New Centre to support the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals

A week before Heads of State gather at the United Nations summit in New York to review progress towards the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, the University of Aberdeen will launch a new Centre to harness the expertise of academics in alleviating some of the problems of the developing world.

The United Nations report prepared for the summit shows that globally the number of people living in poverty is decreasing, but poverty has increased in sub Saharan Africa and South Asia. These regions are also marked by high rates of maternal mortality (with less than half of women attended at birth by a skilled person), and low rates of access to clean water and sanitation.

The University of Aberdeen’s Centre for Sustainable International Development, which will launch tomorrow (September 14) will focus on how the institution can contribute to global priorities to eradicate poverty and extreme hunger, improve maternal and child health, tackle disease, ensure environmental sustainability and use energy, innovations and technology for the benefit of the world’s poorest populations.

Universities are uniquely placed to work with communities, policy makers and other partners to establish an evidence base, disseminate the findings so they influence policy and practice and to measure the impact of interventions.  This entails bringing together the technical, social, economic, cultural and political knowledge needed to tackle the issues underlying sustainable development.

The University of Aberdeen is already home to the global research initiative for the evaluation of safe motherhood intervention strategies (Immpact). This flagship programme to reduce maternal mortality has identified several pertinent issues for sustainable international development. These include the need to recognise that poverty, level of education, access to transport and social and cultural factors all affect pregnant women’s access to health care and need to be taken account in order to achieve sustainable improvements in maternal health.

The University’s academics are also leading the way in areas such as environmental sustainability, (deforestation, desertification, drought resistant crops, ecosystems services, urbanisation and water security), indoor air quality, and energy for development through research into bio-energy, renewable energy and the World Energy Cities Partnership.

Dr Hilary Homans, Director of the Centre for Sustainable International Development, said: “The University of Aberdeen has recognised the need to facilitate work on sustainable international development and the opportunities this will bring across the University.

“It acknowledges that an inter-disciplinary and multi-sectoral approach is imperative and that future long term research needs to work across the three sectors of sustainable development - economic, environment and social - to maximise impact.

“The Centre will raise awareness about sustainable international development, forge strategic partnerships and build capacity of staff, students and partners and provide opportunities for research groups and individuals to work together.

The Centre will pinpoint the areas in which the University can do more to respond to the needs of people in the developing world and help academics to secure resources for research and capacity building to meet the needs of the poor.”

Professor Ian Diamond, Principal and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Aberdeen, said:  “Academics have an important role to play in helping to meet the needs of the developing world.

“The role of the Centre is to develop a critical mass of expertise linking up people who are already working in international development across different disciplines and introduce new researchers to the field.

“The University of Aberdeen has a strong tradition of taking its excellence in research well beyond Scotland and we are committed to supporting work in this important field.”

Tomorrow’s launch, in the King’s College Conference Centre, will be attended by representatives from Embassies and Consulates, government, oil companies, local and international non-governmental organisations and academics from universities across the UK and Europe to discuss key issues in international development.

The key note speakers include: Professor Sugata Mitra, Professor of Educational Technology at Newcastle University and the instigator of the Hole in the Wall (HIW) experiment, where a computer was embedded within a wall in an Indian slum at Kalkaji, Delhi, which provided the inspiration for the book behind the hit film Slumdog Millionaire; John Tore Vatner of the Norwegian Agency for International Development who will speak on his Government’s oil for development programme; and Professor Silas Lwakabamba who will discuss the role of played by the National University of  Rwanda in attaining the Millennium Development Goals.

The conference will also provide a platform for the launch of the Commission for Africa Report – Five Years on which will be led by Professor Myles Wickstead of the Open University and Commission for Africa.

To support the work of the Centre in raising its global and national profile and forming strategic alliances and partnerships, an Advisory Board made up of leading experts will be formally established today (Monday September 13).

Board members include Professor Silas Lwakabamba (Rector of the National University of Rwanda), Dr Mushtaque Chowdhury (Associate Director of the Rockefeller Foundation in Bangkok, Thailand), Dr Camilla Toulmin  (Executive Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development based in London),  Rakesh Rajani who heads up the Twaweza organisation - a new ten-year initiative to enhance access to information, citizen agency and public accountability in East Africa; Catherine Naughton (Director of the European Liaison Office of CBM an international organisation working on empowerment and inclusion of persons with disabilities in mainstream relief and development programmes); and Tony Lisle who works for the United Nations in Cambodia. 

As part of events to launch the Centre, Professor Lwakabamba will give a public talk today (Monday September 13) on Universities' role in post-Genocide Reconciliation, the case of the National University of Rwanda at 12noon in Room 0.28 in the MacRobert Building, King’s College, University of Aberdeen.