USAID LASER PULSE Research for Development Learning SummitHarriet Adong
The LASER PULSE consortium members (Purdue University, Indiana University, University of Notre Dame, Catholic Relief Services and Makerere University-ResilientAfrica Network) convened in Washington DC, for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) LASER PULSE Research for Development Learning Summit, Tuesday May, 2nd, 2023. The consortium members were joined by USAID officials, other partners and stakeholders to share its findings and learnings in working with USAID on research for development toward promoting generation and accessibility of Higher Education Institution (HEI)-sourced research for decision making.
This Summit brought together representatives from USAID Missions, Bureaus and Independent Offices (M/B/IOs), the LASER PULSE consortium, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), NGOs, Private Sector, and donors to share LASER PULSE’s experience of utilizing academic rigor to produce solutions for development challenges alongside 26+ USAID M/B/IOs.
“It is always our priority to provide an opportunity for our audience and our diverse partners to learn from one another,” said Pallavi Gupta, LASER PULSE Program Director.
The Summit opening remarks were delivered by LASER PULSE Academic Director Yuehwern Yih. She noted that development research coupled with innovation are at the peak of the work ongoing within Higher Education Institutions. Development research is a shared responsibility across partners/collaborators, but we need to apply the User-Centered Design for it to thrive even better and more. “At this point, it is fulfilling that development research is informing policy although there is a need to increase uptake of research outputs through cross-sectoral partnerships,” Prof. Yih said. “We all need to continue innovating in an effort to propose solutions to address the diverse community challenges so that together we can make a difference,” Prof. Yih added.
Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub at USAID delivered the keynote address noting that the efforts by and within Higher Education Institutions need to be supported. He applauded HEIs for closely working with partners across the globe noting that it is such partners who know more about the community challenges and local needs and thus can meaningfully contribute to the proposed solutions. “We talk about this new age of being mindful in diversity, equity, and inclusion. What does that mean if our work isn’t accessible? This work needs to be open to communities around the world and not just tied up in an ivory tower,” Abdel-Kader added. He urged all the summit participants to keep their operational doors open to international collaborations and research engagements in order to make a significant contribution to both science and non-science related work. Abdel-Kader emphasized that development research and other partnerships are key for various reasons including the fact that there is need to increase.
- The knowledge base
- Student opportunities to engage, learn, unlearn and relearn
- Multidisciplinary engagements which are vital for development research to thrive
Pallavi Gupta, Program Director, LASER PULSE, Purdue University later shared the LASER PULSE overview noting that research needs to get perspectives of different stakeholders and to this effect the LASER PULSE consortium had brought together 3,200 researchers and practitioners across 86 countries. With funding from USAID, LASER PULSE is supporting 47 multidisciplinary projects in 19 countries. She emphasized the need for dissemination of research outputs with emphasis on defining the target audience in order to appropriately prepare the necessary Information Education and Communication materials.
The event was characterized by panel discussions starting with the Food Security and Nutrition Panel. This panel provided an opportunity to share about the multidisciplinary projects being implemented across the globe with funding from USAID through LASER PULSE. Key to note from these guided discussions is that most of the project activities are designed as hands-on activities. Research translation was embedded and thus capacity strengthening was not only in carrying out research but also utilizing research findings. For the first time, a nutrition glossary was developed both in English and the Lao language and this will be diversely used. Local communities need to work more together to propose, identify and develop solutions to address community challenges. The Government of the Republic of Uganda was applauded for already allocating approximately $8 million to research annually and this, participants recommended, should be embraced by other governments too so that development research is further supported to inform national and later international growth.
The Education Panel discussions included sharing about successful work at LASER in education, such as the Tusome (‘Let’s Read’) project implemented by University of Nairobi in Kenya, which has had spillover effects to other institutions and countries. Project implementation processes leveraged the Embedded Research Translation Model, and the Tusome case study report is currently being referenced as a successfully implemented program with transferable lessons on multilingual education internationally. It was also noted that LASER PULSE projects have taken care to ensure inclusion of people living with disabilities and the community driven solutions they seek to be implemented.
The Economic Growth and Private Sector Engagement Panel discussions alluded to the fact that for development research to thrive, it is important that we all embrace and leverage private sector engagement. The private sector plays a key role in contributing to the uptake of research outputs and funding different research aspects to compliment the already secured and running funding. They also noted that the biggest challenge with creating, maintaining and leveraging from partnerships is stipulating what is in for each partner and communicating this early enough at project inception stages. It is important to design a Theory of Change for partner engagement given the different work culture in several organizations.
As well as sharing the experiences of its projects, LASER shared its lessons learned in working on this large USAID-funded program, through consortium partner leads. A panel on Lessons Learned from the LASER Experience featured diverse discussions covering several areas among which were the need to leverage LASER PULSE’s value proposition, the fact that universities provide a platform where local researchers can be leveraged, the need for inclusion to have female researchers and junior faculty as part of the research ecosystem to contribute to the same but also for capacity strengthening and building among others. This was also an opportunity for the discussants to deliberate about sustainability including the need to have a succession plan and encourage women also to participate in research and innovation, diversify grant writing, leverage institutional contexts (localization) for development research to thrive, identify and fill the gaps identified through-out the engagement processes among others.
The LASER Engagement with MSIs Panel noted the need to foster fellowship programs for the benefit of students, faculty and institutional staff. They also identified bottlenecks to engagements with minority serving institutions including; limited funding and passion, institutions working/operating in silos and thus not appreciating the fact that all can contribute to the general pool, need to support strategic partners to realize and appreciate what is in it for them and thus aid quick appreciation of partnerships among others. The event’s location at Howard University gave it a unique opportunity to focus on LASER PULSE projects with MSIs and the role MSIs can play in international development.
Brent Wells, LASER PULSE Team Lead, later closed the engagement noting that development research is a fundamental aspect of what USAID is doing. “We appreciate such opportunities to deliberate and share about the work we are doing in addition to seeking to do what we are doing even better because together we can do even better,” he said.He then called all participants to action saying, “Research informs decision making and thus strengthening the research capacity of local institutions is just the way to go in order for all of us to benefit.” The summit participants then joined in a group photo and a networking reception.
The full agenda and speaker information is available on the LASER PULSE website.