“Global Colleagues” against Global Poverty

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LepeniesSeptember2014-Cropped-154x200By Robert Lepenies, MW Fellow 2013-2015 (*)

To be effective, poverty research must be global. Similarly, poverty researchers must meet as partners. These two realizations drove Global Colleagues, the one-to-one academic partnership programme between poverty scholars in the Global North and South, which was recently launched by a volunteer team for Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP).

Global Colleagues’ first cohort was launched in May 2015 and brings together 68 very diverse scholars from all around the world (from Bangladesh to Germany, from the US to Zimbabwe). The inaugural cohort has just gone public and the partnerships are now live. Thus far, we have learned that Global Colleagues is unique: it is a truly global, independent and multidisciplinary programme run completely by academic volunteers. It is also an experiment: We are very excited to see how well colleagues will work together – and who will learn what from whom.

The spectrum of research topics is huge and ranges from institutional safeguards for childrens’ rights in Nigeria, to Indian identity politics, global food security, tax evasion by mining companies in Africa, ocean acidification and small-scale fisheries, ethnocultural justice, rural insurgency in Mexico, public services delivery in Cambodia and critical development studies. Interestingly, the biggest two groups of scholars are applied economists and philosophers.

Many of the projects tie in to similar projects that ASAP has initiated as part of the Institutional Reform Goals (IRG) project, which focuses on involving academics in the reform of global institutions. Severe poverty has local causes – but also global ones. There are many international institutions and practices that are held to perpetuate poverty. For example, the WTO’s TRIPS Agreement is often criticized for hindering people in poverty from accessing essential medicines. Climate change, for which the Global North is primarily responsible, threatens to erode development in the Global South. A global system of tax havens facilitates massive outflows from the Global South. All of these factors perpetuate poverty, and ending poverty will require reforms of global institutions. The world’s wealthiest and most powerful countries will have to play a leading role in solving these problems, because they are the primary beneficiaries and enforcers of the status quo. The IRG project aims to raise academic voices to propose policies of reform and to call for action.

It is to be hoped that Global Colleagues is a step in the direction of globalized poverty research. Research on development itself is not very globalized, and much can be done to improve the state of institutional attempts to link academics in global research networks. The primary goal of Global Colleagues is to help early-career colleagues. More experienced colleagues support them by providing feedback on their research and professional goals, recommending books and articles, giving guidance on targeting publications, and where possible making introductions and identifying conference and funding opportunities. Ideally, the learning will be mutual: we designed Global Colleagues as a partnership, not a mentorship programme:

The one-year partnership connects pairs of colleagues to engage in a mutually beneficial exchange. The partnership enables experienced researchers already embedded in relevant networks to better understand the work context of their early-career colleagues and, ideally, opens up opportunities for research collaboration on poverty-related issues. To better understand expectations and concerns about the program, we recently completed a survey of early-career scholars, asking them about their perspective on poverty research, and academia in the North and South, as well as their expectations and views on the programme itself (a big thank you goes to the many helpful comments from colleagues in the Max Weber programme who helped in the design and testing). Looking into the future, we hope to include the current cohort of Global Colleagues in the administration and managing of the next cohort.

One of the upcoming ideas is also inspired by the Max Weber Programme: inspired by the academic skills courses offered to postdocs, it is our long term goal to offer similar skills workshops to early-career scholars world-wide (first via Skype). If you’d like to give a course or know someone who would like to, please be in touch. We are also always happy to accept (self-)nominations for Global Colleagues (and we are also always looking for interns).

If you can, spread the word about the programme following the pilot cohort’s launch. We hope to start a dialogue about barriers to progression in global academic careers, and ways in which these can be overcome.

(*) The MWPBlog is a platform for MW Fellows to address scholarly topics and comment on current affairs. The thoughts expressed in the posts represent solely the views of the posting Fellows and not of the Max Weber Programme