Winter 2008: Of Note

Seeking Local Understanding

New institute looks for fresh approach to building partnerships in Africa

Emory’s Institute for Developing Nations (IDN) took a step down what leaders hope is a new path to meaningful collaboration between U.S. and African institutions with its inaugural conference in Cape Town, South Africa. The October conference, “Research Partnerships and Collaborations for Development: Strengthening Structures of Reciprocity and Responsibility,” brought together researchers from Emory and collaborating partners from South Africa and several other African countries—some fifty scholars in all. Regional research institutes, foundations, and nongovernmental organizations that support higher education in sub-Saharan Africa also were represented.

BLUE SKY THINKING: Cape Town was the setting for the first IDN conference.

Suzanne Baker

“If we are going to do research on development, we have to recognize local expertise and partner with researchers in sub-Saharan Africa,” said IDN Director Sita Ranchod-Nilsson. “These partnerships involve defining research agendas and outcomes as well as training students.”

Ambitious partnerships between Western and African institutions sometimes fail to deliver on their goals of improving conditions for those living in poverty because they overlook local priorities, knowledge, and political contexts, Ranchod-Nilsson points out. The IDN is approaching issues of development in a different way by working in collaboration with African researchers and policy experts.

A key outcome was identifying areas of tension in previous partnerships and establishing strategies for addressing those tensions so that collaborations will be mutually beneficial and therefore more sustainable. Another outcome of the discussions was the need to look beyond universities to the wide variety of research networks that are developing.

“Carter Center Trustee Charlayne Hunter-Gault told me that if we want to work in sub-Saharan Africa, we have to ‘walk in right,’ meaning that we can’t come in with all the answers, we have to be prepared to listen,” Ranchod-Nilsson said. “I think this conference helped us to walk in right.”

Emory’s Europe, Middle East, and Africa advisory board enjoyed synergy with the inaugural Institute for Developing Nations conference when they gathered in Cape Town in tandem with the IDN event.

A highlight of the board meeting was keynote speaker Alex Cummings, president and COO of Coca-Cola Africa, who praised successful collaborations between the company and Emory.

“Investing in education,” Cummings said, “will enable Africa to attract private investment, to adopt and develop modern technologies—and more important, to learn, accept, and engender the change that must come with development.”

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Winter 2008

Of Note