• Curriculum

    The UNC Charlotte Impact Academy program provides insight into on-the-ground realities of sustainable development.

    The program answers the need expressed by employers in purpose-driven organizations: that candidates gain first-hand experience of the cultural, political, logistical and economic issues that impede development.

    The UNC Charlotte Impact Academy is powered by GVI, an experiential education organization that has been in operation for over 20 years. Guided by the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, and the development goals of local communities, its programs seek to address the greatest challenges in development today.

    UNC Charlotte Impact Academy is offering a digital program

    Start date: January 1st

    UNC Charlotte Impact Academy is offering a digital program

    Beginning January 1st, you can complete the UNC Charlotte Impact Academy program, online! You can finish the online component only, with no requirement to book or complete your international fieldwork, though we encourage the fieldwork component once it is safe to travel. We’re offering you total flexibility.

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    Online courses

    Develop practical skills and learn how to apply unique frameworks, as you work through the eight online courses in the program. Our online courses integrate video lectures and interviews, practical toolkits and frameworks, as well as self-assessments and project assignments. There are also opportunities for collaborative learning through discussion forums and webinars.

    How you will advance

    The following courses contribute to your learning journey prior to your international fieldwork.

    Course 1 | Context Analysis and Practice

    The Context Analysis and Practice online course equips you with a unique toolkit that will enable you to analyze local contexts and make sense of the on-the-ground realities of development and conservation work. This toolkit is designed to be a practical set of directions and guiding questions, and will be used during your international fieldwork.


    • Learn how political, social, economic and other dimensions of context shape the environment and circumstances in which you will work.
    • Explore macro-micro links: how policies, institutions, various levels of government and organizations affect development work in multiple ways.
    • Discover how context analysis can help facilitate effective development interventions and better program design.

    Course 2 | Subject Area Foundations

    The Subject Area Foundations online course equips you with an understanding of key concepts, terminology and tools to analyze a system. You will discover the history and evolution of sustainable development and get a comprehensive yet concise understanding of your subject area’s global challenges.


    • Discover the history and evolution of sustainable development, while learning the key concepts and terminology.
    • Explore the history and evolution of your subject area and get up to speed on current global challenges.
    • Explore real-world case studies illustrating how local context impacts development projects and programs.

    Course 3 | Community Engagement

    The Community Engagement online course equips you with the tools to analyze stakeholders, engage with local communities and manage community-based projects. You will learn about community engagement and the core values, principles and activities that support effective programs.


    • Learn how to engage communities at different levels using a variety of techniques.
    • Dive deep into culture and understand concepts, terminology and the fundamentals of cultural identities, including exploring your own cultural identity.
    • Discover common practices in Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and how to identify community assets using an appreciative inquiry process and capacity inventory toolkit.

    Course 4 | Strategy, Monitoring and Evaluation

    The Strategy, Monitoring and Evaluation online course equips you with the tools to analyze environments, formulate strategies and develop outcomes-based approaches to design and manage programs. You will be introduced to the key concepts, terminology and the fundamentals of strategy, and monitoring and evaluation.


    • Learn how to develop a theory of change and create a visual representation of your initiative’s inputs, activities, outputs, and expected outcomes.
    • Explore cutting-edge uses of big data in sustainable development.
    • Learn how to write a terms of reference and conduct a formal evaluation to measure whether impact has actually been achieved.

    Course 5 | Communication and Advocacy

    The Communication and Advocacy online course equips you with the tools and techniques to identify target audiences or partners, develop compelling messaging and select appropriate communication methods. You will learn about communication that enables people (particularly vulnerable groups) to participate in shaping decisions that affect their lives, and explore the key ethical issues you might face when working with these communities.


    • Explore how communication can be used to start social movements, create behavioral change or influence policy.
    • Apply a practical approach to develop effective partnerships from alliances to networks.
    • Learn how to actively promote a cause you care about.

    Course 6 | Project Management and Delivery

    The Project Management and Delivery online course equips you with the tools to analyze project risks, develop project plans, and manage project resources. You will learn key principles and methods for managing projects in global development environments in order to overcome common implementation challenges.


    • Master the four stages of a project lifecycle and learn essential techniques and tips for managing each phase of a project.
    • Learn how to apply common tools for managing time (Gantt charts) and resources (outcomes-based budgets).
    • Discover collaborative, decentralized and adaptive management principles required for managing projects in complex environments.

    Course 7 | Finance and Fundraising

    The Finance and Fundraising online course equips you with the tools to analyze sources of finance, write financial proposals, and implement appropriate governance processes. You will be introduced to key concepts and frameworks that even beginners in finance can use to plan for financial sustainability.


