Rockefeller-UNCDF Agreement Forges Unique Capstone Experience


ALBANY, N.Y. (February 19, 2021) — The University at Albany’s Rockefeller College of Public Affairs & Policy has formed a new capstone initiative with the United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF), giving Rockefeller College graduate students an invaluable opportunity to make a global difference. The capstone experience allows students in the Master of International Affairs (MIA) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) programs to contribute to UNCDF’s Dual Key Investment Committee by helping analyze grant proposals.

UNCDF assists the world’s 47 least developed countries and has worked to make a measurable impact in areas such as job creation, women’s economic empowerment, clean energy, resilience to climate change, and food security. To determine which projects get financial support, the Dual Key Investment Committee ensures that the selected investments meet both financial and thematic impact requirements. It reviews the measurable indicators and provides oversight on the investments.


“The UNCDF Dual Key Pipeline of revenue-generating investments is an award-winning approach, which revolves around “investing with impact” in transformative and sustainable local economic development investments,” said Rockefeller College alumnus Mohammad Abbadi, MPA ’08 who is the Senior Investment Manager at UNCDF.

Looking to improve transparency and impartiality in the decision-making process, as well as enhance the technical compliance and oversight of each thematic area of work, Abbadi had the idea to add more external observers to the investment committee and approached Rockefeller College leadership with the idea to involve Rockefeller graduate students.

Capstone students would be tasked to analyze and consider the financial viability of the proposed projects and the likely impact the projects would have on thematic areas like job creation, food security, environmental management, etc.

Rebecca Lee, MPA ’19 piloted the program as an independent study with Rockefeller’s Director of the Master of International Affairs Program Rey Koslowski in the spring and summer of 2019. When the UAlbany-UNCDF agreement was finalized in February 2020, Rebecca was hired as coordinator and began training several Rockefeller College students to review proposals for their capstones.  

“I wanted a capstone program to institutionalize this pilot in both our organizations for long-term partnership, technical cooperation, and learning,” said Abbadi. “One thing I know for sure is that graduate students will spend sufficient time unwrapping these investments, and they are brutally honest in their feedback, which is what I was aiming for. When cooperation is institutionalized, you ensure a continuum in technical learning, improvements, and refinements. It is also more sustainable and cost-effective.”

“As an investment committee advisory member, there were so many interesting projects that we were able to review” said Lee. “The internal UNCDF team was very responsive to the concerns addressed by our team. Knowing that leaders in the international nonprofit world acknowledged our work and validated our concerns felt extremely rewarding. I would highly suggest this program to those who are interested in international politics, global finance and/or international nonprofits.” 

Like Lee, Rockefeller MIA student Rob Potts has had the opportunity to work as an advisor on the committee, and also currently manages the capstone partnership.

“The UNCDF partnership represents an incredible opportunity for Rockefeller College students to develop hands-on experience in international development finance and build connections with the United Nations in their final year,” said Potts. “Unlike many UN internships, which require a semester-long relocation to New York City or Geneva, the UNCDF capstone project can be completed 100% here in Albany alongside a full course load.”

“This is truly a symbiotic relationship where we are able to provide a valuable additional perspective, and at the same time, our students are seeing how a major international organization operates in an area directly related to their studies,” added Potts.

Since the agreement has been in place, eight Rockefeller students have participated in the capstone program with UNCDF. Graduate students interested in learning more about the UNCDF capstone opportunity should contact Associate Professor Brian Greenhill via email at [email protected].