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Update on Reaching Across Borders, Building a Better World

Man and woman sitting in armchairs on a stage

Greg Moran & Louise Fréchette

It has been a month since its closing session but those of us who participated are still energized by our experiences at Reaching Across Borders, Building a Better World.

The Academics Without Borders-hosted conference was an unmitigated success, bringing together a remarkable group from Canada and around the world for two-plus days of stimulating conversations in Montreal regarding the role that Canada’s universities and colleges play in international development. (See the photos.)

The conference would not have been possible without the generosity and sector reach of our partner, Academica Group, and the support of our Founding Partner, Navitas, National Supporters, Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) and International Development Research Council (IDRC), and an anonymous supporter.

We were treated to an outstanding array of invited speakers. It was fascinating to watch the candid and wide-ranging conversation with Louise Fréchette, former Canadian Ambassador to the United Nations and the UN’s first Deputy Secretary General, and the account of the innovative work of the African Institute for Mathematical Sciences from AIMS’ Vice President and Chief Program Officer, Roméo Essou. Other invited speakers included leaders in higher education from Colombia, Indonesia, Kenya, and Malaysia, and from many of Canada’s universities and colleges.

2 women and 3 men sitting at table on stage

Funding agencies roundtable

One session of the conference was an achievement in its own right in bringing together representatives from five of Canada’s key funding agencies to discuss their role in promoting international development: Global Affairs Canada, Grand Challenges Canada, IDRC, Mastercard Foundation, and SSHRC.

The rich mix of break-out presentations came from many of Canada’s universities and colleges and from Cambodia, Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, and Pakistan.

The conference provided a venue for demonstrating the many effective ways that Canada’s universities and colleges and their faculty and staff are supporting the development of healthier, more prosperous and stable societies in the less-advantaged areas of the world – including but certainly not limited to the work of AWB. Participants were outspoken and honest in presenting past failures and challenges, as well as pointing to more progressive approaches to true partnerships with our colleagues in other parts of the world.

Woman and man seated at table, woman speaking into microphone

Nathalie Charpak & Alex Awiti

The experience of the Montreal conference reinforced the prominent place of Academics Without Borders in international development work, not only for its primary role in implementing effective projects building higher education capacity in the developing world, but also as an important convenor for those committed to reaching across borders to build a better world.

We will soon be announcing a date for the next conference in 2020. Suggestions regarding the theme, timing, location and any other aspects of our next gathering are most welcome.


Greg Moran is the Executive Director of Academics Without Borders.

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How Canadian higher ed is building trust and improving lives around the globe

“A farmer in his late forties winces as he pulls off his shoe, exposing the black and red colouring of a diabetic foot ulcer. The affliction has been plaguing him for months. He’s been to see a specialist several times, but to no avail. Instead of improving, the ulcer has only worsened.

It’s a situation Dr. Krystle Fraser-Barclay encounters often in her work at a clinic based in the urban centre of Georgetown, Guyana. Located along the northeastern coast of South America, Guyana is one of only three counties in the Americas that until 2015 did not offer any training for family medicine professionals. Primary care was delivered through a clinic-based system in which patients rarely met with the same doctor, and rarely for more than one health issue. A new mother, for example, would need one appointment for her postnatal care, another for her baby, another for other related sexual health testing, and so on. By comparison, more than 90% of primary health care delivered in Canada is done through family doctors.”

Read more of this article featured in Academica’s Today’s Top Ten in Higher Ed on July 26, 2018.

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Steven Davis receives honorary degree from Carleton University

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.

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How post-secondary institutions support positive change around the world

“’What have you done to make the world a better place?’

It’s a question we all ask ourselves at some point in our lives. It’s also the question driving some of the most important work happening in post-secondary education today.

Academics and institutions across Canada are collaborating with organizations from around the world to solve some of the globe’s most challenging problems. Many of these problems can be found in developing countries, where challenges related to education, healthcare, and infrastructure remain significant, although much progress has been made against difficult odds. Academics have taken a collaborative approach to addressing these challenges, working directly with individuals and organizations based in these countries to build the capacity they need to address these problems in the long term.

It was with the goal of supporting and organizing this crucial work that Academics Without Borders was founded.”

Read more of this article featured in Academica’s Today’s Top Ten in Higher Ed on May 29, 2018.

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