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Thoughts on a New Year

Thoughts on a New Year

Category: Blog

The arc of the moral universe in long, but it bends towards justice
Martin Luther King

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water
Rabindranath Tagore

To annihilate indigenous populations eventually paves the way to our own annihilation. They are the only people who practice sustainable living. We think they are relics of the past, but they may be the gatekeepers to our future
Arundhati Roy

In earlier Indigenous times, the solstices, both winter and summer would have been the times for reflection on what has happened and what might lie ahead.  These days it is most common for us to give ourselves over to reflections based on the New Year of the Gregorian Calendar. The Gregorian calendar is evidence of the spread of the Western canon in the 16th Century. This calendar was named after Pope Gregory the XIII in 1572.  It replaced almost all of the ancient calendars so that aside from some awareness of an Islamic calendar, we mostly forget that Afghanistan, Indonesia, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Thailand and other places all have their own calendars. We raise this point because when working on issues of knowledge democracy it is useful to give visibility to the invisible knowledge that has been papered over by colonialism.

We have chosen our opening words from people whose work and lives inspires us.  Taken together, they remind us that hope remains in spite of the darkness, that action is required if we are to move forward and that the teachings from our most ancient people may provide the light for our most modern times.

Over the past five years, the work of our UNESCO Chair has followed two general streams: a series of international state-of-the art studies on community based research and advocacy work associated with the publication of two World Reports on Higher Education in collaboration with the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI).  We have shared the findings from our research studies and from the GUNi reports widely. Over the past year we have accepted invited keynotes and workshop presentations in Korea, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Colombia, Argentina, USA, Canada, Italy, Spain, England, Belgium, Ireland, Uganda, South Africa and Mexico.  We will continue to play this outreach role in support of our partner organizations and networks.  We can report that the movement of community based, engaged, participatory research and engagement has grown significantly over the past years. A quite special event took place at the source of the Nile River in Uganda in May of 2017, a gathering of Indigenous Knowledge Keepers from Turtle Island and Uganda. It is a privilege for us to be able to continue to learn from so many of you. We should add that our work has been deeply informed and continues to be informed by feminist perspectives on knowledge and by Indigenous ways of knowing.

2018 marks a shift in our focus.  While we will continue to pursue research to learn more about the mysteries and joys of co-construction of knowledge and democratic action, we are deeply aware of that there is a new generation of women and men who want to learn how to do the work that we call participatory research.  We are also aware that with the setting of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, there is a global commitment to social change and that the knowledge strategy, the collaboration between those with lived experiences of poverty, gender violence, food insecurity, inequality and more is a key to our hopes for realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.  With this in mind, we have launched the Knowledge for Change (K4C) Global Consortium on Training for Community Based Participatory Research in both India and Canada.  The two of us have made major commitments of our time to facilitating groups of CBPR Mentors over the coming three years.  The first cohort of the K4C begins the third week of January 2018.  At the heart of the K4C are a series of local training hubs, partnerships between practitioner organizations and universities where training in local languages, cultural and political contexts will take place.  The first set of hubs is being established in India (3), Indonesia, South Africa, Colombia, Italy and Cuba. More hubs are under discussion in the UK, Canada (an Indigenous hub), Spain, Japan, Uganda, Ghana, Benin, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Ecuador and more. Our goal is to support hub development in those parts of the global North and South with the least resources and the greatest need for transformative action.

We are deeply grateful to our host institutions, the University of Victoria, the Society for Participatory Research in Asia and by the Higher Education section of UNESCO, Paris.  We are humbled by the support that we receive from everyone.

Wafa Singh, our India Coordinator and Walter Lepore, our Canada Coordinator have been super stars over the past year keeping us going through the lows and the highs. Namaste!

We are part of a wonderful global family of organisations and networks that we interact with on a daily basis: GUNi, The Talloires Network, PASCAL International Observatory, the Living Knowledge Network, Engaged Scholarship Consortium, Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), International Association of Universities (IAU), The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).

In Canada, we acknowledge with gratitude that we work on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen speaking peoples, the Esquimalt, Songhees and W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations. We are grateful for continuing support from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, IDRC, from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and from the Ford Foundation (for work in Cuba/Colombia) and out national association Community Based Research Canada.

In India, we extend our gratitude to the large number of partner universities who have stood with us in our journey, organizations like the British Council and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry who have supported and endorsed our ideas, our friends in the University Grants Commission and the Association of Indian Universities, who continue to express solidarity with us and lastly, our colleagues and friends whose unconditional support has been valuable for us. Both the Indian National Commission for UNESCO and the UNESCO Regional Office have been constant partners.

We apologize if we are missing anyone in our gratitude trail, but we do want to assure you that we value our friendship and partnership with everyone whom we have come across, and we look forward to strengthened relations as we step towards our new journey in the New Year!

Happy New Year 2018!


