Reflections from Ten Years of working in Climate Change Adaptation

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director

As the year comes to an end, I realized that it has now been ten years since I began working on Climate Change Adaptation. I have an overwhelming sense of gratitude and happiness looking back at one decade of following my passion. Here, I do a self-reflection on the journey of past years; touching on experiences, challenges, growth and learning opportunities.

Ten years ago, when I was working as a Lecturer in Civil Engineering in Lesotho, my voluntary “industry attachment” at the Department of Meteorology in Maseru city, led me to be a Co-Applicant for a US National Science Foundation funded START Global Environment Change Research grant. We undertook research on how climate change impacted subsistence farmers in Lesotho. The 120 households we interviewed told us that food crops are the most vulnerable to weather particularly frost damage, hail, drought and dry spells, which reduced crop yields. Although it was a small research project, it was one of the first researches of its kind in Lesotho and gave baseline information on this subject. Today, we know that with climate change, heavy snowfalls, strong winds, floods and droughts are expected to continue to affect the country, posing a direct threat to sectors such as agriculture, forestry and infrastructure.

By end of 2009, my husband got an assignment in Malawi and we moved to picturesque Zomba city in southern Malawi. I started volunteering at the Wildlife and Environmental Society of Malawi and prepared a book on birds which were distributed freely through Danish funding to 400 primary schools. At the launch of the book, I met the Director of a prominent NGO; Leadership for Environment and Development (LEAD), who gave me an opportunity to work with LEAD for almost five years. It was a chance to do some varied and interesting work, such as compiling the State of Environment Report for Malawi, developing the National Climate Change Policy for Malawi, compiling a Stocktaking Report for Rio +20 for Malawi, reviewing the Decentralized Environmental Management Guidelines for Malawi, conducting studies on Advancing Green Economy through Technology Transfer, on impacts of Lake Chilwa drying in 2012/13 and on Bilharzia prevalence. Through this work, I learnt about the interlinkages between various sectors and climate change.

It was clear that Malawi needed substantial funding for climate change adaptation. Fortunately, we got a chance to successfully develop a Global Environment Facility proposal, which went on to get $6million for climate proofing of local development gains in two districts of Malawi. This has supported over 0.5 million people to receive knowledge, tools, capacities and methodologies for the adoption of an ecosystems and community based approach as well as integrating climate risks into adaptation measures.

LEAD and partners implemented the Norway Government funded Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme, with interventions that included tree planting, training on climate change, setting up drama groups and radio clubs, building fuel efficient fish smoking kilns, solar fish dryers, weather monitoring stations, linking farmers to markets, conservation agriculture training, fuel efficient stoves promotion and setting up a radio and TV station. The experience helped me understand the importance of using an integrated approach, as communities live integrated lives, not in “siloes” of sectors. Adaptation efforts just focusing on one sector may not be as effective. Lake Chilwa communities demanded that we not only look at income generation and livelihood building activities but also to look at health and family planning.

Consequently, from the Lake Chilwa Project, we published a report on the Linkages between Population, Reproductive Health, Gender and Climate Change Adaptation and went on to disseminate this widely to funders and policymakers both nationally and internationally, including at the International Conference on Family Planning in Ethiopia to Woodrow Wilson Center and Capitol Hill in Washington DC. We are confident that this has inspired projects that came afterwards to take a more integrated approach to adaptation efforts.

We are conscious that Climate Change affects those who contributed least to it, particularly those in developing countries and this has led to a climate justice movement. The Scottish Government supports this thinking and their Scottish Climate Justice Fund (SCJF) provides funds to countries like Malawi to cope with climate change impacts. I was part of two projects funded by SCJF, one on Solar Energy Kiosks and the other on Water Resources and climate change. From the Solar Kiosk project, I understood that when piloting a technology, understanding community socio-economic status is key to make the project a success or failure. From the Water Resources project, I learnt that it is important for decentralized structures and Government officials to be involved from the beginning for the project to be sustainable. From December 2019, I am part of a new project also funded by SCJF which will look at energy issues in Malawi, coming up with a novel communal cooker using waste as input. This project is led by the University of Glasgow.

