Power imbalances adversely affecting development
According to the Joint Nordic Conference on Development Research, asymmetric power relations are exacerbating divides between the North and South, adversely affecting people and communities around the world. Danida alumni from Vietnam and South Africa participated in the conference, contributing important insights from their research.
By Nina Vlemmings
Under the theme ‘Knowledge Production in North-South Collaboration: Challenges in an Era of New Global Divides’, the 5th Joint Nordic Conference on Development Research aimed to provide a platform for addressing the rise of asymmetric power relations both globally and locally. According to the conference, this trend is contributing to deepening divides between the North and South, as well as growing imbalances within regions, adversely affecting people and communities around the world.
Two Danida alumni - Mr Moses Mukota, scientist at South Africa’s Department for Water and Sanitation and Ms Phan Phuong Hao, researcher at Vietnam’s Institute of Cultural Studies - were invited to Copenhagen to present papers at the conference, which took place 27-28 June. Their participation followed an exclusive call for papers for Danida Alumni from Danida Fellowship Centre, in partnership with the conference hosts, The Association of Development Researchers in Denmark (FAU).
Challenging actors in international development
Phan Phuong Hao presented her research paper, “Gendering Global-local Dynamics in Environmental Projects: REDD+ Social Safeguards in Vietnam”, as part of a broader panel discussion on ‘Challenging Actors in International Development’. Hao’s paper explores the challenge of power relations among global actors and national/local stakeholders in translating global norms into national policy and local activities. Importantly, her insights provided a key contribution to the session by addressing this topic through a gendered lens.
According to Hao, the panel discussions put a spotlight on three significant trends:
1) Developing countries are increasingly recognising the role of civil society in the negotiation of development agendas.
2) Local actors nonetheless still need to manoeuvre within a largely top-down approach to ‘doing development’. Governments control policy-making and implementation, whilst multilateral agencies shape the overall agenda and channel resources to local NGOs. The key challenge here is for civil society to avoid dependence on global donors, in order to maintain freedom of initiative and local relevance.
3) A de-colonisation of knowledge in developing countries is seen by national/local actors as a response to outdated global norms that still permeate development agendas and activities.
Phan Phuong Hao completed her Danida Fellowship at Copenhagen University, as part of her Doctoral studies at the University of East Anglia. Her PhD was a component of the DANIDA project “REDD+: The Forest Grab of all Times”.
Perspectives on research capacity building
Moses Mukota contributed to the panel “Perspectives on research capacity building and research partnerships in and with the South” with a presentation of the capacity building component of the “Framework Programme for Research, Education and Training in the Water Sector” (FETWater). Moses emphasised the value of FETWater’s network approach, which is helping shape new qualifications within South Africa’s water sector. This allows FETWater to work through a community of expert practitioners from universities, research institutions, regulatory bodies and private enterprise – providing both an advisory function as well as a solid foundation for stakeholder consultation.
Fellow panellists shared complementary insights from other programmes in Africa. Academia’s promotion of cluster activities under SIDA’s Research and Innovation Strategy in Tanzania has created linkages between diverse actors, whilst contributing to job creation and women’s empowerment. These activities include training, technical support and sharing technological tools. Under the multi-agency ‘Protracted Relief and Recovery Operations Program’ in Kenya, Kitui County has delivered infrastructural improvements and strengthened livelihoods by prioritising community participation in its approach to climate adaptation.
However, in spite of these apparent successes, a panellist from Tanzania also drew the group’s attention to a challenging aspect of North-South collaboration: Namely that capacity development, training and co-authoring opportunities offered by Northern actors most often target junior staff of Southern institutions, exacerbating the unequal power relationship.
In the autumn of 2018 Moses Mukota completed the course “Water Sector Governance - the Danish Model”, under the DFC Scholarship Programme and in support of Denmark’s Strategic Sector Corporation with South Africa.
Sharing their experience and learning with the Danida Alumni Network
As part of stimulating further debate on these important topics as well as to gather additional input to their work, both Hao and Moses are keen to share their respective contributions to the conference - along with the new insights gained from their panel discussions and recent visit to Denmark - with the local alumni communities in Vietnam and South Africa.
Hao is exploring opportunities for combining such a session with a local alumni event in Hanoi, whilst Moses will be inviting fellow South African Danida alumni to a FETWater workshop later this year/early 2020, as part of concluding the programme’s development phase and launching its pilot activities.