A new team of young researchers from Western University and West Africa will soon be looking at ways to improve social development in struggling West African countries by addressing climate issues, thanks to a grant program focused on building research capacity and collaborations around the globe.
The project, spearheaded by The Africa Institute at Western, is funded through a $300,000 award from the Queen Elizabeth Scholarships Advanced Scholars West Africa program and will be used to train early-career researchers to better understand how to address climate change and nurture sustainable livelihoods in five West African countries.
The funding will support the exchange of 11 Western scholars and 11 scholars from partners in Ghana, Benin, Liberia, Senegal and Nigeria. Together, they will focus on issues of climate change and sustainable livelihoods to improve social development in selected areas of those countries — including better health, gender equity, empowerment of disadvantaged groups, good governance of land resources, and enhanced knowledge of sustainable agricultural practices.
Their project is called “Building Research and Knowledge Translation Capacity for Climate Change Resilience, Food Security and Sustainable Livelihoods in West Africa.” Western scholars will be recruited from multiple faculties and departments, including Engineering, Social Science, Gender, Sexuality and Women Studies, Life Sciences, Information and Media Studies, Ivey Business and the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry.
They will receive training before departing for internships of up to six months in West Africa.
In exchange, scholars from varied disciplines at West African institutions will come to Western, where they will be exposed to world-class expertise and research facilities and will participate in leadership and community engagement workshops, courses and activities, said Isaac Luginaah, principal investigator on the project, a professor of geography and environment at Western and a member of The Africa Institute.
“This is an opportunity for Western to continue to build important partnerships and collaborations with other institutions,” said Luginaah. “The global world we live in now means that you cannot operate without these partnerships, and this project will enable us to develop on-the-ground partnerships that will really have an impact on those communities moving forward.”
The project team, comprising 12 faculty members from Western and two from the University of Waterloo, will be joined by members of community organizations in both the London area and West Africa to help equip the scholars with the skill sets to examine environmental vulnerabilities through a health and gender equity lens.
In Canada, partners include The Africa Institute, Western’s Network for Economic and Social Trends and the Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship. Private and not-for-profit organizations in London will be involved in providing leadership and community-building skills, and the scholars will also benefit from leadership and community engagement activities in the broader network of Queen Elizabeth Scholars.
The QES program, established in 2014 as an initiative of the Rideau Hall Foundation and Universities Canada, aims to improve global talent exchange between Canada and other nations by providing enriched academic, professional and cross-cultural experiences. Western is one of 11 Canadian universities receiving a grant through the program this year.
QES funded two Western projects by the Africa Institute in 2015 and one in 2019 led by Western Civil and Environmental Engineering professor Clare Robinson. The new program highlights Western’s commitment to building on prior capacity-building efforts and collaborations.
The project will build on Western’s strong existing collaborations with the University of Cape Coast and S.D. Dombo University of Business and Integrated Development Studies in Ghana, as well as University of Benin, University of Liberia, University of Ibadan and Cheikh Anta Diop University, Senegal.
“As a result of numerous initiatives from faculties across campus, a strong collaboration between Western and institutions in Benin, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria has existed for several years,” said Luginaah. “Within the past 10 years, there has been considerable exchange of faculty and graduate students between Western and institutions in Ghana, Liberia, Benin, Senegal and Nigeria with a focus on increasing collaboration in the area of health, climate change resilience and food security.”
Dr. Saverio Stranges, chair of the department of epidemiology and biostatistics at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, and director of The Africa Institute, is one of the co-investigators on this year’s project.
He said the QES award is an important recognition of the track record of Western’s interdisciplinary team of scholars across different faculties in the areas of climate change, food security and health.
“It is also a significant milestone for The Africa Institute at Western University, which brings together a large critical mass of researchers and students focusing on Africa. We look forward to this next opportunity to engage with new and existing partners and to work with early-career researchers from Western and West Africa.”
With Luginaah as principal investigator, the project’s co-investigators and affiliations are: Isola Ajiferuke, Information and Media Studies, The Africa Institute; Godwin Arku, Social Science, The Africa Institute; Oana Branzei, Ivey Business School, The Africa Institute; Susan Elliott, University of Waterloo; Melanie Katsivo, Western International associate director, The Africa Institute and Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry; Anita Kothari, School of Health Studies; Erica Lawson, Social Science/Arts, The Africa Institute; Mohammad Reza Najafi, Engineering; Francisco Olea Popelka, One Health Chair, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, The Africa Institute; Dr. Saverio Stranges, Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and The Africa Institute director; Larry Swatuk, University of Waterloo; Jinfei Wang, Social Science; and Tony Weis, Social Science.