WBCA @ 10: Looking Back and Contemplating the Road Ahead
By Caroline Kabiru, Research Scientist & Head of Urbanization & Wellbeing Program
"The success of partnerships is built on the multiplicity of engagements between the partners”
Alex Ezeh, Executive Director of APHRC, (WBCA Colloquium, May 31, 2012)
Between May 31 and June 2, 2012, I traveled to the University of the Witswaterand (Wits) in Johannesburg (South Africa) for the annual WBCA Colloquium. The Colloquium, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary, brings together scholars and administrators from Wits, Brown University (US), the University of Colorado at Boulder (US) and APHRC (Kenya) for what can be called Research, Training and Administration without Borders (Kathleen Kahn).
After 10 years of collaboration, one of the first items on the agenda was taking stock of the past 10 years and reflecting on whether another 10 (+) years was in the best interest of the group and if so what directions the collaboration would take.
Yunus Ballim, the Deputy Vice Chancellor Academics and the University of the Witwatersrand, gave the opening remarks and one statement he made set the tone for the discussions that followed on the future directions of the WBCA -- solving the health and development challenges that the world faces requires a cosmopolitan approach (read – partnerships are the way to go!). One issue clearly not in doubt is that the collaboration has yielded immense benefits to the four participating institutions (and individuals) - joint publications, collaborative research programs, and joint research capacity building initiatives sustained in-part by the strength of the collaboration. Prof Kathleen Kahn, one of the organizers highlighted other “soft” outcomes of the collaboration: “mutuality”, building on common interests, mentorship, intellectual and professional support, shared enthusiasm, and longstanding friendships. Prof Kahn is an Associate Professor in the Health and Population Division at the School of Public Health in the University of the Witwatersrand.
WBCA 2012 was my third WBCA meeting and reflecting back on my experiences, I echo most of the sentiments – my first WBCA meeting in 2008 included several side meetings on the Consortium for Advanced Research Training in Africa (CARTA) which has since evolved from an-idea-on-paper in 2008 to an actual program in 2012 with 42 PhD fellows in training. My second meeting in 2012 led to collaboration with Dr Sanyu Mojola, an assistant professor at the University of Colorado, which culminated in a joint publication. I have no doubt the third meeting will also yield “good fruit.”
The primary question that undoubtedly remains in the minds of the participants is how to build on the momentum and traction gained from 10 years of collaboration to ensure the sustainability of the WBCA Program (especially in light of limited funding). As agreed by participants, showcasing the WBCA experience will be a critical next step and as one of the beneficiaries, I do hope that by this piece, I have played a small, albeit important, part in telling the story of this great program.