"You cannot get through a single day without having an impact on the world around you. What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of different you want to make" Jane Goodall
It is humbling to sit in a room of people who have been working internationally for years and realize that you do not know nearly as much as you thought you did. However, it is also empowering to be open about the mistakes you’ve made, the growth you’ve experienced, and the lessons you’ve learned. This was my experience attending the Academics Without Borders (AWB-USF) Conference in Montreal November 5-7, 2018.
Academics Without Borders is an non-profit network of Canadian Universities whose mission is to help developing countries improve their universities so that they can train their own experts and conduct research to assist in their countries’ development. AWB-USF held its inaugural conference this year in Montreal, Quebec, and they played host to a diverse group of university senior administrators, staff dedicated to managing international projects and development, faculty members who engage directly with international partners and communities, and representatives from consultancies, funding agencies, and a multitude of other organizations and NGOs. Focused on the theme of Reaching Across Borders, Building a Better World,Keynotes, panelists, and speakers spent two days questioning projects, impacts, funding models, and ways to address the UN SDGs as well as the imbalance of power and impacts between partners in more developed countries (MDC) and less developed countries (LDC).
Lousie Frechette, Former Deputy Secretary-General, UN, and Chair, CARE InternationalSupervisory Board & Council and Alex Awitit, Director of the East African Institute, Aga Khan, and Governor with Canada’s IDRC were two of the speakers that stood out for me. Lousie’s review of the Canada’s involvement in International development and her frank review of current affairs was refreshing. She voiced concern over the United States’ current position on the role and value of the United Nations – which tries to provide a set of rules and frameworks for members who acknowledge the interconnected nature of economies, people, and ecosystems. However, she indicated that climate change was the one global issues that keeps her awake at night. Louise noted that there was little evidence of true political will to make tough changes that will require real sacrifice by citizens. She also spoke to the inequity of trying to compare carbon output country to country (e.g., China’s output compared to Canada’s) when a per capita comparison clearly shows how poorly we are doing as Canadians.
Alex Awiti’s presentation reinforced my past and current experiences with funded projects. He spoke to research that questioned the value of PhD training programs that result in foreign trained scholars who end up in universities without the resources (funds, library, and research networks) to support ongoing knowledge creation and dissemination. Noting that these scholars also face challenges of role overload (e.g., administrative duties and teaching) and limited skill development related to applying for their own grants, developing research programs, or building research networks. Alex also reinforced the importance of ownership, alignment, and mutual accountability in the success and effectiveness of north-south partnerships: (related resource)
There were many other international development/internationalization issues that received significant attention at the conference including the:
I came away from the Academics Without Boarders conference with a few conclusions and a renewed recognition of the value of the smaller, community focused work that I do with my students.
Dr. Aggie Weighill
Fernweh is a German noun that speaks to longing for travel to distant places - something that I strong relate to. I am very fortunate to have a career that helps me to fulfil my desire to travel and to explore our amazing planet. I also have incredible friends and family who both encourage me and join me on adventures at home and abroad.