A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

When we start a new project with partners in a different context, it is never truly a “new start.” Historically it has been experts from the Global North who have studied and interpreted the South. This means that international research partnerships are inevitably imbued with power relations and possibly the assumption that it is northern knowledge that will lead transformations of in the South. Without a clear recognition of that context, it is inevitable that existing inequities, injustices, and imbalances of knowledge and power, will continue to pervade our work.

We designed this resource to help make explicit the practices and dynamics that underpin partnerships, to support the development of more equitable working relations.

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Week of March 4th-8th 2019 – SFA Writing Workshop and Events on Campus

Realising the increasing awareness and experience of network members in carrying out global north-south partnerships that challenge paternalistic and neo-colonial models of collaboration and development, we realised we needed to find a way to share some principle ideas and practices to a wider audience. Initially, we imagined the audience of the GCRF UKRI, funders and researchers. In the week of March 4th-8th, we addressed this with a writing workshop co-organized by Dr Mia Perry and Prof Jo Sharp including SFA members and like-minded affiliates. The objective of the workshop was to explore ways of sharing the SFA network’s approach to research and partnerships in international contexts, while challenging the neo-colonial and often very narrow processes of knowledge creation, “development”, and collaboration. The group was interested in the theoretical tools that are required to do so, but also the practical tools (how to engage, how to inquire when clear power, historical, disciplinary dynamics are pervasive).

Events on campus March 4th, 2019

Two events co-organized by the SFA Glasgow hub took place on UofG main campus on March 4th. The morning event was a mentoring session for graduate students from the Global South. Masters students, PhD’s students and mentors (Dr Mia Perry, Prof Jo Sharp, Dr Brian Barrett, Ms Helen Todd, Ms Kevin Aanyu, and Ms Beatrice Catanzaro) discussed how students can translate their graduate experience in Glasgow to a career in the South. A very interesting conversation revolved around a question asked by Dr Perry: “Do you want to go back home after your studies?” The meaning of “returning home” for each student differed, and highlighted the very individual nature of it. For the majority, going back home wasn’t just about going back in their home country and getting a job related to their studies. It was also, and even more importantly, taking the knowledge, skills and expertise they acquired and using them to drive change and make impact.

The afternoon session was a panel discussion entitled: ¡Decolonise: the Debate! The event was organised by collaboration between The Sustainable Futures in Africa Network, the Glasgow Centre for International Development, the Equality and Diversity Working Group in the History Subject Area, and the Centre of Gender History. Prof Jude Robinson, a social anthropologist from the University of Glasgow, chaired the session.

The panel was composed of: Dr Mia Perry (University of Glasgow), Prof Jo Sharp (University of Glasgow), Ms Helen Todd (ArtGlo – Malawi), Ms Kevin Aanyu (Makerere University – Uganda), Dr Christine Whyte (University of Glasgow) and Dr Kate Law (University of Nottingham).

The discussions were centred on these three questions: 1) Why do we use the word ‘decolonialise’ when we talk about the changes we need to make to modern approaches to research and teaching? 2) Does use of the word ‘decolonialise’ reinforce a colonial narrative of Western supremacy? and 3) How can we translate ‘decolonisation of research and teaching’ and what does it mean for all of us who are engaged in it?

The panel discussed the use of term ‘decolonise’ to describe projects in universities which are challenging traditional practices that have underpinned international partnership building and collaboration, and the development of existing teaching curricula. They addressed language, technology, theoretical framing, and research methods from a global perspective.

Writing workshop at the Centre of Contemporary Arts (CCA) in Glasgow

All week, interdisciplinary participants met at the CCA in Glasgow to share thoughts and ideas around research and international partnerships to co-create the foundation of a notebook addressing the challenges arising from Global North-Global South partnerships. The targeted audience of the notebook is researchers working on international projects, especially the GCRF-UK funded one (Global Challenges Research Fund).

Some clear themes stood out over the week: time, money, capacity building, language and hierarchy in partnerships.

List of participants:

  • Dr Mia Perry (Co-PI – University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Prof Jo Sharp (Co-PI – University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Kevin Aanyu (Makerere University – Uganda)
  • Dr Brian Barrett (University of Glasgow- UK)
  • Beatrice Catanzaro (Oxford Brookes University ­- Italy)
  • Viviana Checchia (CCA – UK)
  • Vanessa Duclos (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Prof Dan Haydon (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Dr Heather McLean (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Prof Oitshepile MmaB Modise (Botswana University – Botswana)
  • Maggie Ritchie (free-lance journalist – UK)
  • Prof Jude Robinson (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Dr Zoë Strachan (University of Glasgow – UK)
  • Helen Todd (ArtGlo – Malawi)
  • Dr Shahaduz Zaman (University of Sussex – UK)

To illustrate the challenges of such partnerships, two participants could not join the group, due to UK visa restrictions (Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil and Kyauta Giwa).


Art and Development walking hand in hand

by Stewart Paul

I was fortunate to be amongst those who helped organize and participate at the workshop on “Exploring the role of Arts in Development Projects” held in Lilongwe at the beautiful Child Legacy International premises on 17th of January this year. As part of the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network, this workshop was amongst the many activities done in Uganda, Malawi, Botswana and Nigeria where SFA members are based. For Malawi, I felt it was high time that artists and development practitioners work together on sustainability issues. This will help them to think out-of-the-box and come up with new and creative ideas to solve sustainability challenges. As part of Abundance, I attended the workshop with Abundance’s Director, Ruth Mumba and felt that it was very well organized and participants appreciated this endeavor. Initially, we had no clue what the workshop outcomes would be as it was such a novel concept. But after the workshop ended and when we reflected on it, we have realized that it was indeed an enriching experience.

