Considering the leading role that East African research institutions and academics played during the summit, it’s important to highlight initiatives actively working to change the paradigm of development. Just a few weeks ago, The Guardian published an article covering exploitation of developing country researchers by academics at Western universities and the unfair terms of global research partnerships and collaboration programs. While it may be true that there are those who capitalize on developing country researchers, there are many good examples of strong, equal partnerships to follow out there, one of which is EASST. The vast majority of presentations during the Summit, for instance, exhibited rigorous research led by capable academics and policymakers from the region.
“Reading the article in the Guardian,” explained CEGA fellow, Reajul Chowdhury, “made me realize that unlike many of my colleagues in developing countries, I have been lucky not to be used just as a data collector or field coordinator in Africa for the academicians in the US. I hope academic institutions in developed nations will follow the path of CEGA and will establish full partnerships with researchers in South Asia and Africa. Otherwise, the sustainability of such partnerships will be at stake in the long run.”
There is no question about it: the main protagonists of this annual Summit were the EASST Fellows. EASST is a network of East African universities and research institutions, with a mission to promote rigorous evaluation of social and economic development programs and inform policymaking in East Africa. The EASST Collaborative has three main components. The first relates to the Evidence Summit and focuses on matchmaking, creating a space for East African and Western researchers to disseminate their latest research and foster potential research collaborations. The second component of EASST is the fellowship, whereby a group of researchers from East Africa come to UC Berkeley (or other CEGA affiliated campuses) for a semester to develop their skills, improve research techniques and network with influential academics in the field of development economics. This allows both parties to get to know each other and their research interests. If there is a match in the interests, then they will take this relationship to the next level, and collaborate with one or more CEGA affiliates in the future.
Key to these research partnerships is a mutual respect and shared project responsibility, which lies in both the African researcher and his or her UC counterpart. “My CEGA experience has allowed me to sharpen my abilities to write, present, and publish academic papers… My PhD applications were boosted by being a part of the EASST network,” asserts EASST fellow, Constantine Manda. “The Guardian caricatures research collaborations in a way that is not reflective of all collaborations. There are many great stories of African researchers who began as junior researchers in such collaborations and ended up being the Principal Investigator in well-funded research collaborations that hire western researchers! It is up to us as Africans to work to improve our ability to compete for funding.”
During their time abroad, fellows do not only strengthen their technical skills, but they also learn about new ways to replicate these lessons and train the next generation of researchers. Fitsum Mulugeta related how his experience as an EASST Fellow has changed his perspective: “I attended my college studies at Addis Ababa University, where student-teacher relationships are based on fear. But at UC Berkeley, professors were willing to give me their time to discuss my ideas, give me their comments, support me in anyway they could. This is a great lesson I brought back with me for the occasional classes I teach in Addis”. Accessibility and capacity building for the upcoming generations will be an essential step to address the demand for data-driven policymaking in Africa.
The third and final component of EASST is to fund research grants that provide opportunities for Visiting Fellows upon returning home, and encourage the development of joint research. EASST invites pairs of researchers from East Africa and the CEGA network to submit proposals that take innovative approaches towards poverty reduction. Through a rigorous, peer-review process, projects are selected to receive funding. The criteria for selection include project feasibility and the potential to scale-up and have an impact on development policies. Priority is given to projects that establish a strong partnership between East African researchers and researchers in the US.
So far, EASST has conducted four impact evaluation summits, with more than 250 academics, development practitioners, donors and government officials in attendance. The EASST fellowship has received over 300 applications and offered 11 visiting fellowships to researchers in Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda. Seven of them have successfully obtained EASST funding for their joint research projects, with an additional three grants going to East African researchers that did not participate in the fellowship. Every year, we have stronger applications for funding and the fellowship, and the Annual EASST Summit attracts more attention from donors, development practitioners and government officials. CEGA expects two new fellows to join us in the Fall semester, and two more in Spring 2016.
Post by Alexandra Orsola-Vidal & Julianne Baker-Gallegos