Reflections from K4C Canada Launch

Category: Blog

"Innovative solutions for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be found through partnership research in local contexts", said Dr Budd Hall while opening a panel where the Canadian Commission of UNESCO co-convened a launch of Knowledge for Change (K4C) global consortium in Ottawa Canada on December 14, 2017.


Pic 1: Dr Budd Hall, delivering his address at the launch event

Mr Arun Sahu, Deputy High Commissioner of India in Canada enthusiastically welcomed this Indo-Canadian partnership as a model for mutually beneficial cooperation, and hoped for its scaling up in both countries, as well as in others.


Pic 2: Mr Arun Sahu, giving his remarks on K4C

"If Canada is back with new leadership in Ottawa, then it should support K4C as a timely initiative for global commitment to SDGs", said Dr Martin Taylor, Chair of Community Based Research Canada, a pan-Canadian platform with nearly 1600 practitioner-researchers as members.

The panellists focused on mainstreaming and deepening community-based participatory research (CBPR) as knowledge producing and mobilising strategy for finding local solutions to local priorities. Dr Sandrona de Finney spoke about her work at University of Victoria in child and family welfare arenas with indigenous communities; "it is imperative to keep focus on indigenous knowledge if CBPR has to mature".

Bringing her experiences of 35 years of grounded work in communities in Canada, Joanna Ochocka, founder director of Centre for Community Based Research at Waterloo, talked about the urgent need for sustained investment in building such capacity in Canadian universities.


Pic 3: Ms Joanna Ochocka, sharing her thoughts on CBR training

"The need for capacity enhancement is equally urgent in many developing countries in Francophone Africa too", argued Prof Florence Piron of Universite Laval.

As a pioneer in promoting CBPR in Canadian higher education system, Dr David Castle, Vice-President Research at University of Victoria invited research councils and funding agencies to invest in building the capacity for next generation in CBPR.


Pic 4: Dr David Castle, sharing his thoughts on the need to invest in CBPR

In his closing comments, Dr Rajesh Tandon, UNESCO Co-Chair highlighted that building such capacity in CBPR was the central focus of K4C in the coming years, starting from 2018." Local innovations for addressing local priorities of SDGs will occur at the intersections of expert knowledge and local knowledge. CBPR can thus trigger such innovations in many different sites", and thereby make universities partners in local achievements of SDGs.

Canada Commission for UNESCO under the leadership of its dynamic secretary general Sebastian Guptil has also published two papers on the significance of K4C and contributions of UNESCO Chairs as this UNITWIN initiative completes 25 years.

Pic 5: Delegates at the launch event

Mobilizing Community and Academic Knowledge to Address the UN SDG’s

Mobilizing Community and Academic Knowledge to Address the UN SDG’s

Category: Blog

Budd L Hall and Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chairs, UNESCO Chair in CBR and Social Responsibility in Higher Education

Community-Based Participatory Researchers from Universities and civil society organizations from 10 countries gathered in New Delhi on November 13, 2017 to kick-off the Knowledge for Change Global Consortium (K4C).  The K4C, an initiative of the UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education, has as its goal to train the next generation of Community-Based Participatory Researchers. The critical missing step in the implementation plans for the UN SDGs is a process where academics and community based knowledge workers can co-create knowledge that is locally contextualized and globally significant. Without attention to the particularities of the local, the grand goals of the SDGS will not gain traction in local life.  As the phrase goes, “you may hitch your horse to the wagon, but if the wheels do not touch the ground, you will not move forward. Participatory research is an approach to knowledge creation, learning and action that generates knowledge in response to the issues and challenges articulated by the community itself.  CBPR recognizes that universities do not hold a monopoly on knowledge creation and that in and of themselves, traditional approaches to research will prove insufficient to the challenges of the UN SDGs. Led by Dr. Rajesh Tandon of PRIA, India and Budd Hall, University of Victoria, Canada, the K4C makes the case that a critical element will be necessary to develop if we are to have a chance of reaching the ambitious UN SDGs.  Mr Shigeru Aoyagi, Director of the UNESCO India office noted in his opening remarks that the UNESCO Chair in CBR and Social Responsibility in Higher Education was, “the or one of the most active of all of the UNESCO Chairs in the world”. His office and the Canadian Commission for UNESCO have been enthusiastic supporters of these new initiatives. The organizational support of the Chair is supplied jointly by the University of Victoria located in British Columbia, Canada and the Society for Participatory Research in Asia (PRIA) headquartered in New Delhi, India.