Elson Kambalu, a visual artist who is also a film-maker introduced the workshop and talked about the need for artists and other partners in the development sector to work together and he explained his plan to produce a documentary of the workshop for the next SFA meeting which was to be held in Lagos, Nigeria. The ice-breaker session was interesting and Sharon Kalima got the participants to play games and get to know each other. I had a chance to present about the SFA network and share some views from the SFA meeting I attended in Botswana last year.

Helen Todd of Arts and Global Health Center Africa (ArtGlo) introduced the World Café method of participants working together and developing ideas. We all sat in mixed groups of artists, development practitioners and academicians and brainstormed on sustainability topics and how arts can play a role in such work. Some of the ideas that emanated were that Government should incorporate arts into basic education, introduce more art trainings and provide funds to artists. Organizations must include art through engaging creativity of artists into development projects, we felt.

One challenge discussed was that of how art could solve ecological and social challenges Malawi faces. Solutions aired by participants were many including composing traffic jingles for civic education, imparting knowledge through art on cultural heritage and importance of ecological sites, documenting cultural art and disseminating it through libraries, etc. Overall, participants agreed that artists must be included right from inception of any project, after all art is close to people and people can relate to art. We must promote arts as a platform for discussion of development issues. Local songs, dramas and creative messages can help advocate for sustainability issues such as promotion of renewable energy.

Ruth Mumba got a chance to present about Abundance’s work and Helen Todd presented about how ArtGlo had successfully incorporated art into development projects in Malawi. The participants were treated to a tour of the Child Legacy International premises which is a sustainably-built center. On our way back to our homes, we all felt that we made new friends and learnt a lot. I hope this is just a starting point and a lot of projects can be generated from the ideas generated from this workshop.


Periods; Let’s talk about it!

Menstruation is the most dreaded time for adolescent girls and women in poor communities such as those in Mbando village, Machinga District, Malawi, where Abundance works. Why is such a natural health cycle, so difficult for them? The girls describe it as a time of anxiety and worry.

“When I get periods, I use pieces of cloth and am worried that it will fall off when I walk. That would be so shameful! So I don’t go to school those days. Also, it is difficult to sit on the floor while having periods, as our school does not have desks and chairs and we sit on the classroom floor.”

-A girl in Chirimba Secondary school, Mbando village.

Our rapid assessment in the village revealed that lack of access to and inability to afford proper sanitary napkins, caused the girls to resort to poor menstrual hygiene practises. Only three out of 53 girls surveyed at Mbando village have ever used proper sanitary pads. Lead by Abundance Director Ruth Mumba and her team, a one day training workshop (22 July 2017) was held at Mbando village on production of reusable sanitary napkins. The training was in response to a request from mothers in the village, who were concerned about young girls’ menstrual hygiene and related impacts.

Abundance Menstrual Hygiene Training

Grace Moyo began the training by first removing the “social stigma” on menstruation. “It is healthy to menstruate and you should not be ashamed of it. If you are a girl, you will menstruate”, she told the girls. She reiterated that being teased by their peers should not let them down, in fact, menstruation should be viewed as a sign that they are fit. Reusable sanitary napkins are made from used cloth and shaped like proper sanitary pads, but have an addition of buttons on the sides to secure them. Thus the worry that the cloth may fall off is no longer there and this gives confidence to the girls. Furthermore, the pads are something the girls can make on their own with a little training. They can be washed and reused, thus being an inexpensive and sustainable solution.

In the large classroom of Mbando village’s Community Based Child Care Centre, girls grouped themselves into groups of 6 and began making the pads with help from Ruth Mumba and Grace Moyo. Used cloth was sourced by Ruth from the local markets and sewing kits were purchased which was distributed to each group. Every girl got a small sewing pack which she could take home with her and continue making pads at her home. Care was taken to include aspects of washing pads with soap and drying them thoroughly before use, in the training.

Present at the workshop was the “Mothers Support Group”, which is a volunteer group of women in Mbando village who support women and children and help bring back children who drop out of school. They welcomed the training as a means to reduce girls’ absenteeism in schools. But there were also a pleasantly surprising cascading effect from the training. The Chairlady of the group said, “Because of this workshop, I believe that not only will the girls help themselves, go to school during periods, but, they can also use the skills to make pads and sell them for an income.” The possibility of income generation movement from this workshop was a positive spill-over that Abundance’s training did not expect, but happily welcomed.

Making reusable sanitary pads is not just a menstrual hygiene project, it has multiple benefits of improving confidence in girls, reducing absenteeism of girls in school and possible income generation venture. This is one small way Abundance is trying to help communities in Malawi. Let us break the silence about menstruation and promote dignity for girls!

Written by Deepa Pullanikkatil (PhD)

Founder & President of Abundance.

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Abundance: The “Giving and Training” Event

One the 24th May 2017 Abundance held a 'Giving and Training' event at Mbando Village, Machinga, Malawi. This was an event to showcase the skills acquired through the recent training programmes ran by Abundance. Attending and participating in the event alongside Abundance included the Wonderful Youth Group, Mothers’ Support Group, Home-based care, and Gogo Group, and the following guests: Representing the ward councilor: Mr Erik Kazithe, Senior Group Village Head Mbando and other Development Committee members and village heads. 

The Abundance team received a very warm welcome as songs were sung as women danced around as the materials were being offloaded from the vehicle. An opening prayer was made, followed by a poem by a member of Wonderful Youth Group. The poem highlighted some problems the youth are facing. The poem also hinted at massive deforestation that is happening in the nearby Chikala Mountain.

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