The work at LEAD also piqued my interest on ecosystem services, particularly on provisioning ecosystem services, as it impacts on the lives of natural resource dependent poor communities. I got interested in a fragile yet productive ecosystem, the “Likangala River Catchment”, and this ended up becoming my PhD study. The ecosystem provides so many benefits including edible wild animals, wild plants and fungi, medicinal plants, construction materials, ornamental flowers, firewood, honey, gum, reeds and thatch/weaving grasses. Human activities such as land use change had affected the provisioning ecosystem services and water quality. With climate change, such fragile ecosystems will be affected and the natural resources dependent communities who live off them will be affected.

In 2015, we moved to The Kingdom of Eswatini following my husband’s job and I began volunteering at the Coordinating Assembly of Non-Governmental Organizations (CANGO) Recommended by CANGO, I was engaged under a United Nations Environment funded project as the Climate Change Adaptation consultant for Eswatini’s Technology Needs Assessment (TNA) for climate change management. The TNA prioritized the sectors and technologies that the country needs as it adapts to climate change. I received support from many people particularly the stakeholders and guidance from the Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Affairs, which moved me to look at this project as an “Ubuntu” inspired journey. Already some projects in Eswatini are using the information from the TNA, which is heartening to note.

In 2016, I went back to Malawi to start a non-profit organization with some friends, which we called “Abundance”, inspired by nature which is plenty and regenerating. Based on my past experiences, we used an integrated approach with deep focus on the community and activities are driven by community needs, building self-reliance. It is a completely voluntarily run organization and the dedicated team in Malawi are fantastic! The same year, I was approached by a colleague from the University of Glasgow to join the Sustainable Futures in Africa network. It appealed to me because the network uses a decolonial approach to our work and explore the relationship between social, cultural, and ecological factors in sustainability in Africa through interdisciplinary research initiatives. Co-Directing this network with Dr.Mia Perry with members from Scotland, Nigeria, Botswana, Uganda and Malawi is a pleasurable and stimulating experience. Abundance as an organization is also part of the network. Through the network, I had a chance to have a residency at the University of Glasgow in 2018 and give talks at the University on the lessons learnt from my work in Africa.

A friend in my PhD cohort linked me with a consultancy firm in South Africa (Gibb). Through them, I was able to undertake a regional consultancy work to compile the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Climate Change Year Book, covering 15 countries which was published in English, Portuguese and French. My interest in research continued to bubble within me and led me to undertake a Post-Doctoral Fellowship at Rhodes University in Grahamstown (Makana), South Africa. This culminated in a few journal articles and a book on Poverty Reduction through Non-Timber Forest Products, with case studies from six continents, which was published by Springer. I am now back in Eswatini and with colleagues supporting the National Disaster Management Agency (NDMA) to build capacity to develop proposals tapping on to climate finance. Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate Change Adaptation are two sides of the same coin, I have come to understand as I work with NDMA.

Ten years ago, changing my career from civil engineering to environmental science and working on climate change adaptation and global development seemed like a risky thing to do. Looking back, I know it was right move. The transition would not have happened if I had not connected with supportive colleagues and mentors who guided me through this journey; and family and friends who were understanding throughout. It is tremendously satisfying to work on climate change adaptation, which is very pertinent today. However, at the moment, I also have a sense of anxiety for the future; about climatic stressors that will make permanent and temporary changes to ecosystems and the implications for losses and damages to people and society. As we make New Year’s Resolutions, let’s make some resolutions to make personal and collective action to save the planet. Let us contribute less emissions towards climate change, let us help with adaptation efforts.

Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day 2)

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager of the SFA Network

Today (Nov 7th, 2019) was the second opportunity for the emerging designers to engage with the experts in Sustainable Development & the Global South. For more information about the project itself, please read this post.
The students presented the concept scenario they had developed as a team, as well as their individual direction which is a specific aspect of the future world they have created. These individual parts will lead to the design of distinct, imaginative and interrelated products, services and experiences. While designing, the students must keep in mind who they are designing for – future workers/future citizens – with consideration for how Sustainable Development work might evolve to enable/afford/alter the dynamics of people, process and practice in the Global South.

As most of them have never travelled to a destination in the Global South, they largely rely on the experts’ lived-experiences to grasp the reality of those living in developing countries. I was pleased to realise that as the emerging designers broaden their research and interact/interview the experts, they also start integrating what working across difference means, that there is more than often no “right” or “wrong”, “bad” or “good”, “them” and “us”, which are too easy and simplistic labels used to describe the disparity between the North and the South. I notice that they all felt more comfortable exploring the grey zone between both worlds where ideas and concepts can emerge, instead of stagnating in a criticism loop. While they learn from our experience, we also greatly learn from their creativity, flexibility, and open-mindedness which are skills that requires time and exposure to develop but which seem to be well built-in and natural for this group.

