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Ford Family Program enters second year

Ann-Marie Woods | Friday, September 11, 2009

Committed to forming an interdisciplinary alliance of researchers, faculty, students and community members, the Ford Family Program in Human Development Studies and Solidarity begins its second year with a continued effort to address the challenges faced by those living in extreme poverty throughout the developing world, specifically Sub-Saharan Africa.

What began as the Notre Dame Millennium Development Initiative, a program created to encourage Notre Dame students and faculty to become engaged in the evolving economies in Africa, has grown into an interdisciplinary program in human development studies, housed in the Kellogg Institute for International Studies.

“The Ford Program conceives of human development studies as a scholarly effort to understand conditions that affect human welfare, including economic growth and development, the political and social determinants of the distribution of wealth and opportunity, politics and public policy, religion and culture, health, and human rights,” according to the program’s Web site.

Partnered with Uganda Martyrs University, the Ford Program has focused its community engagement goals on the 12 villages that make up the nearby parish of Nnindye, with the hope of eventually expanding beyond the scope of Uganda to many countries throughout the developing world.

“We have a special relationship with Nnindye,” Director of the Ford Program Fr. Bob Dowd explained. “We have sponsored a baseline survey and focus groups in order to spark a discussion in the community about their most pressing problems which they identified as water and sanitation, health and agriculture and livelihood development.”

In collaboration with Uganda Martyrs University, the Ford Program is working together to evaluate how they might help this community realize their goals, Dowd said.

“We have a Ugandan staff led by David Nnyanzi, country director for the Ford Program in Uganda,” Dowd said. “They are the ones who are really facilitating this. It’s not just a bunch of Americans swooping in and taking the lead. Rather, we are working closely with our Ugandan colleagues.”

Rather than offering services to these communities, the goal of the Ford Program is to utilize research, teaching and community engagement in order to enable the people of Nnindye to achieve their goals.

“We want them to be agents of their own change and have the hope that they can do this themselves,” Assistant Director of the Ford Program Tony Pohlen said. “We will bring a certain amount of technology, resources and research, but we will work together with the community to find solutions.”

Guided by a strong Catholic social teaching foundation and a belief in the inherent dignity of the human person, the Ford Program strives to effectuate the collaborative goals in Nnindye by advancing research, teaching and community engagement here at Notre Dame and in Uganda.

Dowd said teaching and research are crucial to the program’s initiatives, helping to build a foundation of learning in human development studies, which will augment experiences outside the academic environment.

“We want to enhance and expand the opportunities for our students to study international development in the classroom and find ways to integrate their experience in developing countries with the theory that they might learn in the classroom,” Dowd explained.

One way the program hopes to achieve teaching and research in the academic environment is with the creation of an interdisciplinary international development studies minor, which would span across the colleges, incorporating policy with action.

“In some cases, the classes may be team taught,” Pohlen explained. “For example, an engineering professor and an economics professor might together teach a class on water issues. This provides for interdisciplinary interaction and discourse among faculty as well as students.”

The Ford Program will present a proposal for the minor to the College of Arts and Letters later this semester, with the hope that it will be announced in the spring semester and launched in the fall of 2010, Dowd said.

In the interim period before the minor is created, the Ford Program, in partnership with the Center for Social Concerns, offered a special two-week undergraduate class earlier this month taught by Duncan Green, head of research at Oxfam Great Britain.

“The focus of the course was teaching the importance of active citizens and effective states,” Pohlen said. “I believe it was successful and students learned a great deal.”

In addition to opportunities for students, the program also encourages Notre Dame faculty to get involved through research and teaching.

A lecture series initiated last year will continue throughout the current academic year, featuring Notre Dame professors who are involved in development work in their particular field.

“Notre Dame faculty who specialize in development in one way or another will lead discussions in an attempt to give students the opportunity to learn a bit of theory and discuss international development in advance of launching the minor,” Dowd said.

The Ford Program also is encouraging any Notre Dame faculty members to apply for research seed grants of up to $15,000, which will help develop a greater understanding of the causes of extreme poverty in the developing world and point to sustainable solutions.

“We are calling for collaborative research,” Dowd said. “We really want Notre Dame faculty and students working together with African researchers, faculty and students. This would fulfill one of our goals of building an alliance across cultures, devoted to addressing the problem of extreme poverty.”

While research is central to the mission of the Ford Program, students and alumni will have many opportunities to get involved and contribute to the development work in progress.

“Our focus, in large part, is on research, but we also believe there is a way to integrate research and service,” Dowd said. “I think there will be opportunities for students and student groups to work with us in gathering resources necessary. It might be raising funds that allow us to actually work with people in Uganda to realize their goals. There are all kinds of ways that students can help, and we welcome that involvement.”

In addition to service, the Ford Program, in partnership with the Kellogg Institute, has offered two internships to students the last two summers to do research and work in the villages of Nnindye.

The Center for Social Concerns and the Gigot Center for Social Entrepreneurship are working with the Ford Program to create an International Summer Service Learning Project in the Nnindye villages as well.

“The idea is that students who have completed the Micro Venturing certificate program can apply for this site and work with small businesses in Uganda,” Pohlen explained. “The key is that we want everyone [who goes to Nnindye] to work with the students and faculty at Uganda Martyrs University in a collaborative effort.

“We want to create a body of learning and knowledge throughout the developing world using the university to university model,” Pohlen said.

Looking forward at the potential progress the Ford Program hopes to achieve, Dowd hopes to see increased solidarity, partnerships and collaboration in order to accomplish the mission of addressing the challenges confronted by those living in extreme poverty.

“Most importantly I’d love to see the people in the villages realize goals they have set for themselves,” Dowd said. “Secondly I would like to be able to say that Notre Dame students, faculty and alumni have learned something from the process and have contributed positively to the process.”

Increased research among faculty, and exchange programs between Notre Dame and Uganda Martyrs University students are additional goals for the Ford Program, Dowd said.

Dowd also sees a special niche here at Notre Dame, as faith and religion play a central role to the research and study of this institution.

“We want to take the role of faith and religion seriously in the development process,” Dowd said. “We would like to promote and support research that takes a close look at the role faith-based institutions play in affecting the goals people set for themselves and the degree to which they realize these goals.”