A previous global study of training opportunities in the field of CBR undertaken by the Chair with support from Canada’s Social Science and Humanities Research Council provided evidence of a strong demand for learning how to do CBR but a frustratingly limited supply of locations where such learning can take place (Tandon et al 2016). The K4C Consortium has been designed utilizing a transformative pedagogical model that combines on-line distance provision with opportunities for field work and intensive face to face workshops. The mentors themselves bring a depth of experience in diverse settings, cultures and languages which are a key element of the learning model as well. The first step in building the K4C Global Consortium will be a Mentor Training Program for mentors, persons with significant community based research experience. The mentors will be nominated by the initial training ‘Hubs’ and will be responsible for creating a series of local CBPR training in their own local linguistic, cultural and organizational contexts. The second stage of the K4C, which will be led by the mentors who complete the Mentors Training Program will be the creation of local training hubs. The hubs will consist of partnerships between universities and civil society organizations, an organizational principle in line with the practice of community-university co-creation of knowledge.

Dr. N.V. Varghese, Vice-Chancellor of the National University of Educational Planning and Administration, who hosted the kick-off event noted that, “our aim is to produce more than 1300 community-based researchers and mentors in the first phases of our work”.  Prof S.K Pandey, Vice-Chancellor of Pt. Ravishankar Shukla University in Raipur, India said that, “Either universities find a way to give back to society or society will have little interest in their continued existence”.  Dr. Andrea Vargiu of the University of Sassari in Italy added, “this approach to the co-creation of knowledge allows us to transcend two dominant challenges of higher education research, unifying the global and the local and achieving a transdisciplinary process”

Among the universities and organizations that met in New Delhi to plan the next steps in the K4C Global Consortium were: Sunan Ampel State Islamic University of Surabaya, Indonesia, O.P. Jindal Global University, India, Manipal University, Jaipur, India, Pt. R. S. University, Raipur, India, Gulu University, Uganda, Durban Institute of Technology, South Africa, University of Victoria, Canada, Open University of Catalonia, Spain, University of Sassari, Italy, and PRIA, India.


Tandon, R., Hall, B., Lepore, W. & Singh, W. (2016). Knowledge and Engagement: Building Capacity for the Next Generation of Community Based Researchers. New Delhi/Victoria: PRIA/University of Victoria. [Free download available at: ]


Decolonisation in Practice: The University of Victoria Releases its First Indigenous Plan

Category: Blog

We read much in the news of higher education around the world about decolonisation.  We have heard of the struggles in South Africa where political apartheid was ended, but epistemic apartheid was not. We have heard of the debates about taking down the statues of colonial figures at universities such as Oxford.  Perhaps less is known about the decolonising efforts underway in the field of higher education in Canada.  Stimulated by the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada Report in 2015, Universities along with nearly every structure of government, culture, law and society have been responding to the call to action. This blog reports on the first Indigenous plan released by the University of Victoria. The University of Victoria has taken the responsibilities to Canada’s Indigenous People seriously for many years, but the new plan takes its commitment to a deeper, more detailed and comprehensive level. The action taken by the University of Victoria and increasingly by other universities across Canada represent a critical and positive development to the challenges of epistemic justice and as a correction to over 150 years of cultural genocide. The Indigenous Plan is an illustration of what decolonisation, often a rather vague concept, looks like in practice.

In the introduction to the plan an important acknowledgement is made to the role that post-secondary institutions have played in the perpetuation of colonial systems.  This is true for Canada as it is true in all parts of the world.

“As this is the University of Victoria’s first Indigenous Plan, it is important to begin with an acknowledgement of the role that educational institutions, including post-secondary institutions, have played in the perpetuation of colonial systems, both historically and in
contemporary times. One hundred and fifty thousand Indigenous children were sent to residential schools in Canada and many others attended Indian day schools. Between 1876 and 1985, Status Indians in Canada automatically lost their federal recognition upon earning a
university degree or becoming a professional, such as a doctor or lawyer. The intergenerational impacts of these decisions remain the legacy of many Indigenous students who seek higher education today. The University makes a commitment to reconciliation that involves recognizing how colonizing structures and relationships impact Indigenous students.”

The Indigenous Plan is presented as a cedar weaving. The cedar tree is a sacred tree for the Indigenous People of Western Canada.  Its bark makes baskets and ropes.  It was historically woven as cloth. It is medicine.  It is used to carve house poles and other sacred symbols.  It is used for carving canoes.  The strands of the Indigenous Plan include: students, academic and administrative staff, education, research and governance.

Included in the plan are a myriad of actions that are being taken up across every sector of the University of Victoria. In my own School of Public Administration where I teach community development, we have created a Committee on Decolonisation and Indigenisation of the Curriculum.  Other actions being implemented include:

  • Increased recruitment, retention and success of Indigenous students
  • Increased recruitment, retention and success of Indigenous academic staff
  • Recognition of Indigenous approaches to research based on community identification of issues
  • Increased academic programming for Indigenous students
  • Increased opportunities for all students to learn about Indigenous centred ways of knowing
  • Increased institutional resources and support for Indigenous students, academic and administrative staff

In Canada’s case, we have had 150 years of formal colonial governance resulting in cultural genocide through the breaking of hereditary linkages in the use, preservation and safe-guarding of Indigenous culture and language.  The transformation of Canada’s universities remains an extraordinary challenge that will take scores, perhaps hundreds of years.  But in a world where hope is often in short supply, the steps taken by the University of Victoria can be seen as concrete, positive and hopeful.


