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Opinion

Transforming lives in a year of challenge and change

Published on 12 October 2021

This has been an extraordinary year for global development. The Covid-19 pandemic has continued to cause global disruption, transforming how people live and organisations function. The crisis revealed the scale of injustices in many areas and at many levels and, at IDS, reinforced the critical need for evidence and research to inform action that will contribute to a more equitable and sustainable world. The challenges it presented nevertheless coexisted with emerging opportunities in both what we work on and how we work; from new partnerships to new ways of thinking that recast development. It resulted in 2020-21 proving an exceptional year for the Institute which demonstrated the dedication of our community and network to making a lasting difference.

Here are six highlights from the past twelve months, but there are many more which you can read about in our 2021 Annual Review.

1. We expanded the IDS International Initiatives which are now active in Brazil, China, Ghana, Europe and Pakistan

We’ve established equitable and sustainable partnerships with universities, research bodies, governments, civil society, communities and the private sector to generate new research and learning agendas. Our network has evolved substantially in the past year with the International Initiatives – a programme to facilitate mutual learning in places at the forefront of geo-political change, development thinking and practice. The Initiatives operate in Brazil, China, Ghana, Pakistan and Europe addressing key development themes, including  ‘building back better’ from Covid-19.

2. We celebrated 50 years of research on pastoralism and highlighted new directions for international development

Pastoralism provides food and livelihoods for millions of people in more than 100 countries, in some of the harshest conditions on the planet. Pastoralists tend livestock (camels, cattle, yaks, sheep, goats and other animals) on rangelands that cover 25 to 40 per cent of the world’s surface. Long before human-influenced climate change was identified, pastoralists were adapting to climate variability.

In 2020, we marked 50 years of research on climate, the environment and pastoralism. Drawing from long-term fieldwork across Africa, Asia and Europe, our research has shown that there is much to learn from – not just for those working in development, but also those in health, finance and infrastructure. Findings challenge conventional thinking about environmental change and have shaped practice and policy to achieve wide ranging impact.

3. We helped connect the digitally disconnected in the UK

Covid-19 and the imposed lockdowns made the issue of digital connectivity fundamental to every aspect of society and economy. Yet, as research by the IDS Digital and Technology Cluster shows, persistent digital inequalities in the UK and the US exclude the most marginalised in our communities.

In January 2020, the Digital Futures at Work Research Centre (Digit, led from the University of Sussex) was set up to answer the challenges faced by the reality of our ‘hyper-digital’ society including how to support  those less educated with fewer formally recognised skills who are less likely to be online, more likely to work in vulnerable low-paying, unstable gig work and more likely to lack the digital skills needed to obtain key welfare support.

4. We strengthened future leadership for development through pedagogical reform in Africa

Working in partnership with universities in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda, we were part of Pedagogical Leadership in Africa (PedaL). This case study on inclusive, transformative attributes of female leadership shone a light on the wide-scale success of the partnership for higher education reform.

PedaL focuses on transforming social sciences teaching in African universities. Its student-centred pedagogical training for educators encourages the use of participatory, gender-sensitive teaching methods that are orientated towards developing skills of real world problem-solving and that move away from approaches where the lecturer tells the class what they need to know.

Since it began in 2018, PedaL has enhanced the teaching and facilitation skills of 2,000 educators from more than 80 universities across ten African countries. It has contributed to improving the learning experience for thousands of students across the continent.

5. We delivered online learning about social protection for everyone, everywhere

Even before Covid-19 forced a shift to teaching online, we were exploring the potential for digital technologies to enable us to broaden access for a wider range of participants. Launched in June 2020, ‘Social Protection: A Primer’ was a timely short course offered to professionals – and has become a core part of our building leadership work in this field.

Aimed at practitioners and policymakers in social protection, the free-to-access course was developed by the IDS Centre for Social Protection and the Knowledge Impact and Policy Cluster, and is supported by Irish Aid as part of our partnership with them. Such has been its success, the course will run at least until early 2022.

6. We championed the use of evidence for social and environmental justice

The global health crisis and emergency response created acute demand for evidence and learning – one that we were well placed to meet. The IDS-led K4D programme responded swiftly to requests for evidence summaries and learning services for the UK’s Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. The Social Science in Humanitarian Action Platform (SSHAP) provided briefings and convened practitioner dialogues that helped the social sensitivity of Covid responses. Evidence-gathering by the Coalition for Religious Equality and Inclusive Development (CREID) galvanised action from international policymakers over discrimination of religious minorities. And partnerships with local communities in South Asia’s Sundarbans delta as part of the TAPESTRY project contributed new ideas to help vulnerable communities manage uncertainty.

This is a brief snapshot of some of what we achieved through collaboration, knowledge exchange and mutual learning during the past year. To find out more, read our 2021 Annual Review.

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