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.