Over several decades investment in development has had limited impact on the quality of life of people in resource poor countries. University College Dublin (UCD) and Wolaita Sodo University (WSU, Ethiopia) have entered into a partnership programme that has education and research as the critical ingredients to build resilient communities in Ethiopia. In partnership with Concern Worldwide, Future Analytics Ltd and the Network on Humanitarian Action, they have secured €2.1 million in Horizon 2020 funding, for the four-year programme, through the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, Research and Innovation Staff Exchange (RISE) scheme.

Programme will progress research and education across a range of disciplines including engineering and healthcare

The Building Resilience Through Education (BRTE) programme will progress research and education across a range of disciplines including agriculture, education, engineering and healthcare. BRTE has its origins in an evaluation of the impact of Concern Worldwide’s 25-year engagement in the Wolaita zone of Ethiopia which was conducted by UCD’s Centre for Humanitarian Action in collaboration with Wolaita Sodo University, an important element in building the BRTE partnership. The evaluation found that, despite significant improvements in communities’ capacities to both absorb recurring disasters and to adapt their livelihoods based on experience of recent disasters, they remain extremely vulnerable to recurring climatic stresses. “Due to the protracted and recurring nature of climatic shocks and stresses in this area of Ethiopia, there is a need for a paradigm shift in the way aid is delivered to meet immediate life-saving assistance while working towards the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals," said Dr Pat Gibbons, director, UCD Centre for Humanitarian Action at the UCD School of Agriculture and Food Science, and the co-ordinator of the BRTE project.

Seek new ways to engage with vulnerable African communities

“Humanitarian action and development stakeholders need to seek new ways to engage with vulnerable African communities to achieve greater societal transformation and work towards a more equitable agenda for humanity. “The BRTE partnership has identified education as a key factor in bringing about this transformative change and over the next four years the partnership aims to build local agency by supporting the education, research and innovation capacity of the Wolaita region.” Professor Orla Feely, UCD vice-president for research, innovation and impact said: “I would like to congratulate UCD’s Dr Pat Gibbons and all the other partner organisations who have successfully secured Horizon 2020 funding for this educational and research programme to help Ethiopian communities affected by recurring climate disasters.

Key actors in multi-stakeholder partnerships

“The BRTE partnership demonstrates that universities, such as UCD and WSU, are increasingly becoming key actors in multi-stakeholder partnerships to develop solutions which address the implementation of the UN’s SDGs. The diversity of skills, novel and inter-sectoral approaches needed to develop solutions to the SDGs aligns with our aspirations and goals. “At UCD we are focused on building strong partnerships on the continent of Africa to regionalise our agrifood knowledge and expertise, in areas such as the bioeconomy, smart and sustainable agriculture, to help create a vibrant African agri-economy. We believe that creating partnerships with African nations, including Ethiopia, will lead to synergistic research and trading relationships that will benefit Ireland and Africa.” Over the next four years the BRTE partnership will pursue the following objectives: • Building critical infrastructure to enable sharing of education and research between BRTE partners; • Establishing an educational platform that will build human capital and transform livelihoods; • Developing research and innovation capacity that will radically promote social and economic wellbeing. Dr Berhanu Kuma, co-ordinator of the BRTE Programme at Wolaita Sodo University, said: “We have enjoyed engaging with colleagues from UCD over the past four years and we welcome continued and enhanced partnership with UCD and the BRTE partners.

Tremendous opportunity to explore research and innovation

"The BRTE programme is a tremendous opportunity for our staff to explore research and innovation that will help to improve the livelihoods of the people of Wolaita. “WSU staff, from a range of disciplines, will be able to share knowledge and skills with their peers at UCD and apply their learning to the Wolaita context. Exposure to the procedures and systems at UCD has already encouraged changes in mindset and we hope to bring these innovations to fruition over the next 4 years.” Connell Foley, director of strategy, advocacy and learning at Concern Worldwide said: “The vulnerability to recurring drought has plagued the poorest in Ethiopia for decades. In defining a resilience framework, we are finding technical solutions to building an asset base that protects people from these climatic shocks. "We also need to continue to innovate. The BRTE Programme seeks to invest in building analytical and innovative capacity in Wolaita local institutions so that communities and households can not only absorb and adapt to key risks but also transform their livelihoods and lives. “Concern welcomes and values these kind of initiatives where research is applied for social impact and where learning flows north and south.”