Preparing Global Citizens

Category: BlogUncategorized

“Universities have abandoned their previous commitment to educating future citizens. In this world where globalisation of indifference is growing, universities must prepare their students as citizens who practice and value freedom, equality and solidarity,” said Dr Frederico Mayor, former Director-General of UNESCO, in Barcelona on September 19, 2017.

Pic 1: Dr Frederico Mayor, Former Director-General of UNESCO & Dr Rajesh Tandon, Founder-President PRIA & Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research & Social Responsibility in Higher Education at the International Conference on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), Barcelona, September 2017

Dr Mayor was speaking at the closing session of the two day international conference on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) organised by Global University Network for Innovations (GUNi) in Barcelona. The conference brought together nearly 200 delegates from 21 countries to deliberate upon the roles that higher education can play in realisation of SDGs in different countries.

Historically, universities in many countries have remained largely indifferent to international and national development efforts. In promoting engagement with society, universities have expanded their service mission, in which students are encouraged to contribute to development of communities. But core functions of teaching and research have remained cut off from such engagement. Engaged teaching and research can make universities contribute more directly to locally relevant and contextually appropriate SDGs.

At the conference, Norbert Steinhaus of Living Knowledge Network in Europe described how science shops in many European countries are promoting partnerships between knowledge producing functions of universities with society. New research questions can emerge from such engagement. Bringing stakeholders together can generate sustainable solutions to local problems.

Expanding on this issue, Heila Lotz-Sisitka of Rhodes University in South Africa described the partnerships focused on water issues in the region undertaken by her university. It has brought together practitioners, government officials, community leaders and academics to jointly study the growing problem of water shortage in their regions.

The work of UNESCO Chair in Community Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education (UNESCO Chair in CBRSR) is focused on promoting such engagements in the core functions of teaching and research in universities. Highlighting this theme, Dr Rajesh Tandon, Co-Chair, presented a paper entitled “Making the Commitment: Contributions of Higher Education to SDGs”. It demonstrated how different SDGs can be studied and acted upon by different faculties and departments of a university. The most important first step is widespread sharing of information about the 17 SDGs amongst students and faculty alike. There is at present a major gap in understanding what these SDGs are, how did they come about, and what challenges their achievement is likely to face.

Pic 2: Dr Rajesh Tandon delivering his address on ‘Higher Education & SDGs: Making the Commitment’

Additionally, different courses in various faculties can include SDGs in existing curriculum; new courses can also be designed to enable students to learn about and go deeper into the analysis of SDGs. Students can be prepared to contribute to achieving SDGs when they start their careers as professionals. Since 2030 is the agreed time frame for achieving SDGs, the present generation of young people in higher education institutions will be the social, economic and political leaders of the future who can commit to achieving SDGs. In this sense, students can begin to think more as global citizens if they engage with SDGs during their studies itself.

Achievement of SDGs will also require finding new solutions to these socio-economic challenges. New knowledge will be essential towards this end. Universities can undertake partnerships with local communities and stakeholders to co-create such knowledge which is appropriate to local contexts and decision-makers. Co-creation of such knowledge is pre-requisite to finding sustainable solutions.

A copy of Dr Tandon’s presentation at the Barcelona conference can be accessed here:

European Union’s Science & Society programme under Horizon 2020 has been promoting Responsible Research & Innovation (RRI) in European universities. Public engagement with societal actors is a defining feature of this RRI approach. The UNESCO Chair in CBRSR has launched the Knowledge for Change (K4C) global consortium to build capacity of next generation of students to undertake community-based participatory research on issues of SDGs, as locally appropriate. It is designed to build such capacity in universities to partner with local communities and governments to produce actionable knowledge and solutions to SDGs in Uganda, South Africa, Brasil, Sardenia, India, Indonesia and Canada.

Deliberations in the GUNi conference last month also highlighted the critical constraints that universities and higher education systems face world-wide. First, global pressure for international ranking is pushing universities in many ‘southern’ contexts to undertake research which is published in peer-reviewed journals of global ranking, as opposed to contributing new knowledge that is actionable in local contexts. This dilemma and its dynamics has been adequately analysed in the 6th GUNi World Report on Higher Education, “Towards a Socially Responsible University: Balancing the Global with the Local”.

Pic 3: Delegates at the GUNi Conference on SDGs, Barcelona, September 2017

The second major constraint is the rigidity of disciplinary silos. All 17 SDGs require multiple disciplinary perspectives to analyse local realities in order to produce sustainable solutions. Despite slogans of inter-disciplinarity, multi-disciplinarity, trans-disciplinarity, etc for the past several decades, much of the teaching and research in higher education remains discipline-bound, and bringing fresh ways of organising curriculum and learning pedagogies take long administrative processes before meaningful changes may be implemented.

