On June 15, 2018, Carleton University honoured Steven Davis, founder of AWB, with an honorary degree. Steven was recognized “for his valuable contribution to the promotion of higher education in developing countries and his distinguished academic career.” See his speech here or read his convocation address:
The Importance of Universities
Mr. Vice-Chancellor, Chair of the Board of Governors, graduands, honoured guests and friends, I would like to thank Carleton University for granting me an honorary degree. I regard the honor to be not just for me, but for those who worked with me at Academics Without Borders, a bi-lingual charity I founded in 2007 and ran for ten years.
Congratulations to all of you who are being awarded degrees today. You have just spent several years in one of the most important kinds of institutions in the world, a university. We take our universities for granted. I know I did until I started Academics Without Borders.
To see how important universities are, imagine that all of them closed. Life would go on as before, but only for a short time. As the doctors, teachers, scientists, engineers etc. retired there would be no one to replace them, since the universities educate these people. Slowly but surely life as we know it would grind to a halt. The hospitals and schools would close; the buildings and bridges wouldn’t be built or replaced; there would be no more cures for diseases and technological advances. It would become a very hard life. In fact, it would be unimaginable.
This is the sort of difficulty many developing countries face. They don’t have the experts and professionals to provide their citizens with basic public services and to assist in their development. There are universities through out the developing world, but they need and want help.
This is where Academics Without Borders comes in. AWB is a stand-alone Canadian charity whose mission is to assist developing countries improve their universities.
Here’s an example. Makerere University in Ethiopia, asked AWB for help in creating a residency program to train cardiologists. AWB sent two cardiology professors to the university on a fact-finding mission. The most startling part of their report was that in Ethiopia, a country of 100 million, there are only 12 cardiologists, all of them practicing in and around the capital. And there is only one very small residency program to train cardiologists for the country.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the major causes of mortality in Ethiopia. There, it does not just affect old folks like me, but young people like you. Consequently, many Ethiopians die young, unable to reach their full potential and realize their dreams. This lack of well-trained professionals is just one example among many throughout the developing world.
Let me say why I founded AWB. I was about to retire. However, I wanted to stay connected to university life, since I loved the forty years I spent teaching and doing research. I was thinking of volunteering for a charity that helped universities in the developing world. Much to my surprise, I found no such organization any where in the world.
I discovered that government aid agencies and the foundations which support the developing world concentrated on primary education and basic health. This was shocking. It is in post-secondary institutions where teachers and health workers are trained. You can’t improve primary education and basic health without-well-educated teachers and health workers. This led me to founding AWB.
I stepped down from directing AWB in October 2017. I left it in good hands and it is now the largest charity of its kind in the world that helps universities in developing countries.
Let me say something about developing countries. They are low income countries, many of whose citizens suffer from malnutrition, illiteracy, high infant and maternal mortality, and shorter life spans. Two billion people live in such countries, a quarter of the world’s population. But they don’t lack talented, dynamic, intelligent people who very much want to change their countries. My greatest pleasure at AWB was working in partnership with some of these people who I regarded to be my colleagues.
If you are not sure what you are going to do with your life, might I suggest that you consider working side by side with people in the developing world and help them realize their dreams for their countries. I did it for ten years and it changed my life.
Reprinted with permission from Steven Davis.