inequality in schools, social welfare policies related to families, policies that affect childhood development, and a wide range of education policy issues including school truancy, charter schools, teacher training, and education reform efforts. Sanford is home to the renowned Center for Child and Family Policy, which conducts research and practical interventions in areas of social policy related to families and children.


Social Policy Path 3: Leadership and Ethics in Social Policy

The Sanford School of Public Policy includes Leadership and Ethics as a “path” for students interested in social policy, with example courses and internships listed below. MIDP fellows may find these courses helpful in exercising and strengthening their abilities to lead and advocate for changes in social policy as it relates to international development.

The MIDP program offers a mini-seminar (1 credit course) in Leadership and Development, which focuses on key concepts of leadership from political science and management perspectives, and developing a framework for evaluating effective leadership in the international development context.

In addition to courses focused on leadership in social policy, the Sanford School is home to the Hart Leadership Program, which challenges students to practice the art of leadership in public life. Although this program is focused on undergraduate students, the Hart Leadership Program offers events and other opportunities for graduate students to engage in leadership topics.

See also: the Center for the Study of Philanthropy and Voluntarism, the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and Research Service Learning at Duke.


Social Policy Path 4: Environmental Social Policy

The Sanford School has included environmental policy as a social policy “path” (though because environmental issues are such a crucial element of international development, it is also an individual “area of focus” in the MIDP program).  Environmental social policy focuses on creating solutions to improve environmental policymaking worldwide through objective, fact-based research to confront the climate crisis, clarify the economics of limiting carbon pollution, harness emerging environmental markets and many more. Sanford  has several faculty who are experts in environmental policy and in 2018, Sanford and the Nicholas School of the Environment launched a new graduate degree focused on environmental policy at Duke’s China Campus in Kunshan.

Fellows in the MIDP program who focus on environmental policy can take courses directly through the Nicholas School of the Environment.

See also the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions


To learn more about the MIDP program click here

To see the other “areas of focus” that MIDP fellows may select, click here


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