By then, humanity may have run out of time in achieving these 17 universal SDGs for all societies and peoples of the world.

Universities can make a significant contribution towards achievements of SDGs in all countries of the world, provided they focus on “transformation of society through learning, knowledge, collaboration and innovation”. (Opening remarks by Dr Arcadi Navarro, Secretary in Catalan Government, September 18, 2017.)


Higher Education and the Right to Learn

Category: Blog

Thoughts on International Literacy Day, September 8, 2017

The ability to read and write has never been of more importance than it is now.  The digital age means that there are more cell phones in the world than there are people.  Smart phones, laptops and desktop computers have connected a staggering among of information vital to everyday life via the Internet.  The libraries, museums, newspapers, social media sites of the world are more and more accessible to anyone with digital connectivity.  And the means by which the world functions via digital accessibility is the word.  Connectivity happens through that most basic of skills, reading and writing.  And yet there are according to UNESCO statistics, more than 750 million people in the world who still are not able to read.  And there are hundreds of millions of children who are either not in school not able to stay in school long enough to become fluent readers and writers. And we know that even in the so-called rich countries of the world, millions of people’s literacy levels are below what we would call a functional level for contemporary 21’st Century flourishing.

Our UNESCO Chair’s mandate is on building capacity in the global South and the excluded North for what we call community based research.  We are also engaged in promoting a vision of engaged post-secondary education, socially responsible higher education.  The premise of our work is that present in our communities, our social movements, our spaces of resistance and resilience are young people women and men who are creating knowledge for survival, community building and overcoming the challenges of injustice and exclusion.  We speak often of the ‘right to learn’ but importantly, we speak of the ‘right to know’ and the ‘right to create knowledge’.  But these rights remain hollow in the absence of the most basic skills of reading and writing.

Higher Education institutions have an important contribution to make to the challenges of literacy.  First we need to understand that higher education can most powerfully be explored and developed within a framework of lifelong learning.  And if we are part of the extraordinary continuum of lifelong learning we have a role to play in making sure that the first basic steps of literacy acquisition are supported.  How can we help?  Each of our universities needs to have departments or centres that deal with literacy and adult education.  We need researchers working on these issues, on building literacy in all of our languages, not just the dominant languages, what we might call the imperial languages.  We need to train literacy and adult education facilitators and teachers.  We need to address issues of multiple literacies including digital literacy, the literacy of citizenship, the literacies of power and persuasion.

And our students can be engaged working in communities, supporting already existing literacy organisations, the professional literacy provision structure, in providing literacy instruction to community members.  Long term permanent partnerships can be developed between our universities and the structures of our literacy movement.

This year when you see information about International Literacy Day, think about how your higher education institution might become an active partner in our common dream of everyone being able to participate in making life better.


Engaged Universities Embrace Diversity

Category: Blog

Over the past year, university campuses around the world have witnessed conflicts and tensions being played out in the larger society around them. Anti-colonial struggles in independent South Africa have found echo on campuses in #RhodesNoMore. Afro-descendants in Colombia, Mexico & Brasil have been struggling to gain visibility and identity in their ‘white-European’ majority world, while students on university campuses begin to experience the discomfort of their indigenous roots. University campuses in India have also been experiencing conflicts as the larger society begins to come to terms with structural exclusion of ‘Dalits’.

And now, American university campuses are likely to face the ‘white supremacist’ resurgence when new terms begin this Fall. Societal conflicts in the era of hyper-nationalism and ethno-centrism are intensifying the world over, and the universities are unlikely to remain unaffected.

Universities are embedded in their respective societies. Societal influences are naturally entering the campuses. Universities can proactively prepare to deal with new societal conflicts through planned, systematic and ongoing engagement with various sections of wider society. Instead of trying to ‘withdraw’ inside the walls of their respective institutions, universities can pursue an ‘engaged’ stance deliberately. This engagement can make university campuses sites of open, dialogical public spaces. ‘Engaged’ stance can be carried through in its curriculum & pedagogy, its research and service mandates as well.

International diversity of students and academics in universities is another approach to ‘engaged’ stance. This international diversity is particularly relevant as we prepare our youth as global citizens, able to navigate multiple cultures, languages and contexts with open and curious mind. Such an ‘internationalisation’ can also prepare counter-narratives to the contemporary waves of fierce nationalism around the world.

However, movement of students outside their countries has begun to stagnate lately. Much of the flow of international students is still to countries like USA and UK, though enrolments are lower now than before. Reverse flow of international students to countries like China and India has been largely inconsequential. Even those flows are under threat, resulting in university campuses becoming less ‘welcoming’ of international diversity.