Impact Story from Nigeria: Policymakers Engagement on Artisanal Gold Mining

By Grace Idowu Awosanmi and Deepa Pullanikkatil

Dr Sola Ajayi, a Professor of Agricultural Science in Ile-Ife, Nigeria, got interested in agriculture through his experiences and observations growing up in a farming community. He is now the Director of the Nigerian hub of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network, a global network comprising members from the United Kingdom, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana. “Being auniversity teacher and a Professor of Agriculture gave me the desire to understand communities in a holistic manner,” says Ajayi. “I look at the issue of community development more than just that of agriculture because I know that the development of communities is a result of so many interwoven factors. This was my attraction for joining SFA.”

Since 2014, Ajayi has been researching the nexus between artisanal gold mining and agriculture. He has conducted several field visits and partnered with other universities (notably Goethe University in Germany and Murdoch University in Australia) on issues relating to mining, community relationships and social engagement. So at the inaugural SFA meeting in Botswana in 2016, where hub countries were offered seed grants and asked to come up with projects, Ajayi presented the idea of ‘Prioritizing developmental needs in agrarian and mining communities’. The research question was: What is the priority for artisanal mining communities in the face of limited resources? A variety of methods were used by Ajayi and his interdisciplinary team, which included Prof. Akande from Adult Literacy and Lifelong Education and Prof. Torimiro from Agricultural Sociology.

Ajayi recalls, “As we progressed, there came an escalation in the problem of artisanal mining per se, which also extended to both my immediate environment at Ile-Ife and to the community where I was born. The issue of artisanal mining in Nigeria spiralled to become a security issue that was also threatening the social fabric of communities where these issues were taking place. Therefore we decided to narrow it down and then look at it in context.”

Prof Sola Ajayi meeting with youth

Mining in Itagunmodi

About a year after the start of the SFA project, the government of Nigeria came up with the idea of changing its developmental paradigm to focus on agriculture and mining. They wanted to reduce the dependence of the Nigerian economy on oil, targeting other aspects of the economy instead. This prompted the SFA team to ask, “If the government considers mining and agriculture to hold the key to economic diversification, why are the communities where these activities take place poor?”

Their interest in this question led them to the village of Igbojaye, located in Oyo State.  The community is strategically located within a strongly traditional institutional environment. Itagunmodi is less than 20 km from Ile-Ife, which is regarded as the source/origin of the Yoruba race. However, with the rise of mining and the influx of migrants it brought to the area, the Itagunmodi Kabiyesi (king) had been displaced and had to leave the community. The Yorubas are predominantly farmers, traders and learned people. Therefore, migrants from the north of the country came for the jobs, displacing the original members of the community. Two in every three occupants of the community is a migrant Northerner who does not speak the local language. Prof Ajayi recalls an instance in Itagunmodi when the Jumat prayer was spoken in the migrants’ language. “The migrants were no longer learning the native language. Rather the few natives that were there were learning the language of the migrant miners. We also saw a shift in the kinds of business activities, in the kinds of food in circulation, culture and even the music played on the street. All these no longer reflected the culture of the people.” It was alarming to the locals that Itagunmodi was now being taken over by people of another tribe, and it was seen which was now a major security concern.

As tensions rose in Itagunmodi, Prof. Ajayi spoke with various concerned parties, including the Honourable Commissioner for Environment and Community Leaders and Traditional Rulers, the Deputy Governor of the State and the Chief of Staff of the State. The Chief of Staff was very glad that the SFA team had come to provide research-based perspectives and to draw the government’s attention to the issue, and eventually some of the information they provided led to the convening of a security meeting.

