Anyone beginning a career as an academic has extensive hurdles to overcome, whether it's becoming familiar with hundreds of papers on relevant topics, digging through and analyzing decades of research, or learning how to make significant contributions to the field.
The leading academics studying poverty recognize the issues emerging scholars face in their field, and are paying particular attention to the plight of those in the Southern Hemisphere. Academics Stand Against Poverty, an international association that helps scholars and teachers address the major issues in poverty, launched its first group of Global Colleagues last month, pairing senior poverty scholars from northern countries with their more junior counterparts from the other half of the globe in hopes of bridging that gap.
Robert Lepenies, project manager of Global Colleagues, said in an email that he and other leaders of the group hope it can help younger researchers find better funding tools and access to literature they otherwise might not have been aware of.
He said scholars at smaller research programs in southern parts of the world have “untapped potential” and that this series of collaborations -- which doubles as ASAP’s first global flagship program -- can help the newer academics establish themselves in parts of the world where the study of poverty remains minimal.
Older scholars might also be able to gain new perspectives, he said, by hearing the narratives and experiences of the junior researchers from countries where poverty is a more salient issue.
“It’s important to see eye to eye here and not treat southern researchers as mere data providers of southern expertise, adding the flavor of 'local knowledge': we need the local and universal knowledge of both partners and have taken care to not reproduce these power relations,” Lepenies wrote.
All of the younger researchers were asked to fill out a survey on their views of poverty research, discrepancies between research in differing parts of the world and expectations for the program, information that is now being analyzed by the Global Colleagues management team.
Only a couple of weeks into the yearlong program, the 34 sets of partners are still settling into their pairs and getting to know one another, but hope the coming months will bring varying perspectives from and for both sides.
Hari Sharma, one of the junior researchers from the Nepa School of Social Science and Humanities, in Nepal, said that as someone from a developing country, it will be helpful to be in a network with those who can point him in the right direction and toward more funding opportunities.
And he hopes he can share a perspective that his partner might not have necessarily been exposed to before.
“For me, how I can help is to think of actual problems and issues in our part of the world,” Sharma said.
Sharma’s partner, Sonia Bhalotra, a professor of economics at the University of Essex, in Britain, said she doesn’t expect much out of the program for herself, but thinks her body of knowledge will be helpful for Sharma as he expands his academic career.
“It takes much longer to make contributions to this field by himself or themselves,” she said of younger researchers from developing countries. “It takes only a little bit of effort from someone who’s established in the field to provide what could be a huge help.”
Craig Murphy, a research professor at the University of Massachusetts at Boston, and co-director of the university’s Center for Governance and Sustainability, said he was unsure if the program will actually be helpful in terms of solving some of the major issues surrounding poverty and inequality.
He said those same issues were solved in Western countries by “having people on the streets” and not necessarily through academics, but that kind of activism may not work in other parts of the world because it might not make a substantial impact on a global scale.
But Murphy said he’s interested in learning more from his partner, Mohammed Yimer Tegegne, because of the economic situation in Ethiopia where Tegegne is based and the unique perspective the more junior scholar can provide.
Murphy, who is "over 60," said as he moves toward writing more at this stage of his career, he will seek opinions from individuals throughout the world to see if his theories and ideas have any validity -- and Tegegne will be one such consultant.
“I’m interested in as wide of an audience as possible -- other people concerned with these issues, as many people from other parts of the world as I can possibly find,” Murphy said. “I need to make sure that the argument I’m making makes sense from the perspective from many other parts of the world.”