Get to know…GCRF and Professor G. Hari Harindranath and Professor Tim Unwin

This post was first published on the Royal Holloway, University of London Staff Intranet on 2nd March 2021, and is being reposted here since it provides a good overview of the work being done on migration, technology and development as part of the UKRI GCRF funded MIDEQ hub by Hari Harindranath and Tim Unwin from the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D.

Professor G. Hari Harindranath, School of Business and Management, and Professor Tim Unwin, Department of Geography, received GCRF funding for their project ‘South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub’. We recently caught up with Hari and Tim to ask more about the project and how they both got involved. 

1.  Can you tell us a bit about yourselves and your roles at Royal Holloway?

Hari – I am a Professor of Information Systems in the Department of Digital Innovation and Management, School of Business and Management. I also serve as the Director of Internationalisation for the School.

Tim –  My role is Emeritus Professor of Geography (since 2011) and Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D (since 2007). I was Head of Geography (1999-2001) and then went on secondment to DFID (2001-2004) where I led the PM’s Imfundo initiative, creating partnerships for the use of technology in education in Africa. Subsequently, I was Chair of the Commonwealth Scholarship Commission and then Secretary General of the Commonwealth Telecommunications Organisation (2011-2015).

2. GCRF funded the ‘GCRF South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub’ that you both work on, can you tell us more about the GCRF Hub?

The MIDEQ Hub (Migration for Development and Equality; 2019-2024) funded to the tune of £19,863,201 (FEC) by UKRI-GCRF and led by the PI Heaven Crawley (Coventry University) aims to understand the experiences of migrants in Africa, Asia and Latin America, focusing especially on six contrasting migration corridors (Haiti-Brazil, China-Ghana, Ethiopia-South Africa, Nepal-Malaysia, Burkino Faso-Côte d’Ivoire, and Jordan-Egypt).  MIDEQ involves some 40 organisations and includes 128 researchers, with eleven multi-disciplinary work packages cutting across these 12 countries, focusing on issues such as gender and childhood inequalities, migration intermediaries, resource flows and arts, creative resistance and wellbeing.

Hari contributing to research planning in Accra

Hari (in the pink shirt) contributing to the Hub’s research planning discussions in Accra (2019) (Photo by Tim).

3. Can you tell us about the parts you play in the Hub and the work package that you lead/are involved in?

We lead an “intervention” work package, focusing on the interface between digital technologies, inequalities and migration, but participate in all aspects of the Hub’s work and provide advice and support especially on the use of digital tech. Hari is also a member of the Hub’s Management Board and on the Data Management team, and Tim is one of the two safeguarding confidants. Our research is in three phases: understanding how migrants use digital technologies, understanding what inequalities they might like to change, and then working with migrants and tech developers to create some intervention that may help reduce inequalities.  We are in the first instance working in the first four of the corridors listed above, but may well only work in two of them for phase three, depending on logistics and the findings we make over the first three years.

4. The Hub award involved a number of universities and stakeholders working together, how did you collaborate and distribute the work?

Working together with so many partners has no doubt had its challenges! Overall, the matrix structure of having six corridors (each with two country leads) intersecting with 11 work packages (each with one or two CoIs) provides the basic framework for our work. The initial group of partners was brought together by the PI and we co-created the proposal to UKRI GCRF, but within the first year two of the country lead organisations had fallen by the wayside and had to be replaced. Two week-long face-to-face meetings of all partners in Ghana and Nairobi in 2019 were crucial to enabling us to get to know each other, and not least create some empathy and understanding of our varying skills and ambitions. This was important in helping us choose the priority corridors in which we would subsequently work. Challenges remain not least in relation to the difficulties of working on the ground with country teams due to the pandemic. 

Shaping empathy through storytelling

Shaping empathy through storytelling around the fire in Kenya (2019) (Photo by Tim).

5. Can you tell us about some of the difficulties faced by the migrants that you work with?

This is an enormous question, that has many different dimensions. COVID-19 has dominated everything over the last year, and has generally made the lives of migrants very much harder. For example, in Malaysia many migrants were rounded up in the early stages of the pandemic and put into camps so that they would not spread the disease to local citizens. Likewise, the lockdowns in South Africa have made life increasingly difficult, especially for migrants.  Across all of the corridors, legal movements of people have been drastically reduced, and this has made life very hard for migrants who were planning to return home. Interestingly, though, there is some evidence from Haiti that migrant remittances although hit significantly in the early days of the pandemic have now returned to levels similar to what they were before.