Ajayi also spoke to the Commissioner of Police for Osun State, who was not aware of the security implication nor that the situation had degenerated so much. The Commissioner later informed Ajayi that there would be a Security Summit, which was widely covered in the national dailies. Ajayi also spoke to a very significant and influential indigenous personality, who is presently the Director-General of the National Chamber of Commerce and Industry (and was previously Nigeria’s ambassador to Australia), whom he had met during a research project collaboration. This led to the SFA group being put in charge of mining-related issues for the Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

At that time, the Development Agenda for Western Nigeria (DAWN) Commission, a group tasked with the sustainable development of the predominantly Yoruba-speaking southwest region, asked the SFA hub to prepare a presentation that would inform the policy of the commission on the issue of mining and artisanal mining. Ajayi is happy that through SFA, he has been able for the first time to engage with policy makers and provide empirical evidence that can form the opinions and positions of both government and traditional institutions. He says, The goal of the project is not just research. The way I understand it, research is not an end in SFA, research is a means to an end and the end is the development of the community. We want to facilitate development not just as an academic exercise but as a daily experiential activity. So research is only a component of it to the extent that it serves to provide solutions, understanding and index analysis that will bring out solutions to problems. The development will involve members of the community, whether they are natives or migrants. Everyone that lives, everyone that transacts, everyone that has a stake in the community is a stakeholder so they need to be actively engaged. It will involve regulatory authorities, government authorities, traditional institutions and the people. It is important to engage people since the facilitation of development is something that can not be done alone.”

Women Environment Programme Wins Nigerian Energy Award

By Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director of the Network

It was a proud moment for Women Environment Programme (WEP) when the 2019 Energy Globe National Awards in Nigeria were announced and they were declared winner. The technological innovation that got them the award was the Solar Tent Dryer, which has helped promote women economic empowerment in Adogo District, Nigeria.

In July 2018, WEP built a solar dryer at Adogo community using locally available materials. The tent was built like a greenhouse, with a short brick wall, tin roof and plastic sheets as walls, with air vents to allow warm air to rise. As the warm air rises, the fruits and vegetables which are laid out in racks made with nets are dried efficiently, while preserving its nutritional value. This technology hygienically and efficiently dries fruits and vegetables using solar radiation, which heats the tent like a green house. Previously, the community used to dry fruits and vegetables out in the open, prone to contamination by dust and flies. They said their pepper crop used to get rotten very quickly. Adogo community now uses the tent to dry chillies and fruits and says they are able to note that the colour and nutrition is better when drying in the tent and furthermore, the produce is preserved and lasts longer.

A simple, yet effective technology, the solar tent was inspired by Solar Fish Dryers built under the Lake Chilwa Basin Climate Change Adaptation Programme, implemented in fishing communities in southern Malawi. Deepa Pullanikkatil, who had previously worked in this project, shared the technology with WEP Founder Priscilla Ackchapa at the University of Glasgow in 2017 and brought a model of the solar tent to Nigeria in early 2018. WEP was able to replicate this model in their Adogo community and customize it to local situation with community participation. Both Deepa Pullanikkatil and Priscilla Ackchapa are members of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network and connected at the University of Glasgow at an SFA conference.

The technology is reducing waste of food produce, ensure availability of seasonal food for longer duration and preserves food, thereby increasing incomes for the community. WEP’s project of Promoting Women Empowerment through Efficient Technology that makes available solar dryer tents in rural communities won the organization he Energy Globe Award, which is today’s most prestigious environmental award. With over 2000 project submissions from more than 187 participating countries annually, it distinguishes projects regionally, nationally and globally that focus on energy efficiency, renewable energy and conservation of resources. Women Environmental Programme (WEP) was presented as the 2019 Energy Globe Award winners for Nigeria on 29th October 2019 on the occasion of the National Day Celebration at the Austrian Embassy in Lagos, Nigeria.

Women drying chillies in the solar dryer built by WEP

Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day 1)

By Vanessa Duclos, lead Research Administrator of the SFA Network
David Gerow, SFA Intern and PhD student

This fall, the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network is collaborating with the Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) Innovation School. Over the semester, the 4th year product design students will work on a project on the theme of “Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & the Global South”. During this 8-week project, the cohort will investigate future forms and functions of sustainable development work in relation to the Global South, ultimately developing a future scenario and designing the artefacts, services and experiences associated with it 10 years from now.

Today, contemporary product design is not only an industrial or production-focused occupation; rather, it is becoming an epistemological practice, which explores the future, generates new knowledge and formulates hypotheses about how people may live or work in the years to come. Whether they are designing an artefact, service or experience, it is fundamental for a designer to know how to understand what drives people, what their needs are and why.

