Using local knowledge to build resilient communities is at the heart of the RESILIENT project.
As a part of the project, eight PhD students from Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania are currently at the University of Agder (UiA) to strengthen North-South cooperation.
“Many social work programs have tried to apply Western models for problem solving to challenges in the Global South. But these models often fail because they do not incorporate local knowledge. Our project aims to change this”, says professor Ann Christin Eklund Nilsen.
The RESILIENT project started in 2021, as a collaboration between the University of Rwanda, Makerere University in Uganda, the Institute of Social Work in Tanzania, and the University of Agder.
UiAs part of the project is mainly to contribute to capacity building, academic collaboration, and joint supervision of eight PhD students on exchange to Norway.
“Local knowledge is crucial to identify challenges and how to solve them. The PhD students work with local communities in their respective countries to develop knowledge. Together with our colleagues in the Global South, we help the students put their knowledge into an academic context and guide them in making their knowledge available to others", says professor Nilsen.
One of the PhD students is Pierre Celestin Bimenyimana, from Rwanda. He is researching how Rwandan youth volunteered to spread information about preventing the spread of COVID-19, and how this homegrown solution might be used in fighting future pandemics.
“Staying here in Norway is a great experience. We get the opportunity to meet colleagues from neighboring countries, collaborate with them and experience a new culture together. The level of technology here is vastly different from home, which makes it easier for me to do my research”, says Bimenyimana.
The PhD students arrived in Norway in August and are staying until the middle of December. The RESILIENT project is funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) and has received NOK 18.5 million in funding.
Social work in Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda is dependent on local knowledge, to identify and apply effective measures. There is no “one-size-fits-all”-solution to challenges in East Africa.
“In Rwanda we have a very strong volunteer culture, called umuganda, translated as “community work”. It started as a local thing but has evolved into a national practice the last Saturday of every month. During umuganda we build roads, schools and clean up our communities and others depending on what the current needs are. It is a powerful tool which can be used to address many challenges”, says Bimenyimana.
“The PhDs are an outstanding group, and we enjoy having them here at our faculty. They challenge us with their perspectives, and they provide us a lot of experience in international cooperation. The University of Agder is all about co-creation, and this is a prime example”, says professor Nilsen.
The RESILIENT project will continue until 2026, and the cooperation between the universities have already sparked new joint research projects.