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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Using technology to promote and share community-owned solutions to sustainable resource use

The COBRA Project – Local Solutions to Future Challenges: Community Owned Best Practice for Sustainable Resource Adaptive Management in the Guiana Shield – is a three-year, multinational project funded by the European Commission Seventh Framework Programme. The aim of COBRA is to document, promote and share local community-owned solutions that address escalating social, economic and environmental crises through accessible communication technologies. The main goal of the project is to help strengthen local community institutions while encouraging policy makers and civil society organisations to work with communities to promote local solutions.

Filming the Parishara Dance, Amerindian Heritage Celebration, Surama Village, September 2013. Photo credit: Deirdre Jaferally.

Filming the Parishara Dance, Amerindian Heritage Celebration, Surama Village, September 2013. Photo credit: Deirdre Jaferally.

The COBRA project uses a participatory action research approach to engaging communities while using participatory video and participatory photostories to disseminate information. The project is carried out at three levels – local, national and international. There are six work packages which are led by various project partners. Work Package 1 and 6 are overarching as they relate to project management and dissemination of information. Work package 2 is an analysis of current community conditions, Work package 3 explores future scenarios for drivers of change, Work package 4 looks at identifying and documenting community best practices, while work package 5 looks at the mechanism for sharing and adopting local best practices by other communities. Further details about the project, the work packages and results can be found at the COBRA website at

Deirdre Jaferally, COBRA Team Member & PhD student, Department of Geography, Royal Holloway.

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The UK adopts the single-most noxious event in American consumer culture

BlackFriday Originally posted on The Restart Project blog

The Restart Project is a volunteer-driven project sparked by two friends: one Italian and one American-British. As two people hugely invested in our communities, we are a little stunned by ‘Black Friday’ this year…