A recent report from Association of Indian Universities (AIU) finds that fewer international students are coming to Indian universities. This is despite the Government’s suggestion that upto 15% of  enrolment can have foreign students. That figure will amount to a staggering 4.85 million in India. In contrast, less than 30,000 foreign students are enrolled in Indian universities. On the other hand, more than 250,000 Indian students are studying in foreign universities.

Increased presence of foreign students on university campuses will enhance diversity. In addition to enhancing appreciation and tolerance of diversity, increased presence of international students on university campuses in India, for example, will further prepare our youth for global citizenship.

However, cultural and racial ethnocentrism has, of late, generated huge conflicts on university campuses in India. Other than questions about equivalence of qualifications (which can be readily addressed), many foreign students have complained of racial, cultural, gender and linguistic discrimination and harassment from fellow students.

University leadership can make their institutions embrace diversity through deeper stance of societal engagement, not by ‘hiding away’ from the realities around campuses.

Dr Rajesh Tandon       August 22, 2017

Cartagena 2017: Mecca of Participatory Action Research?

Cartagena 2017: Mecca of Participatory Action Research?

Category: Blog

Both of us made a pilgrimage to Cartagena for the Action Research of the America’s conference and the First Global Assembly of Knowledge Democracy, June 12-17, 2017. For Budd it was a third visit to Cartagena having been there for Orlando Fals Borda’s first time 1977. The 1977 event was billed as the first international conference on ‘investigacion y accion’. The ‘investigacion y accion’ that Fals Borda was speaking off was quite different from the action research traditions that were more common in organizational change discourses of the day. Cartagena had been chosen because it was on the Atlantic coast of Colombia near where Orlando had carried out his revolutionary study with the Afro-Colombian people. This study was published in a book where one side of the page were the oral traditions of the Afro Colombians and the other side a more academic portrayal of history of the region. In 1977, Budd shared ideas that had been developed in Tanzania in the early 1970s where the concept of ‘participatory research’ first emerged. The 1977 event was small with about 125 participants. The central debate arose between activist scholars on the left who were informed by Marxist philosophy with its emphasis on the role of vanguard intellectuals in political change and the ideas that Orlando was putting forward of organizing around a process of knowledge construction from the bottom up. He called his approach ‘science of the common person’. The reality was that in Latin America of the late 1970s nearly every country had undergone a military coup d’état and the vanguard parties were on the run. Budd recalls that the proponents of the bottom-up investigacion y accion process felt that they had gained the upper hand in the debates. The proof could be seen in the remainder of the 1970s and throughout the 80s when ‘investigacion y accion participativa’ (which became participatory action research or PAR) and popular education became the foundational approaches to organizing throughout Latin America. Budd did not recall a single woman speaking from the front of the rooms.

Both Rajesh and Budd took part in the 1997 World Assembly of Participatory Action Research again organized by Orlando Fals Borda. 1997 was perhaps the

largest gathering ever of action researchers, participatory or community-based researchers, campesinos, indigenous knowledge keepers, afrodescendants, students and civil society. 1997 felt like a popular movement with demonstrations, performance art, theatre, women’s defiance and tributes to those who were being killed by government forces for siding with the militants in the mountains. Flavoured by heavyweight progressive intellectuals such as Anibal Quijano, James Petras, Eduardo Galeano, Emmanuel Wallerstein and Agnes Heller, the 1997 conference was a chaotic, hopeful, celebratory and defiant stew that said that instrumentalism and positivism had been overtaken by the liberatory intensions of hope.

The third Cartagena conference of June 12-17, 2017 was the brainchild of the relatively new Action Research Network of the Americas, a network founded in August 2012, by Lonnie Rowell, Joseph Shosh, Margaret Riel, Eduardo Flores, and Cathy Bruce of the USA. The conference in Cartagena was the 5th ARNA conference. Cartagena was chosen as the venue as an acknowledgement of the contributions of Orlando Fals Borda who passed away in 2008 and as a celebration of the 40th Anniversary of the first Cartagena conference in 1977. The ARNA2017 conference included a day devoted to what was called the First Global Assembly of Knowledge Democracy. Lonnie Rowell, Joseph Shosh and Doris Santos from the National University of Colombia in Bogota were the key organisers of the events. In addition, Doris organised a pre-conference workshop in Bogota that Rajesh contributed to as well as several oportunities to pay tribute to Orlando Fals Borda who had lived and worked in Bogota. Doris Santos provides the specific context for the 2017 Cartagena meeting,

“These are certainly exciting and challenging times for academic citizens in Colombia. Many of us have made the decision to support the very fragile peace process that has just started. This decision implies, among other challenges, to help to reconstruct the relationships and collaborations in our society, starting with our own within the universities (between faculty members, between faculties), while making sense of those with the communities involved in the process. This is a new start for us academics as part of a new upcoming society. Hierarchical relationships inside and outside universities derived from traditional ways of understanding who ‘owns’ and/or ‘validates’ knowledge in society are challenged by new citizenships under construction. Collective reflections upon new political scenarios in the world and the exchange of local experiences of collaborations are really meaningful for us”.  

