Dr. Alice Karuri, Development Studies Lecturer at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS) was an Africa-Oxford (AfOx) Visiting Fellow from January to March 2022. She was hosted by the Interdisciplinary Centre for Conservation Science at Oxford to work on her project ‘Sustainability in global commodity chains: an institutional analysis of farmer organisations’.
Established in 2017, the AfOx Visiting Fellows Programme is designed to provide exceptional African researchers an opportunity to form international networks and focus on a project of their choice, away from teaching and administrative duties at their home institutions. Open to all research fields, the Fellowship supports researchers to spend eight weeks at Oxford.
In the narration below, Dr. Karuri briefly describes her stay at Oxford.
What is AfOx Fellowship?
The Africa-Oxford fellowship seeks to enhance academic mobility and facilitate network building for African scholars and researchers across multiple disciplines. The time spent at Oxford allows one to focus on research and it is an opportunity to interact and collaborate with other researchers.
How did you hear about the fellowship?
In early 2020, the SHSS Research Director forwarded the call to apply for the AfOx fellowship. It was quite close to the deadline and the Dean and Faculty Manager went out of their way to ensure I had all the application materials on time. Due to Covid-19 related travel restrictions, my visit to Oxford was postponed to 2022. During the waiting period, I had access to online trainings and attended research meetings.
What did the fellowship entail?
I had engaging in-person and online meetings with researchers at Oxford and other universities, including Cambridge, London School of Economics, Southampton, York, and Reading. I also had two research collaborators to guide me in my research. Besides having access to one of the largest university libraries globally, I attended trainings, workshops and had opportunites to present my research.
As part of the fellowship, I am a Trade Fellow in the ‘Trade, Development and the Environment Hub’, which focuses on sustainable trade systems and is funded by the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund and led by the UN Environment Programme World Conservation Monitoring Centre (UNEP-WCMC). My research is on sustainability in the coffee chain, with a focus on the engagement of farmers in production and trade that is economically, environmentally, and socially viable.
What is your takeaway from the fellowship?
One is the commonalities between the University of Oxford and Strathmore University, including institutional support and a dedicated work ethic among the staff. In preparation for and during the fellowship, I received immense support from SHSS and the People and Culture team at Strathmore, as well as the staff and administration at my host department at Oxford.
Second is the value of inter-disciplinary research at an institutional and individual level. At the individual level, inter-disciplinary research requires a willful engagement by researchers, including moving outside one’s academic comfort zone.
My research interests had previously centered on the economic and social aspects of sustainable development. However, when the Strathmore University research office shared a conference call on climate change in 2019, I delved into the research and presented a paper on climate change adaptation in the coffee and tea sector in Kenya. This later formed the basis of a book chapter in the ‘Handbook for Climate Change in Africa.’
At an institutional level, inter-disciplinary research can be enabled by research centers and other avenues such as workshops that facilitate collaborations across disciplines.
During my stay, for example, I was hosted by the Interdisciplinary Center for Conservation Science, which helped me situate my research within the context of conservation. An interdisciplinary workshop I attended on environmental issues had linguists, theologists, ecologists and anthropologists in attendance. This pushed my knowledge boundaries, and I am currently researching on global political ecology and political theology, among other areas. This fits in well with the SU value for lifelong learning.
Interesting aspects about the University of Oxford:
- Students wear academic dress for exams – it consists of sub fusc (black and white attire) and academic gown.
- University of Oxford is made up of more than thirty colleges and these are located throughout the town of Oxford, often in magnificent centuries-old buildings. There is no single campus.
- Most students and staff walk, use public transport or cycle to school.
- For collaboration on research in sustainabile agricultural commodity chains, farmer empowerment and development related areas, you can reach me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Research profile: https://www.iccs.org.uk/person/alice-karuri
- To learn more about the AfOx Visiting Fellowship Programme: https://www.afox.ox.ac.uk/afox-visiting-fellowship-programme
- For information on the Trade Hub: https://tradehub.earth