Member spotlight: Global Development Institute
From humble beginnings in the late 1950’s as a small training centre for post-colonial administrators, to becoming one of the largest Development Studies departments in Europe, the Global Development Institute (GDI) and its forebears have been proud to call The University of Manchester home. Manchester is the only university in the world to rank in the top ten in every year of the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings, based on impact against the SDGs.
The 70 academics at GDI pride themselves on making a positive difference in the world, while maintaining a clear critique of development processes and trends. As such, they’ve coalesced around the idea that GDI is where critical thinking meets social justice.
One example of GDI’s approach can be seen in One World Together, launched this year by Nicola Banks following decades of critical research on development NGOs. One World Together is building a new unrestricted funding model for community organisations based on the long-term, affordable support of its members. Currently, many charity and funder systems don’t trust smaller organisations, meaning money is given for individual projects based on the priorities of the donor, rather than the communities they serve.
One World Together is strengthening local and community-based organisations, both in the UK and globally, through long-term, unrestricted funding. This model was developed out of Nicola Banks’s extensive research into the role of NGOs in global development, including her recent work with Dan Brockington mapping the UK’s development NGO sector.
One World Together links UK-based community savings groups with community organisers in Kenya, who share learnings and insights with each other. GDI scholars Tom Gillespie and Diana Mitlin have also recently highlighted similar tactics for thinking beyond the north-south binary in a new open access paper on the application of global development ideas to the urban sphere..
Sustainable Forests Transition is another current GDI research project with social justice at its core. The project, led by Johan Oldekop, has emerged from innovative research on forests and livelihoods, which brings together large datasets on changing forest cover with human development indicators. Building on previous research in Nepal that demonstrated potential win-wins for both forest cover and human development, it aims to establish an approach for other countries to follow.
GDI’s Rose Pritchard has also recently secured ESRC funding to lead a five-year research project to transform knowledge about the benefits and risks of earth observation data in conservation. Earth observation can be a valuable resource for battling injustice, such as when indigenous communities use earth observation data to strengthen land claims. Yet drones are being used as part of conservation surveillance in places where suspected poachers are shot on sight.
Again breaking down the north-south binary, the project aims to build on the academic insights and work with stakeholders in consultation areas, including the Maya Biosphere Reserve (Guatemala), the Peak District National Park (UK), Albufera Natural Park (Spain) and the Mount Kenya Ecosystem (Kenya) to ensure earth observation data is used in a socially just manner.
The GDI has long been part of the DSA. “We find it very useful to be members,” said Tom Lavers, GDI’s research director. “To keep up with new trends in a fast-changing world, development studies must share expertise and listen to a wide variety of perspectives. DSA helps us do just that.”
The GDI always has a strong turnout at the annual DSA conference. “Our researchers find the conference extremely valuable, and we were particularly pleased to meet face-to-face this year following COVID-19.” said Tom Lavers. “Those networks and relationships are especially useful for early career researchers and we appreciate the efforts of the DSA to bring in southern scholars to broaden debates and make discussions more relevant.”
The University of Manchester celebrates its bicentenary in 2024 and, to celebrate, they are offering awards totalling more than £3.5 million to international students starting their studies in September 2024. The GDI has just started offering an undergraduate degree in global development, which will also be available through the Global Futures Scholarship.