Blog Post: Towards a New Model for International Research Collaboration: Reflections on the April YouthSave Research Advisory Council Convening and Symposium
By Julia Stevens and Li Zou, Center for Social Development
On April 17, 2012, a Symposium on International Research and Innovation at Washington University in St. Louis highlighted the experiences and insights of the international research partners in YouthSave. The event, which was hosted by the Center for Social Development at Washington University’s Brown School, drew an engaged audience of students, researchers, and program representatives with interests in international research and collaboration.
The first panel, “Building International Research Partnerships: Challenges and Opportunities,” focused on the process of building international research partnerships and institutional ties in YouthSave. Panelists from YouthSave partner institutions Universidad de los Andes (UniAndes) in Colombia, Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA) in Kenya, Institute of Statistical, Social, and Economic Research (ISSER) in Ghana, New ERA in Nepal, and HFC Bank in Ghana shared their reflections on building international research partnerships with academics in the global North and their experiences establishing partnerships and resolving challenges in YouthSave. A video of the panel may be viewed here, beginning at the 19:00 mark.
“The panel represented a rare opportunity to discuss the nuts and bolts of building international research partnerships, a direction of growing interest for social development research,” said Michael Sherraden, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor of Social Development at Washington University and Director of CSD.
Toward a new model for international research partnerships
One consistent theme of the panel was the need for a new approach to international research partnerships that is collaborative, productive, and beneficial to all parties.
Amy Ritterbush, Assistant Professor at UniAndes, pointed to the partnerships in YouthSave as a step in the right direction. “YouthSave is a great example of what many times is called for in development work,” said Ritterbusch. “We need to de-center academia and work more with local partners, and this is what YouthSave is doing.”
Isaac Osei-Akoto, a Senior Research Fellow at ISSER, pointed out the problematic power dynamics that have often characterized research partnerships between institutions in the global North and South. Partnerships in the past have tended to be “very extractive,” noted Isaac Osei-Akoto, with researchers from the global North failing to share data with the local institutions, or to collaborate on analysis and publication of results.
Drawing on his experience fostering international partnerships as Director of Washington University’s McDonnell International Scholars Academy, Jim Wertsch noted that identifying mutual self-interest is key in forming successful international partnerships. “The answer to extractive or touch-and go research is not just good will,” Wertsch said, “but recognizing all of our institutional incentives and agendas and then harnessing them to come up with a plan that has something in it for everybody.”
Other panelists—including Joseph Kieyah, Principal Policy Analyst at KIPPRAand Sharad Sharma, Research Team Leader for YouthSave at New ERA—agreed that consideration of mutual benefits, along with effective communication and close collaboration are essential to more equitable research partnerships. Panelists noted, as well, that YouthSave has broken with this “extractive” model and fostered a truly collaborative approach to research partnership.
Charles Ofori-Acquah, General Manager of HFC Bank, who offered the unique perspective of a financial institution partner in YouthSave, closed his remarks by encouraging the audience to think even more broadly, and consider the sustainability of research partnerships that involve commercial institutions.
“How,” asked Ofori Acquah, “can we both position YouthSave so that it will not become something that we do and it ends there, but for academic institutions to engage with banks to address financial challenges not only now but also in the future?”
A broader learning agenda
The Symposium, which also included a panel highlighting the innovative research on youth and saving conducted by members of the YouthSave Research Advisory Council, was part of a three-day YouthSave Research Learning Conference hosted by the Center for Social Development (CSD) at Washington University. Video of the presentations and panel discussion may be viewed here, beginning at the 2:31 mark.
The Learning Conference convened representatives of YouthSave partner institutions, consortium partners, and funding partner (The MasterCard Foundation) to discuss research in YouthSave. Members of the YouthSave Research Advisory Council—Kojo Appiah-Kubi, a Member of the Parliament of Ghana; Beatriz Armendáriz, Senior Lecturer at the University College London, on leave from Harvard University; Daphna Oyserman, Professor of Psychology and Edwin J. Thomas Collegiate Professor of Social Work at the University of Michigan; and Mark Schreiner, Founder and Director of MicroFinance Risk Management, LLC—were also in attendance. The Learning Conference marked the first meeting of all of these stakeholders since YouthSave began in 2010.
In addition to attending the Symposium, YouthSave partners attended CSD-led workshops on research methods and reviewed research progress to date, including new research briefs released by CSD on challenges and opportunities for youth saving and youth-related policies. Meetings offered opportunities for partner research institutions, partner financial institutions, consortium members, and Research Advisory Council members to exchange ideas and insights.
“The Learning Conference embodied YouthSave’s approach to international research partnership,” said CSD director Michael Sherraden. “All partners are involved in the ongoing implementation of YouthSave research. These partnerships are YouthSave’s greatest strength.”