In terms of career and security, getting an academic position at Nottingham as a lecturer in 2003, and promotions leading to a personal chair in 2013.
There are two moments of much greater personal significance. The first came during a period in 2015. We’d started working on a doctoral (PhD) training capacity strengthening project, with colleagues in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe. During our inception period, we engaged in intensive interactions with social scientists to help frame our activities in a ‘Theory of Change’.
The outcome for me was that I felt much better equipped to abstract/conceptualise the roles of individual and institutional agency, and to find ways to navigate the complex power dynamics that dominate academia and elsewhere. I needed this period, not just to be able to manage this project, but to make sense of what I wanted to achieve during the rest of my working life, and with whom. The period also led directly to me becoming a part-time Senior Research Fellow in the Department for International Development (DFID) in early 2017.
The second moment came in late-2017, when we secured a major research investment from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF). We’d been involved in intensive co-design discussions with BMGF for about 18 months, building on ‘lessons learned’ during the doctoral training capacity strengthening project, and many years of smaller scale studies and collaborations.
This investment has given us a unique opportunity to work at scale – including with some wonderful research partners and new PhD students in Ethiopia and Malawi – and across disciplinary domains that are beyond the scope of many traditional research projects, including collaborations with social scientists and ethicists.
Capacity strengthening is about relinquishing power. This is much easier said than done, and it is also much easier, of course, from a position of privilege.