Research for stronger health systems during and after crisis

Making global partnerships in capacity building for research work

Posted on Friday, 03 Jun 2016

In this blog, Justine Namakula shares insights from a session at the 22nd Canadian Conference for Global Health, which took place in November 2015 in Montreal, on the theme of Capacity Building for Global Health: Research and Practice. The session covered the importance, challenges and lessons learnt in relation to global partnerships in capacity building. Hopefully this will encourage some self-reflection within research partnerships such as our own ReBUILD Consortium and other future partnerships.

The 22nd Canadian Conference for Global Health took place from 5th - 7th November 2015 at the Bonaventure Hotel, Montreal. The theme of the event was Capacity Building for Global Health: Research and Practice. In this blog, Justine Namakula shares insights from presenters at the second day plenary session on the importance, challenges and lessons learnt in relation to global partnerships in capacity building. Hopefully this will encourage some self-reflection within research partnerships such as our own ReBUILD Consortium and other future partnerships.

Tim Brewer (Vice Provost at the University of California, Los Angeles and Chair of the Board of Directors for the Consortium of Universities for Global Health) made the first presentation. He pointed out that partnerships in global health are important because ‘no one can address the global health problems alone, hence the need to work together’. He highlighted a number of challenges for such partnerships but what struck me the most was ‘the challenge of generalizations which in reality are not true’. Examples of these generalizations include;

a)      ‘that southern researchers are less well trained and have nothing to contribute to capacity building’

b)      ‘That the south has all problems and the north has all the solutions’

Other challenges of global partnerships were highlighted by Sharon Fonn, Executive Director of the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA).  Ms. Fonn shared various achievements of CARTA over the years but noted that these were not without challenges. Challenges included; ‘short- termism’ of global partnerships, ‘donor attention deficit disorder’ (where donors keep being informed about challenges but do not learn from them) as well as the lack of acknowledgement of international power relationships.

Another challenge of global partnerships, particularly those related to qualitative research capacity building was highlighted by Denise Gastaldo, Director of the Centre for Critical Qualitative Health Research, University of Toronto. She noted that global partnerships have brought about  ‘the Neoliberal era of academia’, where those involved in funding global partnerships tend to think that success can only be measured by money invested in a partnership, as well as publications in high impact journals. However, this may make us overlook other indicators of success as perceived by those involved in the capacity building.

So how do we make global partnerships work?

According to Mr. Brewer, we need to refrain from generalizations (highlighted above) and embrace the realities. We also need to create role models and new generations of well trained young people.

As highlighted by some of the conference participants during the feedback session, we need to not only recognize North-South, North-North and South-South capacity building. South-North capacity building should also be recognized and explored.

Justine Namakula is the Project Officer for ReBUILD Uganda and team lead for the health workforce incentives study under the same project. Makerere University School of Public Health is a partner institution to this project which is under the overall ReBUILD research consortium.  She is also a PhD student at the Institute for Global Health and development at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh

Twitter: @JNamakulaM