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Opinion

The IDS International Initiatives: one year on

Published on 26 August 2021

Image of Rachel Dixon

Rachel Dixon

Partnerships and Fundraising Officer

In the past year, the IDS International Initiatives have provided focus in five countries at the leading edge of development thinking and practice due to geopolitical change.

IDS has been working with partners to launch five International Initiatives in Brazil, China, Europe, Ghana, and Pakistan. These 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. They create spaces where researchers from within the countries can share, learn, and work with IDS and other researchers, governments, civil society, communities and the private sector. The Initiatives have created significant opportunities and this blog provides a summary of highlights from April – June 2021.

Collaborative research for progressive change

The Initiatives aim to encourage the co-construction of high quality, impactful knowledge with partners that stimulates mutual learning on development thinking and practice. In the past year, there have been a number of excellent examples of this approach in action including from Lidia Cabral, a member of the Brazil IDS Initiative. Lidia recently started an action research project called Just Food? Mutual Exchange Network on Just Food System Transitions, funded by the British Academy. We will work with Family Agriculture and Agro-ecology; the Reference Center on Food and Nutrition Sovereignty and Security (CERESAN) at the Federal Rural University of Rio de Janeiro (UFRRJ), and other partners in Europe and Sub-Saharan Africa. The project, over time, will create a network of actors working and advocating for justice in the food system whose voices have often been left out of debates on sustainable development.

The ambition of the network is to engage food system actors in a series of participatory workshops organised by local civil society organisations concerned with food systems and food justice. Together, they will share learning and co-develop policy recommendations towards transforming food systems by addressing the right to food, climate change, gender inequalities, cultural practices around food. At the core, they seek to include often marginalized perspectives and injustices.

At the same time, Lidia Cabral co-hosted panels on ‘South-South relations: unsettling development’ at the Development Studies Association conference. The panels asked, ‘how have South-South relations been impacted by, and shaped responses to, the multiple pressures unsettling development?’ including Covid-19, populism, climate change, multipolarity and racial violence.

Between April and July, the IDS China Centre convened a series of publications and events that explored China’s relations with South Asian and African countries, and development cooperation. This included a IDS Policy Briefing on China-Africa Economic Zones as catalysts for industrialisation with Professor Chris Alden from London School of Economics and Political Science. The authors argue that, to be sustainable, African Special Economic Zones need constructive partnerships and strong African governance, backed by high-quality data to inform both Chinese and African government decisions. Through the China and Global Development Seminar Series, we welcomed presentations from Professor Jiejin Zhu (Fudan University, China), Dr Ruth Gamble (La Trobe University, Australia), Dr Carl Middleton (Chulalongkorn University, Thailand) and Rohan D’Souza (Kyoto University, Japan) on The Belt and Road Initiative, hydropolitics and hydropower.

Building future leadership for development

A key part of the IDS International Initiatives is the ambition of nurturing critical and participatory leaders through professional development and learning opportunities, and teaching collaborations. Under this remit, IDS Fellow Amrita Saha continues to develop her substantive work on inclusive trade as part of the IDS Pakistan Hub and in collaboration with Sussex InterAnalysis and the UK Trade Policy Observatory. It focuses on trade policy and its impact on development outcomes, from gender, human rights to sustainability and is targeted to policymakers, researchers and students globally.

Championing engagement with evidence

The International Initiatives seek to directly inform  policy and practice by improving engagement with evidence. Real progress has been seen including through the Brazil IDS Initiative through a project with the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office in Brasília, ABC (the Brazilian cooperation agency) and AUDA-NEPAD (the African Union Development Agency). With our Brazilian partner Articulação Sul and a team of African, Brazilian and UK-based Data for Development experts, IDS has been scoping a trilateral development cooperation initiative to support mutual learning between the UK, Brazil and African countries on how best to meet the challenges and harness the potential of rapidly-changing population structures.

Away from partnerships with government bodies, the International Initiatives also delivered two highly engaging event series via the European Engagement Initiative and Pakistan Hub. The Youth Employment and Politics series, hosted by the European Engagement Initiative, included six panels across the themes of youth mobility, employment, rural livelihoods, politics, peace and security, and youth in humanitarian settings. Presentations primarily focused on Sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region where the mix of diverse perspectives from academia, civil society, governments, and UN agencies prompted a very positive discussion.

The Mahbub ul Haq Distinguished Lecture Series (co-hosted with the Lahore University of Management Sciences, through the Pakistan Hub) encouraged globally renowned speakers to share knowledge, research and contribute towards ‘building forward differently’ in Pakistan and globally. The series concluded with presentations from Prof Mariana Mazzucato (UCL) on ‘Rethinking the role of the state: From public goods to public value’  and Prof Leonard Wantchekon (Princeton University) on ‘State capture and the breakdown of democratic institutions’. The series received over 200,000 views in total, a testament to the calibre of the speakers and reputation of LUMS.

Expanding future networks

The International Initiatives provide opportunities to strengthen existing relationships and establish new ones. We finalized a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Federal University of Lavras as part of the Brazil IDS Initiative. The MoU will open up new opportunities for collaborative research and policy impact across sustainable agriculture and food equity, building on IDS’ existing work on this theme with Brazilian partners. This three-year agreement marks the beginning of our partnership, and we look forward co-developing activities.

We have worked closely to firm up our Ghana Development Studies Hub strategy with our two anchor partners, the University of Ghana and the University for Development Studies. This has involved co-convening webinars to identify critical research questions and mutual strengths and expertise for future collaborative work. The first highlighted the latest thinking on migration and mobility in Ghana and beyond and the second was on the topic of pastoralism and climate change in West Africa.

It has been a hugely exciting three months for the International Initiatives with considerable opportunities ahead. To find out more, get in contact with the International Initiative leads (contact details available on each country webpage) for further information.

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