Where’s your Southern Voice? Why UK researchers should be engaging with networks like ours

photo by Marcin Nowak, Unsplash

This article was originally published on the Data Insights Blog of the Newton Fund. 

A recent Data Insights Blog compared the countries that grew the most fruit with the countries that put out the most scientific studies on the impacts of fruit farming on biodiversity. They found that “Research is concentrated in Europe and North America, yet many of the major global food crops are primarily produced in low or middle-income countries, where research capacity and funding are limited”.

Similarly, much of the research which informs development policy comes from the Global North. Northern think tanks are closer to decision-making capitals. They have better and quicker access to advocacy opportunities than research centres from the South. This is not a new issue. Yet the global COVID-19 crisis calls for new urgency to address it.

To truly “build back better” and more equitably after the devastation of COVID-19, researchers and policymakers from around the globe need to work together. The time is ripe for more space for Southern perspectives in international development debates. UK researchers can play a pivotal role in fostering knowledge partnerships between the Global North and South. One way to do that is by engaging with networks such as ours.

Addressing local issues globally

As the pandemic unfolded, the 51 think tanks that make up our network in Africa, Asia and Latin America became “correspondents” on everything related to the crisis. Mere weeks after the first infections were detected they began to publish high-quality analysis on the challenges each country was facing.

At Southern Voice, we recognised the value of such a range of work on COVID-19. We decided to make it available to a broader audience.  The COVID-19 Digital Knowledge Hub in the Global South was born. It features a collection of over 700 publications on the effects of the pandemic in various middle- and low-income countries. It is searchable by the impact on each of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, by region, or by keyword. To top it off, we created a database of over 500 researchers from across the Global South. They can all be contacted directly via the Hub.

From the onset, we built this platform with collaboration and future research partnerships in mind. And it seems to work.

From the onset, we built this platform with collaboration and future research partnerships in mind. And it seems to work. We noticed a fourfold increase in visitors to our website compared to the year before.  We have also been invited to present the Hub to policymakers and scholars at various online events, such as the On Think Tanks conference. And the official Hub launch was a high-level panel last October, co-organised with the United Nations Foundation.

This latest-knowledge resource gives researchers, policymakers and media access to analyses of various key areas. It offers opportunities for peer learning and joint projects, whether South-South or South-North.

As I write this, Southern Voice is finalising a set of six brand-new studies by teams from twelve countries. The studies explore the impact of the pandemic and will provide evidence-based policy solutions for the mid-and long-term. The hope is that other parts of the world can learn from them and replicate the results. It will all be available on the Hub.

A win-win situation

In his recent speech, UN Secretary-General Guterres said that “Developing countries merit a larger voice in global decision-making”. Southern Voice in contributing to precisely that. We are happy to see that the response to our work is overwhelmingly positive. Our presence at international conferences has grown steadily in the last three years. The interest in contributions from our network has increased even more since the start of the pandemic. Visitor numbers to our website and publication downloads attest to that. We interpret it as a growing “appetite” for Southern expertise.

“Developing countries merit a larger voice in global decision-making”.

We feel confident that we are on the right path and welcome UK researchers to reach out to our scholars to work together on the challenges of our times.  Joint academic projects with a diversity of views should not be an exception. They should be the rule.

It helps that today the virtual event is the norm. This has democratised participation by including interested people from all over the world. It is now easier to invite a Southern scholar to speak on a panel without the difficulty of a lengthy visa process and costly overseas flights. Our expert database is an excellent starting point for contacting new voices in the development space. Give it a try.

It is time for more cooperation between North and South. That is the way forward in the post-COVID era.

Gabriela Keseberg Dávalos is Head of Communications of Southern Voice. Follow on Twitter:  @gkdavalos and @SVoice2030

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