Impact Story

Strengthening international networks for development

Published on 26 March 2021

In 2020 we launched a network of IDS International Initiatives focused on the geographies at the leading edge of development thinking and practice due to accelerating geopolitical change. These Initiatives are already having collaborative impact in strengthening mutual learning for development through new partnerships, research, joint learning and policy-shaping in BrazilChinaEuropeGhana and Pakistan.

The IDS International Initiatives recognise that tackling global challenges such as climate change, poverty and injustice requires knowledge sharing, mutual learning and collaboration to inform policy decision making based on local, national and global participation. They create spaces where researchers from within and outside of the country can share, learn and work with IDS researchers, governments, civil society, communities and the private sector. Together, they aim to strengthen development thinking and practice including the generation of actionable solutions towards positive change.

Building equitable partnerships

The International Initiatives had an immediate impact on fostering equitable partnerships in each country, both in terms of strengthening existing relationships and establishing new ones. We now have ten Memorandum of Understandings (MoUs) with partners across the 5 countries (with the Netherlands in Europe), with a further three in development. The agreements demonstrate our mutual institutional commitment to co-developing research, teaching and learning activities over the long term. They often enable a greater density and range of interactions than partnerships based around project funding.

These equitable partnerships have in the past year contributed to research and policy agendas on approaches to development cooperation, and ‘building forward differently’ during and after Covid-19.

For example, we are working with Brazilian partner, Articulação Sul, to scope a trilateral development cooperation collaboration between the UK, Brazil and African countries. In collaboration with with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, and the Brazilian Cooperation Agency, this project is leveraging Brazil’s world-leading ecosystem of institutions for the generation, analysis and operationalisation of data in national planning and poverty reduction policy to help African countries with rapidly-growing populations to meet the challenges of burgeoning demand for jobs and services and to maximise the potential benefits of shifts in demographics. Further, the Agricultural Policy Research in Africa programme pivoted activities to explore the impact of Covid-19 on food systems and livelihoods in south-western Ghana.

Our International Initiative partnerships in Europe and Pakistan created a significant platform to share practical reflections on ways to ‘build back differently’ from Covid-19. Two webinar series on Youth Employment and Politics (coordinated by the European Engagement Initiative) and the Mahbub ul Haq Distinguished Lecture Series (coordinated by the Pakistan Hub) convened some of the most prominent academics, practitioners and policy makers globally. Topics range from ‘Youth mobility, security and livelihoods in West Africa and the Horn’ to ‘Rethinking the role of the state: From public goods to public value’.

Co-constructing future research agendas

The International Initiatives sparked several new funded research projects. Examples include a collaboration with Lahore University of Management Sciences on the informal economy in Pakistan; and a project mapping China’s experience of promoting sustainable urbanisation and exploring their relevance to Ghanaian and Kenyan cities.

We also convened eminent thinkers to co-develop research agendas towards transformative change during a number of events over the past year. These events included a gender and cities roundtable between IDS and Lahore University of Management Sciences that will contribute to the co-development of the South Asia Human Development Report in 2021.

Mobilising knowledge for impact

A series of events and co-authored publications linked to the International Initiatives have contributed to promoting the use of evidence in development practice and policy making. For example, we coordinated the event ‘Building ahead from Brazil’s pandemic: localizing agri-food systems as a solidarity economy’ in partnership with Instituto Ibirapitanga, the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro, and the Open University with positive feedback from participants and panelists. Our event ‘State citizen trust through Covid-19’ with partners from China, Pakistan, Brazil and the UK advocated for the need to share learning across contexts to identify ways to ensure that institutional trust is strengthened rather than weakened during the pandemic and beyond. In total, our news and opinion pieces were accessed by over 2,300 people, and our public events were viewed/attended by over 1700 people. A dedicated repository of Brazil IDS Initiative outputs was created, including over 80 publications. This resource will be used to promote our collaborative work to a global audience.

Successful collaborations for teaching and learning

Our contributions to building future leadership included engaging alumni and current students, exploring teaching collaborations, and delivering professional development and learning activities. In July 2020, IDS delivered a ten-day intensive online course on Global Development Policy and Perspective professional development for 27 development students and professionals from UK and Chinese organisations which aimed to encourage development cooperation and develop future leadership for development. In Brazil, Miguel Loureiro delivered an online course on Communicating Policy Research for 26 researchers at the Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada (IPEA). Alumni made a significant contribution to planning a series of events in March 2020 that would have launched the Brazil IDS Initiative which was mostly postponed due to Covid-19. However, alumna Isabele Bachtold was able to participate as a panel member in a collaborative video on health inequalities and epidemics. This was an English summary of IDS’ first live, online event in the pandemic.

The learning we have developed through this initial phase has greatly impacted IDS’ thinking about our role and added value in equitable global partnerships, the importance of keeping mutual learning at the forefront of our strategy, and the benefits and challenges of developing initiatives that bring together the multiple strands of IDS’ unique operating model and areas of expertise. We look forward to continuing this process with partners, old and new, in 2021 and beyond.

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author/s and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IDS.

Related content


Qualitative Analysis of 400 Life Stories from Children and Young People Working in the Worst Forms of Child Labour in Nepal

CLARISSA Research and Evidence Paper 7

28 May 2024