6. You were both looking at technological ways of improving the lives of migrants, can you give us an example of this?  

When we first joined the Hub our partners mostly thought that our role was to develop an app based largely on the research conducted in the early stages of MIDEQ. This is very far from our intention. Indeed, the early evidence of our research has shown that most apps developed “for” migrants are rarely if ever used by them! Instead, a key principle underlying our research and practice is that we should be the servants of the migrants, understanding how they would like to reduce inequalities, and then working with them and local tech developers to craft and implement some digital intervention. If we discover that one of the biggest fears of migrants is that tech will be used to track and control them, we might even suggest that alternative non-digital interventions might be wiser. Although that it is unlikely, we remain very open, and are working with international agencies such as the IOM, ILO and ICRC to explore how the apps that they are already developing might be improved. However, the pandemic has most certainly affected our work. It is not exactly easy to ask migrants about their digital technology use when migration and mobility have been the first to be impacted by COVID-19. 

7. What have we learnt most from working within the Hub?

Hari – I have found the experience of working in such a large multidisciplinary Hub both rewarding and challenging; rewarding because of the opportunities to work in such diverse contexts with some great colleagues and challenging because of the different assumptions people have about how that work should be done in the first place! I have learnt that perseverance is key to making any headway.

Tim – I have especially learnt to listen more! All of the partners come from very different backgrounds and have a wide range of experiences. This is an incredible opportunity for us to learn from each other – at least for those of us who realise that we still have much to learn! A project of this size has enormous challenges, and it is easy to criticize, but if we are going to be successful it is very important that we all try to pull together and be supportive of each other. We also come from very different cultures, and it is very easy to cause offence accidentally – so we must be willing to forgive others in the hope that they will also forgive us. However, none of us will ever get on with everyone, and so we need to recognise this and concentrate our efforts on working with those we like and respect.

Accra 2019

MIDEQ Hub soft launch (Accra, 2019).

8. Have you found ways to share experiences more widely within College? 

We have tried to be as open as possible in sharing our research practices and have also helped some colleagues across the College by providing advice about their own GCRF applications. We have collaborated in College workshops relating to GCRF activities, and Tim has also provided safeguarding training and advice to different groups of colleagues. We have also been able to secure College funds to bring some of our MIDEQ partners for wider networking on campus although this has had to be postponed due to the pandemic.

9. Is there anything you wish you had done differently?

Not really, other than having ensured we had enough funds to be able to do what we really wanted to! The budget for a project this size might seem a lot, but when broken down between the partners it is really insufficient to deliver what we would like. We have, though, been very flexible in our approach, and this has enabled us to act differently in order to ensure that we still deliver. Thus, in 2020 we had planned to spend much time in the field, especially in South Africa, Ghana, Nepal and Malaysia, where we had intended to undertake qualitative and hermeneutic research with migrants. COVID-19 prevented this, and so we had to rethink radically our approach. As a result we developed an online survey for migrants and their families in each of the countries with which we are working, and our partners (and many others) have helped share this widely. This has been more successful in some countries than in others, and the resultant quantitative data are very different from what we had intended, but this has at least enabled us to have evidence from the first phase of the research that we can then hopefully take with us into phase two when we are able to travel overseas again.

10. How do you both like to spend your time outside work?

  • Hari: The past year has been difficult as I have been shielding quite strictly. This has restricted possibilities but spending more time with the family has been a source of great comfort during the pandemic. Joining the RSPB and discovering the variety of avian life in our garden has been magical.  
  • Tim: I have always been lucky never to have drawn a real distinction between work and other aspects of my life.  I love my work-life, and the last year has been a great opportunity to write – including two 275-page reports!  However, I also enjoy wine – and have started writing a wine column again for a local magazine – and I am fortunate enough to have a garden where I grow some of the vegetables and fruit that we consume.  I also enjoy walking in the mountains, and exploring new places, but that’s not been something I have been able to do over the last year![1]

[1] This last section (10) from our draft response to the questions was not included in the originally published post, but we have added it here to provide a more rounded insight to our work – and play.

To find out more, do look at the MIDEQ site, and also the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s material on our work at the interface between digital technologies, migration and inequalities – this includes lots of resources (especially links to relevant materials) that we are making available through our research work. Do get in touch with us through our Contact Page.

