The field of international development is increasingly concerned with achieving social and economic change through the use of evidence and evidence-based policy. This requires fostering links between the worlds of social science and policy, so that the promise of evidence-based accountability for public spending becomes more real.
This is ultimately about ensuring current and future generations of researchers and policy makers speak the same language. For the social science community, the design and implementation of high-quality, development-relevant research requires different orientations, understandings and skills than those needed to engage effectively in national or international policy processes. Among new PhDs, there is a pressing imperative to connect the work of new PhD students at post-graduate research training programmes to the politics and dynamics of policy processes.
To address this important gap The MasterCard Foundation and Institute of Development Studies have joined forces to launch the Matasa Fellows Network. This initiative will develop cohorts of young African researchers with the skills and commitment to bring their research into policy processes that address the challenges of young people and employment in Africa.
Adding value to new PhDs
A PhD programme can be a very special experience. After three or more years of intensive study and engagement with the latest concepts, theory and research methods, a young professional with a new, development-relevant PhD should be at the top of their game. However, all too often the reality of high teaching loads, restricted research funds and limited time for reflection hinders opportunities to develop and hone the political analysis, networks and communication skills that would are essential to effective policy engagement.
This is where the Matasa Fellows Network comes in. The network will support new doctoral researchers so that they can make the most of the valuable PhD training they have received. It will do this by creating an Africa-wide community of Matasa Fellows and providing mentoring and opportunities for networking and publishing.
A focus on youth employment
By focusing the work of Matasa Fellows on youth unemployment, this initiative will address one of the greatest development challenges in Africa today. While this issue has moved to the top of the development agenda in recent years, the research and evidence base to support policy and programmes around youth employment remains both fragmented and weak. An important part of the challenge is to address the diversity of situations that African young people find themselves in – for example, in relation to their social position, education and location. Perhaps most importantly, both research and policy must become much more aware of, and sensitive to, the futures that young people imagine for themselves as they begin to engage with the world of work.
What is clear is that to make headway on the youth employment challenge in Africa perspectives and insights from a variety of academic disciplines will be required. In addition, we will need a long term commitment to the idea of putting research to use, through policy, for the benefit of Africa’s youth. With this in mind, research, particularly that produced by African researchers on African problems, will allow a better understanding of the challenges as well as providing insights into ways of tackling them.
Apply to be a Matasa Fellow
To launch the Matasa Fellows Network, 10 fellowships will be awarded in 2016 through a competitive process. Fellows will attend two review workshops, and each fellow will produce a high quality synthesis paper and related policy brief. The synthesis papers will be published in a special issue of the IDS Bulletin. Applications are open until 16 May. To apply to become a Matasa Fellow go to MatasaFN.org.