Global Challenges: from poverty, to environmental protection, from gender equality to health

In the name of “development,” in the name of “aid,” in the name of “international research and innovation,” billions of pounds and dollars have been spent from the Global North on challenges materialising in the Global South: from poverty, to environmental protection, from gender equality to health. Countless academics and administrators have focused innovation, invention, programmes, and practices on supporting development in the “developing world.” I question how much longer we might fund and focus resource and expertise from the global north to help to “fix” the problems of the Global South.

This flow of aid money, resources, and increasing global morality and mobility is building ever broader pipelines between the Global North and South, and yet there seems to be a terribly unsettling consistent characteristic of this development (of this globality). The reality is that the Global North (and to be fair an ever-decreasing section of the Global North) becomes ever more powerful and prosperous, ever more resilient to climate change; and the Global South addresses an ever-decreasing area of fertile land, an ever-growing population of people living in poverty, and an ever-increasing threat of food security. For all of our good intention, and all of the promises of funding and expertise, our “global challenges” persist and increase.

Something surely is going wrong. Something fundamental is missing. And it is not good intention that’s missing, it is not intelligence, and it is not funding resources. Last year, the UK Government committed 1.5 billion pounds to research into Global Challenges. Much of this money has been taken directly from budget previously held by the Department for International Development. The investment has moved from resourcing initiatives on the ground through charities and regional projects in Development Assistant Category (DAC) Countries to resourcing research into challenges in these same places. To spend this money, many clever, ambitious, and well-intentioned academics will design, propose, and articulate research and innovation that promises to make the world a better place. Many of them will do this from their office or with a group of colleagues in and around their office. Some of them will travel and have conversations with partners “in-country” – all of them will be racing to prove their capacity to spend this money wisely and productively. It is this same Global Challenge Fund that motivated me and resourced me to facilitate and report on the first meeting of the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.

I proceed with a determination: That this network, that this recipient project of UK Research Council funding, works differently, and works with difference.

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Building Connections: Community-Based Environmental Sustainability in Southern Africa

On the 15 and 16 of December 2016 an International Symposium was hosted at the University of Glasgow, funded by the ESRC.  Building Connections: Community-Based Environmental Sustainability in Southern Africa. The event was organised and run by the University of Glasgow scholars, Dr. Mia Perry (School of Education), and Prof. Deborah Dixon of (Geographical and Earth Sciences), and aimed at fostering research collaboration and knowledge-exchange across disciplines and between institutions based in Scotland, Wales, Malawi, and Botswana. Invited participants included Dr. Boyson Moyo (agronomist, Malawi), Prof. Rebecca Lekoko (community and adult education, Botswana), Dr. Olekae Thakadu (environmental management, Botswana), Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil (environmental management, Malawi), as well as Elson Kambalu (artist and film maker from Lilongwe, Malawi). The UK based institutions were represented by Dr. Marc Welsh (remediation and resilience in Malawi, Aberystwyth University), and the University of Glasgow academics, including Dr. Neil Burnside (interdisciplinary geoscientist), Dr. Alan Britton (environmental education), Dr Carlos Galan Diaz (research impact), Dr. Margaret Smith (multidisciplinary agro-chemist), Dr. Ian Watson (applied physicist) and Kasia Uflewska (cultural sociologist and Ketso intern).

The Symposium opened with remarks by Prof. Mike Osborne, Director of Research for the School of Education, University of Glasgow, and was introduced by Dr. Mia Perry and Prof. Deborah Dixon. The activities, aimed at knowledge-sharing and presentations, commenced with a panel discussion addressing the environmental challenges in Southern Africa, and were followed by a briefing on funding opportunities for global challenges. The subsequent afternoon workshops focused on issues related to the community engagement, arts and public pedagogies, geographical and Earth sciences, as well as the research methodologies. The first day closed up with heated discussions on the challenges and opportunities for cross cultural, and cross discipline research in Southern African environmental sustainability, as well as on affordances and challenges of interdisciplinary research among academics, politicians and community members.

The second day of the Symposium commenced with introductions by Prof. John Briggs, (Professor of Geography, Vice-Principal for the University, and Clerk of Senate) and aimed at formalising ideas, and forming potential partnerships. The diverse ideas, perspectives, and interest areas were explored holistically and creatively through an employment of an engagement toolkit, Ketso. A brief Ketso introductory workshop was conducted by Kasia Uflewska to support participants in carrying out an extensive Ketso afternoon session aimed at formulating final ideas, collaborations and partnerships. The Symposium concluded with a formulation of actionable plans, including groundwork-planning, bid writing, and potential research collaborations.