Members of UNESCO Chair in ICT4D to play leading roles in DFID’s multi-country directorate for research and innovation hub on technology for education

DFID AnnouncementRichard Clarke, Director General for Policy, Research and Humanitarian at the UK’s Department for International Aid (DFID) announced today that a consortium involving Dr. David Hollow and Tim Unwin, both from our UNESCO Chair in ICT4D, has been awarded the contract to lead its new £20 m research and innovation hub on technology for education.  This will explore how the world’s most marginalised children and young people can learn best through the use of new and innovative technologies.  The members of the consortium are the Overseas Development Institute, the Research for Equitable Access and Learning (REAL) Centre at the University of Cambridge, Brink, Jigsaw Consult, Results for Development, Open Development and Education, AfriLabs, BRAC and eLearning Africa.  David will serve as Research Co-Director and Tim as Chair of the Intellectual Leadership Group.

The new Hub aims to undertake and promote the highest quality of comparative and longitudinal research at the interface between technology and education, and then share the findings widely so that everyone is better aware about how technology can best serve the learning interests of the poorest and most marginalised.  This builds in part on the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D’s long established experience on technology and learning, dating back to Tim’s leadership of the UK Prime Minister’s Imfundo initiative (2001-2004) creating partnerships for IT in education in Africa, our DelPHE and EDULINK funded collaboration with African universities, the wider work of the World Economic Forum and UNESCO Partnership for Education initiative between 2007 and 2011, and the cohort of PhD students doing research at the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D on technology and learning in Africa in the latter 2000s , including David Hollow and Marije Geldof.

We are all very excited to be a part of this new initiative, which will be the largest ever education and technology research and innovation programme designed specifically to improve teaching and learning, especially in poorer countries.  It is a clear example of the ways through which research undertaken within the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D is having real global impact, and is the second £20 m grant to have been awarded to consortia that include members of the Chair in the last six months, the other being the UKRI GCRF South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub.

Members of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D are part of new UKRI GCRF South-South Migration Hub led by Coventry University

AirtelA group of leading international migration experts – including from the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D at Royal Holloway, University of London – has won £20 m backing from the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) to explore how South-South migration is affecting inequality and development in less developed regions.

The South-South Migration, Inequality and Development Hub won funding for the five-year project under the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) call to establish interdisciplinary research Hubs addressing complex global challenges. The recipients of the awards were announced on 10th December 2018, and made public on 22nd January 2019.

Dr G. Hari Harindranath (School of Management, and member of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D) and Professor Tim Unwin (Department of Geography and Chairholder of the UNESCO Chair in ICT4D) from Royal Holloway are among the experts who, as part of the Hub, have been awarded £688,000 to investigate how South-South migration – or the movement of people between less developed countries in the Global South (for example between African countries) – contributes to the delivery of the UN Sustainable Development Goals such as ending poverty and reducing inequality.

They will work alongside academics, artists, community leaders, international organisations and policymakers from 12 countries across South America, the Caribbean, Africa, Asia and the Middle East better to understand international migration patterns and consequences, and to support and influence global migration policy development.

South-South migration is estimated to account for nearly half of all international migration (up to 70% in some places), but its potential benefits have been undermined by limited and unequal access to rights and the economic and social opportunities that migration can bring.

Using a wide range of research methods and creative approaches, the Hub will map, record and draw attention to the experiences of those who move, generating a better understanding of – and encouraging a greater range of policy responses to address – the challenges associated with international migration. It is hoped that the work will re-balance academic and political debates, currently driven largely by the perspectives and priorities of countries in the Global North.

The GCRF South-South Migration Inequality and Development Hub will be led by Heaven Crawley, Professor of International Migration at Coventry University’s Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, and delivered in partnership with:

  • 20 leading universities, as well as the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and PositiveNegatives;
  • Six international organisations – the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the International Labour Organization (ILO), the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the United Nations Research Institute For Social Development (UNRISD); and
  • Numerous local organisations in the 12 countries in which the hub will work: Burkina Faso, Brazil, China, Côte d’Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Haiti, Jordan, Malaysia, Nepal and South Africa.

Dr Harindranath and Professor Unwin’s work package on ‘Leveraging ICTs to address inequality’ focuses on understanding the extent and ways through which the application of ICTs has alleviated or exacerbated existing inequalities in the context of South-South migration, as well as successes and challenges facing the use of ICT for migrant-related development outcomes. It also considers how the potential benefits of ICT can be leveraged to ensure that the developmental benefits of migration are harnessed and increased, particularly through reducing inequalities in ICT access and use.

 

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