Dr Mia Perry worked with Dr Kirsty Ross, lecturer at the GSA and final year coordinator, to build the structure of this project. Over the last couple of weeks, the students split into seven groups worked together to conduct research in the domains of Health, Energy, Mobility, Economies, Education, Societal Structures and Environment. Each of these domains was examined through various lenses: Social, Technological, Economic, Ethical, Educational, Values, Political, Legal and Ecological. Then, based on this research, the students mapped societal shifts and identified emerging themes or scenarios.

This morning, the students shared their initial future scenarios with “the experts”: academics and professionals working within the field of sustainable development in the Global South, and members of the SFA Network. By sharing their work, the students had the opportunity to validate certain aspects of their research, as well as the chance to ask technical questions and benefit from the experts’ real-world experiences to further shape their scenarios/designs. The team of experts will meet with the cohort of emerging designers throughout the duration of the project, which will culminate later this year in an exhibition of the designed future artefacts, services and experiences.

I was happy to be in the expert cohort, along with my University of Glasgow colleagues: Stewart Paul, Anthony Kadoma, Prof Jude Robinson, Dr Raihana Ferdous, Dr Neil Burnside, Prof James Conroy, and SFA Network partners Prof Sola Ajayi (First-Tech University, Ibadan), Andrew Vincent (Classrooms for Malawi and Nu Blvck), Diarmuid O’Neill (DFID), Prof Jo Sharp (University of St Andrews) and Dr Christian Micha Ehret (McGill University).

The initial research presented by the student groups was impressive both for its accuracy and for how it pin-pointed challenges related to sustainable development work. The students were genuinely interested in learning more about lived experiences and described how being exposed to this topic – and to the SFA Network by extension – had changed their perspectives on their roles as designers (progressing towards a more participatory approach with clients). I am certain that the expert team is also looking forward to the next experts input day, November 7th. It was a refreshing, inspiring, positive and thought-provoking experience for all, and a promising start to a successful collaboration.

Impact Story – Thank you SFA Network!

By Grace Awosanmi, Research Administrator – Nigerian Hub

I wanted so much to be in a circle of those who were keen in in improving food and agriculture in Nigeria and discovering SFA after an extensive Google search was a blessing.  Being in the network with a lot of professionals and reading some of the research and activities that happen within the network was the very key for me in choosing to study Sustainable Development. Understanding sustainability is really something I always desired. It is also an opportunity to tell my class during presentations that Africa too has a lot going on in a bid to achieve goal 2030.

So yes, thank you SFA for allowing me to become an affiliate member, even without knowing any previous member. I also got a Swedish Institute Scholarship to study this course which is a platform that allowed me to share a bit of the work of the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network. I am excited about this journey. I am also the only Nigerian/African in my class (This I believe is a blessing).

Margaret Ojochide Aligbe

The above words came from Margaret during an email conversation. I was thrilled to know that she was now a postgraduate student at Uppsala University in Sweden to study for her Masters’ degree in Sustainable Development. A graduate of Agricultural Economics and Extension with a passion on how to tackle and achieve zero hunger in the Sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as an administrator and volunteer with the LAGOS FOOD BANK INITIATIVE (, an NGO committed to reducing hunger in the Nigerian society.

Margaret became an affiliate member of the network last year from Nigeria. I was excited with her inclusion – the Nigeria SFA Hub was expanding. We developed a good relationship around the activities and events that were ongoing in the hub and across our country. At the time she became an affiliate member, the hub was engrossed in engagements with the mining communities, so a right hand of fellowship was extended to her to join in one of our trips. Unfortunately, she couldn’t join our team for recent field trips, but the communication line remains open. Over the past months, we communicated through emails and she became more interested with the ongoing project activities across the hubs as we conversed. Apparently, the activities and results she was hearing and seeing were inspiring her.

She did not just want to be an Affiliate member but a full fledge member with qualifications and experience which can bring about a productive use in the future. She never stopped looking for ways in which to engage more with the hub and the network. She later informed me that the decision to go for a programme in Sustainable Development came as a result of her going through the profile and the expertise of the members of the hub.  Whereas the information gathered and gleaned through the network website also stimulated her interest to focus more on how to make sustainable development goals work for people in Nigeria and Africa as a whole in her study.

From the entire SFA family and the Nigeria hub, we say well-done and congratulations Margaret. We look forward partnering with you for future opportunities.

