The global problems that only academics can solve

The greatest challenges of the 21st century will be global in nature, and so too will be the solutions. Fortunately, a growing group of academic experts based at institutions across Canada is collaborating with international partners around the world to build the capacity to solve these challenges.

These efforts have already had an enormous impact across the globe over the past decade, from building family medicine capacity in Guyana to creating a unified national university system in Rwanda, from designing programming on environmental governance in Tanzania to creating new opportunities for students with disabilities in Indonesia.

What all of these life-changing projects have in common is the involvement of Academics Without Borders, a non-profit group based in Canada whose mission is nothing short of improving the quality of life for millions of people worldwide. They do this by helping developing countries build capacity at their institutions of higher education to drive development and improve quality of life for all.

“In Canada, we have the luxury of sometimes asking what impact higher education is having on our daily lives. But it’s important to know that in the developing world, there is no ambiguity about the value of higher education and its role in creating more stable and just societies,” says AWB Executive Director Greg Moran. “Canada has this enormous wealth of academic experts whose knowledge can have an utterly transformative effect in building capacity in the developing world. The question becomes one of how we liberate this incredibly valuable knowledge to achieve global impact.”

So how does Academics Without Borders do this? By working directly with Canadian institutions, faculty, and partners in developing countries to tap the wellspring of our country’s academic expertise. AWB has mounted over 100 projects over the past decade involving more than 130 faculty members working in 23 countries. It has done so by eliminating the barriers that most commonly hamper institutions’ and academics’ efforts to pursue global development work. Over the past three years, this work has been immeasurably enhanced by the Network of Canadian post-secondary institutions.

“As an individual faculty member, it’s next to impossible to figure out the vehicle that would allow you to pursue this kind of partner-led, reciprocal work,” says Moran. “Where are the contacts? How do you vet the opportunity? Your travel? The relationship? The insurance? How do you orient yourself as to where in the world you’re travelling? It’s almost impossible to do it on your own.”

For this reason, AWB offers its Network a set of key supports that eliminate the most common barriers to global development work while maximizing the contributions of institutions and faculty members belonging to its Network. These supports are:

Providing priority access to Network member faculty and staff to serve as expert volunteers on projects identified by AWB’s partners in developing countries around the world.

  • Offering faculty and professional staff at member institutions invaluable advice, contacts, and a range of logistical supports.

  • Covering all faculty-volunteer costs associated with a project, including flights, insurance, accommodations, local transport, meals, and daily stipends where necessary.

  • Providing connection to a community of like-minded professionals who are eager to share knowledge and support the work of the Network in whatever ways they can.

  • Offering faculty and professional staff at Network institutions the opportunity to partner with post-secondary institutions in the developing world to propose capacity-building projects through periodic calls for project proposals.

  • Collecting and vetting proposals for projects from post-secondary institutions around the world and bringing these projects to AWB member institutions, so that Canadian experts interested in global development work can be confident that any project they find through AWB will have impact, and that they will be working with a committed global partner.

In addition to identifying and formalizing new opportunities, AWB also plays a vital role in coordinating efforts that are already being undertaken by individual faculty members across Canada, says AWB Associate Executive Director Corrie Young. “At many institutions, multiple projects occur at the same time without proper coordination,” says Young. “What is so essential about AWB’s work is that we source projects directly from partners in developing countries, and we make sure that there is coordination happening between the projects, the people working on them, and other efforts that might already be happening.”

It’s this kind of work, Young adds, that can assure AWB’s projects are:

  • Vetted with respect to potential impact and sustainability

  • Identified as priorities and initiated by partners in developing countries

  • Ready to be formalized as coordinated, structured partnerships

In 2019, AWB will be looking to expand the number of colleges, polytechnics, and universities in its institutional Network. For Moran, the 16 institutions currently belonging to the Network have stepped up and identified themselves as leaders in the next phase of internationalization in higher ed, which has moved from a primary focus on international student recruitment to a more holistic understanding of reciprocity and the sharing of expertise to build a better world.

“Beyond the immediate, tangible benefits of joining the AWB Network, this is really about institutions and individuals who are ready to come forward and share in the conviction that higher education can build a better world,” says Moran.

If you are interested in learning more about AWB’s Network and how your school can become involved, please visit AWB’s website. Or if you’d like to speak directly with AWB’s leadership about this valuable opportunity, contact AWB Associate Executive Director Corrie Young here.

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