IFAD - Universities win-win partnership grant opportunity: unlocking the analytical potential of Master's students for better IFAD projects

by Francesca Romana Borgia

Documenting good practices, gathering data, updating baselines, and analysing documents are great ways of deepening the knowledge and performance of IFAD operations, but often projects lack time and the time and resources to do it. Meanwhile, hundreds of students around the world are enrolled in universities studying Development and competing for jobs in an industry where field experience is key.

Based on the interest expressed by IFAD projects to host students to help them collect and analyse data, IFAD entered into a strategic partnership with a network of universities. The Global Association of Master’s in Development Practice (MDP) was competitively selected from over twenty universities and university consortia that applied for the grant financing for this initiative. This network comprises 34 universities/higher education institutes that are located both in the Global North and Global South. The Masters attracts both young and seasoned students with previous work experience who bring their own expertise to the research. The grant design allows IFAD projects and partners (IFAD grant recipients or implementers of IFAD projects) to agree with the student on a specific deliverable (e.g. an action plan, baseline, database, etc.) that will be presented at the end of the three to six month field experience.

The IFAD-Universities win-win grant benefits both IFAD operations and universities in four different ways:
  • IFAD project teams benefit from additional analytical work carried out by passionate and competent students
  • Universities can offer their students the opportunity of having field experience with an international specialized UN agency/IFI
  • students can get hands-on experience and exposure to the work of IFAD
  • IFAD as an institution gets more visibility and impact as a learning institution and attract qualified students who are at the beginning of their development careers. 
The IFAD grant funds a scholarship of up to US$5,000 to students who are citizens of borrowing members of IFAD studying in Global South universities of the Global Association and aims at building local talent. Since its kick-off in 2016, twenty-six students have been matched to IFAD projects and partners requests for research. So far, twelve have already completed their field experience, mostly in projects located in East and Southern Africa, five are still in the field and nine more will reach field destinations between now and the end of the year.
Pictures courtesy of: Andres Felipe Morales. Andres is the first person from the left in the bottom right-corner picture
Among those who had recently finished their dissertation there is Andrés, a Colombian citizen enrolled in the MDP at the Universidad de Los Andes in Colombia. Andrés spent three months in Jordan hosted by the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation, which implements the Rural Economic Growth and Employment Project (REGEP). He developed a feasibility study and an action plan to strengthen the linkages between producers of oregano and sage and tourism sector in Jordan. The IFAD project director, Dr Samia Akroush, considers Andrés' work very helpful for both the project and the communities and reported as a success "…the development of research tools for data collection and action plan developed of value chain linkages of small farmers with the eco-tourism sector".

In Africa, Bolanle flew from her home country, Nigeria, to Kenya where she spent four months hosted by the Africa Harvest Biotech Foundation International, a recipient of an IFAD grant that implemented the Sorghum for Multiple Uses Value Chain Project. Bolanle researched the impact of the project on the food security of smallholders in Kenya. Her supervisor mentioned that Bolanle's study Informed the organization Africa Harvest and will aid future design and implication of projects. It is a clear indication of what worked best and what needs improvement or adjusting given the impacts achieved by our interventions.
Bolanle and the AHBF team in Kenya. Bolanle is wearing a light blue top and is the second from the right
Bolanle and Olufemi, fellow students from the University of Ibadan, had the chance to present their research at the International Conference on Sustainable Development, held last September in New York. The Conference was organized by the Earth Institute at Columbia University, where the Secretariat of the MDP Global Association is hosted by the Centre for Sustainable Development headed by Dr. Jeffrey Sachs.
MDP students and the ICSD in NY, including Olufemi and Bolanle
Three of the students who had benefited from the IFAD grant and completed their field work will be in IFAD Headquarters on 6 December 2017 to share their experiences.

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