Interview with SFA Co-Director | Career Changes to Fuel your Passions

By Vanessa Duclos, Network’s Research Manager

Do you sometimes have doubts about your career choices? It is never too late to discover new passions, and to follow the necessary steps to make it a new vocation. While visiting the University of Glasgow in September, Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director of the SFA Network, was interviewed by Emma Smith from DEVEX about why and how she changed her career from civil engineering to environmental sciences, with a focus on climate change adaptation.

Why Volunteering is so Rewarding

By Ruth Mumba, Director, Abundance, Malawi

I read somewhere, “Volunteers are love personified”. I think that phrase truly defines what volunteering is. It’s a service beyond self. A journey that cannot be summed up in financial terms but with immeasurable returns. My volunteering journey led me to be part of the Mandela Washington Fellowship 2019. The Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders, which began in 2014, is the flagship program of the Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) that empowers young people through academic coursework, leadership training, and networking. The Fellowship provides outstanding young leaders from Sub- Saharan Africa with the opportunity to hone their skills at a U.S. college or university with support for professional development after they return back to their home countries. Fellows engage in Academic and Leadership Institutes, meet with U.S. federal, state, and local government officials, participate in community service, visit organizations to gain professional development, and make friendships and professional contacts with Americans.

I have been volunteering since I was 17 years old. But I never imagined how key volunteering would be for my life. Back then, I did it to get enough credit hours in order to graduate high school. When I got to university, I paid more attention to why I was volunteering. I realised I did it to help other people to see a different perspective to life. We would go to a rural village every Saturday morning to teach children early childhood development skills. We played games, sang songs and had discussions on various aspects of life like education and the importance of good health. I felt so fulfilled in those few hours I spent with the children and got a new energy for the new week of classes, assignments and lecture hours back at university.

In 2016 I started working with Abundance Worldwide and became part of a larger group of volunteers on a more professional level. Abundance Worldwide is part of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) and amongst our partners and networks, we have created a platform where we can remotely volunteer and contribute to individual partner projects from activities including website development to grant applications.

There have been days I thought that I was biting more than I could chew. Communities sometimes have expectations far beyond our capability. But by working together, I have experienced an ease doing developmental work. Together, we were able to resolve conflicts in communities, help develop technical skills of the youth and built an E-Learning centre that the whole community has access to. We have engaged student volunteer to teach and mentor their peers in deprived communities.

While in the United States of America, I had a first experience of being an international volunteer, in a developed country! I had a chance to cook for the homeless, went to a farm to harvest produce for a food bank and planted trees at a local park. I realised that the world has the similar problems. We cannot sit back to wait for institutions or governments to fix them. Sometimes, it is up to us, the people, to come together, pull our resources and help those who are unable to.

I believe that one reason I made it into the Mandela Washington fellowship was due to my leadership and volunteering spirit. To see a sustainable future of Africa is to imagine the possibilities and act on it. Volunteers go far and beyond boundaries. This month at Abundance, we are hosting a Volunteer from France, Julie Charmetant. We are sharing notes on our individual volunteering journey. We want to teach, give health related advise, provide financial literacy and many more. Equipped with passion to see change, volunteers can leave a long lasting impact in individuals and communities they work in. We at Abundance are striving to do just that.

Ruth Mumba on the right, with a volunteer from France at Mount Mulanje, Malawi

About the author

Ruth Mumba is a Geologist with a Bachelor of Science Degree in Earth Sciences and Geography from the University of Malawi, Chancellor College. She has been working for the past five years at the Geological Survey Department under Government of Malawi focusing on geological mapping and geothermal resources exploration. She is a Mandela Washington Fellow (2019) and the Director of a voluntary non-profit organisation, “Abundance” (member of SFA network) which supports a village in southern Malawi using an integrated approach. Her passion is volunteerism and supporting vulnerable communities and works towards supporting communities in Malawi use their natural resources in a sustainable manner, have access to quality education, technologies and health facilities.

From Research Administrator to PhD Student: Impact Story of Anthony Kadoma

Compiled by Deepa Pullanikkatil and David Gerow

It’s been two years since Anthony Kadoma joined Sustainable Futures in Africa. He was initially hired on a four-month contract to work as a research assistant, but through his hard work and intelligence, Anthony has risen from being a short-term Research Administrator to a PhD student at the University of Glasgow, and a valued member of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network. It’s an opportunity he doesn’t take lightly. “I know it is likely not to be a walkover,” he says of his upcoming PhD studies, “but rather hard work that calls for a lot of flexibility and commitment on my part.”

