Last week our colleague at the School of Education, University of Glasgow, Dr Mia Perry, wrote a piece for the Scotsman (Aid is all very well but fair exchange and self-awareness may matter more). Mia is one of the lead academics in the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network, a consortium of researchers, educators, development workers located in countries across Africa (specifically Botswana, Malawi, Nigeria, and Uganda). The network is multi-disciplinary, spanning education, geography, art, and engineering among others. It is engaged in a number of projects, including The CSPE (Communities of Science and Practice Engage) Network: Mitigating the implementation gap in environmental initiatives through community engagement and public pedagogies,funded under GCRF by ESRC (ES/P006701/1)

In the article, Dr Perry highlights the need to work across very different perspectives and lived experiences, as well as engage with multi-disciplinary work and stakeholders in order to rise to the global challenges relating to poverty and environmental sustainability in the Global South. She states:

We cannot genuinely support positive change or sustainability without ways to communicate and collaborate across these differences. As we do so, we find that no one alone has the solution, no one knows ‘best,’ but together we discover directions and possibilities that make sense (and often surprise) all involved.

This need for a collaborative environment of working, and the need to move away from the “expert” role of Global North Higher Education Institutions is a model that is also practiced in the SUEUAA project.

Similar to Dr Perry’s work, SUEUAA is a collaborative interdisciplinary project involving academics from African countries (Zimbabwe, Tanzania, and South Africa) as well as Asian countries (Philippines, Iraq, and Iran). SUEUAA asks the question how do Universities in cities of the Global South respond to environmental, economic, and social issues located in their cities, and how they are involved in sustainability procedures. In doing so, we ask our research partners to take the lead in gathering information from both the Universities in the city, but also key city stakeholders, to better understand the local context.

Our University of Glasgow team have created benchmarking tools for engagement of unviersities with their city stakeholders, interview schedules, and guidelines for interviews, but we ask for our partners to provide feedback to ensure our project will be able to capture the local environment, rather than capturing the preconceived notions of academics in the Global North. Our partners will have an active role in co-authoring journal articles, which we will target in both Global North and Global South journals. While we hope that publication in Global South journals will enable a wider readership, we also acknowledge the ‘power’ of journal articles published in the Global North means that this is seen as a desirable location for publication.

The SUEUAA team has also planned two dissemination events, one to take place in Manila (Philippines) and another in Harare (Zimbabwe). These events will enable local academics to participate in discussions surrounding the findings of the study, and feedback into what our next steps can be in this area. 

Working in collaboration with our research partners has been an enriching experience, and one that we will continue to learn from. Our research agenda has been strengthened as a result of this, and we hope that working in this way becomes the ‘norm’ in Global Challenges funded research.