There were around 600 participants including academics from the US and Colombia. Many more women present than in either 1977 or 1997, but fewer non-academics, civil society folks or social movement activists. Far too many of the keynote speakers were older males (including Budd and Rajesh!). Many of the best known popular educators and participatory researchers from the rich history of this tradition in Latin America were present such as Oscar Jara of Peru and Costa Rica, Felix Cadena of Mexico, Marco Raul Mejia of Colombia, Rosa Zuniga of Mexico, and Carlos Rodrigues Brandao of Brazil. There were fewer people from outside the Americas (only two Canadians) which makes sense given that the organizers were the Action Research Network of the Americas. With the exception of a talk by Alf Casiani, a leader of the AfroColombian movement on knowledge and exclusion and a workshop organised by Zoraida Mendiwelso-Bendek, Marjorie Mayo and Rajesh on the potential of participatory research as a contribution to the transition to peace in Colombia after 52 years of war, there were fewer bursts of new energy than might have been hoped for.

Boaventura de Sousa Santos, from Portugal was the best known academic present. His work on epistemologies of the global south, on the effects of epistemicide and on the potential of a university of social movements was magnetic. He drew crowds of students and admirers everywhere he appeared. He was the keynote speaker on the day of the Global Assembly of Knowledge Democracy. His opening remarks on the Global Assembly were sobering. Given the missing persons from the social movements, from the political and social justice frontlines, from the Indigenous communities, this event could not be called the first Global Assembly on Knowledge Democracy. It could be called a planning event, a first step towards something more inclusive. He said that in matters of epistemicide we were living in the contradiction of seeing something new, but recreating the continued colonialisation of knowledge. He said that Friere and Fals Borda has been gifted readers of their times and that their ideas on liberatory education and participatory action research had been right to their times. But we live in a darker, more complex time, a time where knowledge and power are further fragmented by location, identity, culture, sexuality, gender, ability, spirituality and more. We need, he said, a theory and a practice that recognises and supports an ecology of knowledges, that is located outside the academy as well as inside and can confront the neoliberal structure directly. He called for a reclamation and revitalisation of popular education.

In both 1977 and 1997, music and dance were woven into the fabric of the conferences. 2017 offered us much music including a haunting song, a ‘message to colombia’ written by Orlando. But the music and dance was somehow structured into the introductory moments and the closing moments, a much more Euroamerican practice than an African or Latin American practice.

But both Rajesh and Budd came away with a reminder of the deep resevoir of intellectual and practical experience that can be found in Latin America. We came away with renewed evidence that the passion for this work in Latin America persists, that popular education is alive & well, that younger women academics are eager; that university leadership is thinking about engaging with post-conflict peace process. It was a fine return to a place with much meaning for us and a fitting spot for our contemporary avatars as UNESCO co-chairs to spend some time.

Our final note is about Cartagena, the town. It is no longer a sleepy Caribbean destination but is a booming tourist hot spot with a dynamic nightlife, a totally renovated historic city centre surrounded by high-rise residences overlooking the sea from every angle.

Rajesh Tandon and Budd Hall


Epistemic Justice & Knowledge Democracy

Category: Blog

Continuing the Cartagena Journey

Colombian sociologist Orlando Fals Borda had convened the first dialogue on Action Research in Cartagena Colombia in April 1977. Nearly 130 delegates attended the four days of dialogue. Budd Hall, UNESCO Co-chair & Normando Suares were there.

Prof Budd Hall Prof Normando Suares

Orlando chose this part of Colombia because of the excluded nature of African-Caribbean realities in academic and policy analysis of Bogota-dominated intellectual and economic elites of Colombia at that time.

As Orlando came in contact with similar efforts and networks of participatory research in different regions of the world, he began to more vigorously articulate PAR—participatory action research—as methodology for social and political transformation.

He convened Convergencia Participativa in June 1997—to bring together different streams of this kind of work to Cartagena. Several PRIA colleagues joined this conversation then.

(c ) Mr Binoy Acharya & Dr Dave Brown, at the Cartagena Conference on PAR, 1977

Budd and I co-convened dialogue on ‘civil society as space for knowledge construction” in Cartagena in 1997.

(d) Dr Rajesh Tandon & Dr Budd Hall, at the Cartagena conference 1997, speaking on ‘civil society as sites of knowledge’

Twenty years later, Action Research Network of Americas held its fifth annual gathering in Cartagena last week. And, it invited other networks and practitioners to join in the celebrations of Orlando’s work and inspiration.

