Theory, policy and practice perspectives from Royal Holloway

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Women, Technology and Empowerment: Reflections on MSc research

Having pizza and a casual chat with AkiraChix members after a focus group meeting

With the support of the Royal Holloway Paula-Ann Travel Award, I spent one month in Kenya conducting field research for my dissertation titled “The study of the non-economic impact of technical ICT training on women – A case study of AkiraChix in Kenya”.

I came to Royal Holloway as a ICT for Development practitioner seeking to spend time researching things that I am passionate about. In my home country, Zambia, I co-founded and run Asikana Network, an organisation that seeks to empower women in the field of technology. We provide girls and women with free training in marketable ICT skills, a platform to interact and share knowledge, access to mentors and opportunities to give back to their own communities. Similarly, AkiraChix runs technical training programs for women from poor social and economic backgrounds in Nairobi, Kenya.  Prior to coming to Royal Holloway, I had experimented with various informal learning techniques, some of which have shown evidence that technology can effectively be used as a tool to change the way women perceive themselves in a society with strong traditional gender norms.

The field work in Kenya allowed me not only explore the techniques used in an organisation with a similar mission to mine, but to assess the non-economic impact of the programmes run within a similar cultural context. It allowed me to better organise and crystalise ideas that I had before, but did not have the time to research further. It broadened my perspectives and opened me to incredible new ways of thinking. My time in Kenya was also vital for strengthening the bond between our women in technology initiatives, and we continue collaborating and learn from each other in the long term.

Bonding with AkiraChix co-founder – Judith Owigar

I successfully graduated with a distinction and was awarded the Alan Mountjoy Prize for the best dissertation in social and economic geographies of developing countries.

I have since returned to Zambia and am applying what was learnt throughout the MSc programme and during the field work. In the summer of 2017, I will be launching Young, Free and Connected, a 6-month programme in the heart of one of the lowest-income areas of Lusaka that will take young women through an intensive ICT training, placement and mentorship programme.

Chisenga Muyoya

MSc Practising Sustainable Development (ICT4D) graduate 2016


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Learning about Sustainability through Volunteering


MSc Sustainability students 2015-16 with Dr Mike Dolton (MSc Director) and Professor Laura Spence (Director of the RHUL Centre for Research into Sustainability)

All students on the RHUL MSc in Practising Sustainable Development (including the ICT4D stream) and the MSc in Sustainability and Management have to complete a volunteer placement. While students have to do a minimum of 24 hours of volunteering over a 5-month period, many students do far more and some continue after the course has finished.

The aim of the volunteer project module is to allow students to actively engage with an issue of sustainability in practice and to reflect on that involvement. It is assessed through an individual project report reflecting on sustainability issues in the particular organisation, as well as students’ own reflections on their experience. Students also have to produce a poster and give a short presentation.

The volunteer project is one of the most important Continue reading

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Participation: Potential and Pitfalls

‘Participation’ has become ubiquitous in debates around development policy and practice, resulting in many scholars and practitioners querying its merits. In a day-long workshop held at Royal Holloway, participants reflected on the potential of ‘participation’ to move beyond tokenism or tyranny, to be part of processes of social transformation and greater social justice.

The workshop was part of a programme of exchange between the Department of Geography and Erasmus partner University of Bonn, with Prof Sabine Tröger as a visiting staff member. It was co-hosted by the RHUL ICT4D Centre and the Politics, Development and Sustainability Group and discussed participatory approaches in community and international development work. Participants included researchers, practitioners and students.

Participatory workshop 2015There were four presentations in the morning, followed by discussion: Sabine Tröger critically examined the power relations in participatory processes with Ethiopian pastoralists; Jay Mistry from the EU Cobra Project discussed the challenges of doing participatory film work with indigenous groups in the Amazon; Naomi Shoba reflected on the participatory work with young people that Ovalhouse Theatre do, specifically on engaging with emotion in participatory theatre practice; Dorothea Kleine from the ESRC Food Futures 2.0 project reflected on the different roles of facilitator and expert in participatory work on sustainable consumption.

The afternoon was then spent in un-conference style themed small group discussion. A number of key themes emerged:

Participatory approaches are useful in ensuring that research is more relevant to the local community and supports positive social change. However, there are different perceptions of what participation is, e.g. some funders/development agencies consider community consultation enough, while others seek community decision-making. Participatory methods are not “neutral” activities but one step in a change process and there is no such thing as a “neutral researcher”. Continue reading

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Policy and Practice in Gender & Development: Early Career Researcher Perspectives

With the generous funding support of the Security and Sustainability research theme at Royal Holloway, University of London, we were able to convene a group of early career researchers on Wednesday 27 May 2015 to share insights into the policy and practice of gender and development in a variety of settings.

As the organisers for this event, we were eager to explore the gap between research, policy and practice in gender and development. The presenters offered thoughtful reflections and suggestions about how best this gap might be bridged. What follows are our perspectives about the most salient points of the day.

G & D workshop group

There were three presentations on very different themes that, for me, highlighted some common barriers to gender transformative change.

Firstly, Paola Piscitelli presented research on the practices of Mukheristas, informal cross border traders in Mozambique and South Africa. Her findings showed that even though 70% of Mukheristas are female, the organisation formed to champion their rights is run by men who do not address the challenges the traders encounter Continue reading