    • Explore how the development finance landscape has changed over the past decade.
    • Dive deep into five different financial mechanisms from traditional philanthropic grants to innovative crowdfunding platforms.
    • Learn how to get started when looking for funding, learn about the funding process and learn the common elements in a fundraising proposal.

    Course 8 | Best Practices and Innovation

    The Best Practices and Innovation online course showcases the latest practices and approaches in sustainable development that are demonstrating results and impact. You will learn how a “fit” approach beats “best practice” and how to adapt practices to different contexts. You will be introduced to behavioral science, systems innovation, human-centered design, impact investing and social entrepreneurship.


    • Learn about behavior science and the ethics of influence and choice architecture.
    • Discover the key mindsets and four key phases of human-centered design (HCD).
    • Learn the core characteristics of impact investing and social entrepreneurship.

    International fieldwork

    Gain unique and valuable experience in global development through an in depth series of masterclasses, site visits, fieldwork, and a final project with an organizational partner.

    Due to COVID-19, travel is not compulsory on the UNC Charlotte program and international fieldwork is optional. Should you still wish to travel, with our international standards of health and safety, you can continue to make a positive impact in the world and pursue the causes you’re passionate about. In order to do this, we have put in place new and extensive procedures and protocols that will help us to ensure a safe experience for all and to help reassure our students about travelling during and after COVID-19.


    Five speakers

    The masterclasses allow you to quickly develop deep insight into the on-the-ground realities of international development. You’ll hear first-person accounts from senior leaders in NGOs, government and social enterprises.

    You’ll be exposed to a broad range of local practitioner and beneficiary perspectives. You will also hear diverse points of view that highlight how local factors, such as economic, cultural, financial, political, religious, technological or geographical have influenced or shaped the implementation of development projects in your chosen location.

    Examples of masterclasses:

    • The head of disaster management at a Thai NGO delivers a masterclass titled “The impact of climate change on local Thai communities.
    • The former South African governmental head of educational policy delivers a masterclass titled “The South African education system: challenges and opportunities.” 
    • A Fiji conservationist delivers a masterclass titled “Plastic pollution: local views and behaviors.
    • A Peruvian social enterprise co-founder delivers a masterclass titled “The community sharing economic model.”

    Site visits

    Five organizations and analysis

    The site visits provide you with diverse first-hand experience of the factors which impact programs. Each site visit is a one- or two-day analysis of the contextual adaptations of a partner organization.

    These site visits are intense and will ensure you get hands-on experience in the subject area you’ve chosen. You will immerse yourself in a variety of local organizational contexts to observe, analyze, engage and conduct informal interviews.

    Examples of site visits:

    • Visit a local market in Costa Rica and observe informal traders and microenterprises. Interview traders and customers.
    • Travel to a small local fishing harbor in Ghana and analyze the physical environment and stakeholders. 
    • Go to a local school in Costa Rica and observe the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructures in place and the behaviors of students.
    • Visit projects run by a local Ghanian NGO sports program for kids and hear their views on education, their challenges and their goals.

    Final project

    One organization and project

    Demonstrate your knowledge and skills through developing a portfolio of work, which will be attractive to potential employers. This project ties all your program knowledge together.

    Based on your prior education and level of experience, three project levels are available:

    Conduct a holistic analysis identifying important contextual factors for an organization.

    Apply the principles of a specific foundational course (for example, finance and fundraising) to a brief provided by the organization.

    Conduct an in-depth critique and analysis of a specific aspect (for example, monitoring and evaluation) of the organization.

    Examples of final projects include:

    • Investigate how Costa Rica works with the United Nations to bring solar panels to rural communities. 
    • Investigate the barriers experienced by a healthcare nonprofit in Peru when looking to expand their project of mobile-wellness clinics for primary schools.
    • Analyze how a Costa Rican business can address gender-based violence for their employees.
    • Analyze the work done in Thailand by the traditional elephant-keeping community in partnership with international funders to change their economic model from elephant tourism to ecotourism.

    What you will learn

    • You will learn that the success of development or conservation initiatives is determined by how well the realities on the ground are understood and managed.
    • You will see first-hand how external factors affect initiatives, how to identify the risks and how to prevent or manage them to ensure successful implementation.
    • You take part in experiential learning opportunities across a broad range of organizations.
    • You gain access to career services including mock interviews, portfolio reviews, recruiting, soft-skills training and more to help ensure they are successful in the job search.

    Want to know more about our curriculum?

    Join a webinar. It’s absolutely free. Senior members of our team will discuss how our curriculum was developed to provide candidates with the specific competencies required by employers in the sustainable development and conservation sectors.

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