(e) ARNA Conference 2017 poster

Over this period, several intellectuals have produced excellent analysis of epistemicide in human history. Shiv Vishwanath in India & Boaventura Sousa Santos in Portugal have been focusing on cognitive justice as the basis for taking forward the struggles for social justice. Prof Boa Santos made inspiring presentations in Cartagena 2017 last week.

(f) Dr Rajesh Tandon, Prof Boaventura de Sousa Santos, Dr Doris Santos, Dr Budd Hall (left to right)

On the day of conversations about knowledge democracy– June 16, I reminded the gathering of the struggles for dignity and voice of domestic workers, especially maids, around the world.

(g) Dr Rajesh Tandon

It is important to remember knowledge struggles of domestic maids, on the International Day of Domestic Workers. Interestingly, the well-known Brasilian adult educator, Paolo Freire began his literacy work first with domestic maids in Recife, Brasil in 1950s.

Since music, art, dance, theatre and poetry is so much a part of people’s lives and struggles, construction of knowledge and modes of inquiry have to transcend the cognitive, and acknowledge the emotive and action modes of inquiry.

In that sense, epistemic justice will represent more holistically the diversity of knowledge cultures, modes and systems, without necessarily implying that one is superior to other.
Cartagena 2017 expands the vision of knowledge democracy!


Take Risk, Engage with Peace

Category: Blog

Opportunities for Universities in Colombia

“I do not know if I can make this commitment? My family and my university may not support such engagement?”

“This is a historic opportunity to contribute to creation of a new Colombian society; universities must come forward to engage.”

Such ambivalences and dilemmas were expressed by dozens of academics in dialogues held at Bogota and Cartagena over the past week.

After more than five decades of armed struggle between FARC rebels and the military of the state of Colombia, a historic peace accord was signed last year. President Santos also received Nobel Peace prize for this achievement. However, Colombian society is highly polarized in respect of its support or opposition to this accord. And, implementation of all the elements of the accord is already under pressure.

Nearly 7000 armed FARC rebels, as per the accord, will lay down their arms under UN supervised process by end of June 2017. They have been staying in 26 ‘transitory normalization zones’ all over the country. As of last week, 30% of arms had been surrendered, and the process is on track.

However, the government is yet to deliver its part of the commitment with respect to housing, water, livelihood (including land reforms) and financial support to each FARC rebel.

And, the time is running out, because military, armed militias and a majority of the economic elites in Colombia are not in favour of granting these to former rebels. Resistance and denial is happening at all levels.

It is in this delicate context that Colombian academics have been having thoughtful conversations about ways in which they can make a contribution. A dialogue with nearly 100 academics from National University and a few others was held in Bogota last week.

Another conversation was held in Cartagena yesterday, initiated by Dean of Engineering of University of los Andes. Speaking to the gathering yesterday, the Dean asked academics from ten universities to work together in those regions by engaging with the peace process in order to make the voices of the former rebels and other citizens heard by the government and the military. In the long run, changes in the curriculum and research agenda must be made to sustain the benefits to future generations.                                

Joining this conversation, the Vice Minister for Education Natalia Ruiz informed that the government is committed to support universities in such an engagement, so that new forms of sustainable self-managed community solutions may be implemented as part of the peace process.

The conversations in Bogota focused on the current perceptions about universities as aloof elite institutions as likely barriers to engagement. Additionally, several academics were unsure of the support from university leadership for such a risky effort on their part.

Intervening in these conversations, I suggested that engagement is worth the risk in this sensitive context of peace-building in Colombia. In my view, two initiatives can be taken urgently.

First, taking advantage of the somewhat neutral and respected position of the universities in Colombia, they can facilitate convening of conversations across conflicting perspectives of different stake-holder groups—former FARC rebels, military, local government, citizens, business and others.
However, authentic conversations in present context of mutual mistrust and hostility would require sensitive and firm facilitation by all university actors—rectors, deans, faculty, students, staff. Speaking truth to powers may be easier said than done.

Second, a quick and necessarily early step is to engage with former FARC rebels and local citizens around those zones to listen to their voices in a respectful manner. Drawing on community-based participatory research methodology, groups of faculty and students from local universities may initiate such ‘listening’ research so that hitherto unheard voices can be amplified for attention of government leaders and urban elites.

Engagement with society by universities under best of circumstances is risky. Colombian peace context at present poses many additional risks of failure, acknowledging personal fears and institutional discomforts. Disruptive change in the posture of universities, and behaviours of academics, at this juncture may be essential if engagement is to be real.

May I, therefore, remind my Colombian colleagues in academia and civil society what Orlando Fals Borda said 20 years ago:

“If I still wanted to be a good academician, I had to work with different concept of science, more ethical and pertinent to the daily vicissitudes of the common people, which would place me on the side of peace and progress, not death and destruction.”

Colombian society expects its intellectual elites to take the risk of engaging with the peace process, here and now!

Dr Rajesh Tandon
June 13, 2017