Anthony was originally invited to join SFA in 2017. He was enlisted by Dr. Twine Bananuka, who had been one of his lecturers when he was studying for his BA in Adult and Community Education at Makerere University. Anthony had subsequently earned his master’s degree in Applied Community Change and Peacebuilding at Future Generations University WV USA, which led to work as a consultant in Kampala. At that time, Twine and his colleagues were undertaking a scoping study in Uganda, and they needed someone to manage the enormous amount of audio and pictorial data they’d amassed. They also needed help coordinating their work with colleagues in other hubs of the SFA network. “Dr. Twine was aware of my working ability and skills,” Anthony recalls. “He recommended that I be given the Research Assistant job to assist the hub members in transcribing the data they had collected, organize it, come up with themes and also assist in the writing of draft papers. I was fortunate that the other members believed in him and gave me the job. That is how I joined the family of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.”

While working with SFA, his immediate supervisor has been Dr. Alex Okot. Anthony describes Alex as “a very good man: approachable, transparent, and he gives me time to discuss network issues even when he is so busy”. Anthony also praises the other hub members he works with on a regular basis, whose “openness and support” he values. “Working with other research assistants and academicians from countries like Nigeria, Botswana, Scotland and Malawi promotes my international exposure,” he says. “This is something that I really enjoy.”

But Anthony’s experience with SFA hasn’t been entirely office-bound. He’s attended two international symposiums – one in Lagos, Nigeria and one in Lira, Uganda – which he even had a hand in organizing. He’s also done a significant amount of fieldwork, an opportunity he values. “I have personally visited communities, interacted with community members and learnt a lot from them: the way they live, how they cope with challenges. I have liked working with organized groups of students, farmers and youth in Alebtong district as they work towards improving their livelihoods. I like the challenge because indeed poverty still persists as a great challenge, and this calls for more training to come up with workable approaches to reduce it today, not in the future.”

Just as he does his part in helping SFA collaborate with communities, Anthony has also reaped personal benefits from his work. Not only does it provide him with a welcome source of income and a network of likeminded colleagues, but it has allowed him to sharpen his digital literacies. “For instance,” he says, “most of our meetings are done on Skype and Zoom, and we chat constantly through WhatsApp and emails, as well as sharing documents using Google docs among others.” He anticipates that these necessary skills will help him as he moves on to his next challenge: a PhD at the University of Glasgow.

His PhD is another opportunity that he traces back to his work with SFA, as it arose through a meeting with SFA co-founder Dr. Mia Perry at the 2018 Lagos symposium. In his conversation with her, he expressed his interest in pursuing a PhD, to which she replied, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” Anthony told Mia that he wanted to work on community development, research and youth, and she suggested he send her a project proposal. As Anthony tells it, “She introduced my concept to her colleagues at the University of Glasgow, and by the grace of God it was selected, and that is how I became a PhD student on the study.” He’s about to begin his PhD in Environmental Sustainability, with a problem entitled Understanding the perception of multiple stakeholders of the ecosystem services provided by mangroves to improve restoration activities. He’s eager to seize every opportunity that comes his way: “While at the University of Glasgow, I hope to be intellectually stimulated since I will be living and working with intellectuals. From these people, I hope to get some motivation and courage to push forward.”

In just two years, Anthony has spun a four-month contract into ongoing work and a brand-new PhD project in Glasgow. Who knows what the future holds for this bright young man, and what contributions he has yet to make to SFA and to the communities of Uganda? Inspired by Gandhi’s famous quote, “Be the change you want to see,” Anthony plans to put his skills to good use. He says, “I believe that being informed and skilled enough will put me in better position to work with community members so that we can change our communities for the better.”

Photo Essays – Public Spaces in Malawi

By Elson Kambalu, Deepa Pullanikkatil, Boyson Moyo and Stewart Paul

Are you curious about public spaces, what secrets they hold, how they are used in Africa? During Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil’s visit to Malawi hub in April 2019, the team visited public spaces to create these 4 photo essays showing the different “layers” behind use of public space.