ASU International Development connects faculty expertise to global challenges

ASU experts have tackled projects in remote education, supply chain, law


Arizona State University’s charter highlights a commitment to the well-being of communities, and that promise extends around the world. ASU International Development is a platform that gathers the knowledge and expertise of faculty to help people in developing countries.

Over the past seven years, ASU International Development has worked on projects that have totaled more than $83.5 million in grant funding. Most of the projects are funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development, as well as the State Department and other agencies, according to Stephen Feinson, associate vice president for international development at ASU. The U.S. Agency for International Development supports U.S. foreign policy and advances national security. In 2019, the agency spent $20.6 billion in 134 countries.

So far, faculty have helped to increase access to distance learning, worked on supply-chain problems, taught entrepreneurship skills and helped victims’ advocates.

“That’s the core mission, to help faculty and research units understand ways they can contribute to large-scale global challenges and how they can connect with the U.S. government to help provide expertise and support,” Feinson said.

ASU’s expertise is divided into nine sectors: environment and biodiversity; energy; water; food and agriculture; rule of law, human rights and governance; higher education; basic, or K-12, education; economic growth; and global health.

ASU’s faculty works with local partners, often universities, on the projects. Many of the initiatives take advantage of ASU’s skill in creating new ways to provide education and then scaling those methods to reach thousands of people.

In Malawi, there are many obstacles to higher education, including social barriers that limit opportunities for females, orphans, people with disabilities and students in rural areas.

ASU International Development connected faculty in the Center for Advanced Studies in Global Education, in the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at ASU, with five universities in Malawi on a $10.8 million project to create courses and set up distance learning centers in the country. The project also included workshops for faculty and scholarships for female students to study STEM subjects.

“ASU’s experience in distance learning and work in creating massive access is what makes this project so attractive,” Feinson said.

“The whole area of online access is taking on new importance during COVID, and this project is particularly relevant to the challenges we’re facing in the U.S. and in countries that have less existing infrastructure for online education.”

One of the newest projects is in Ghana. The Center for Applied Research and Innovation in Supply Chain-Africa, called CARISCA, started in 2020. ASU’s faculty in supply-chain management is working with Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana on the $15 million project.

The goal is to create a hub of supply-chain expertise and training at KNUST that will benefit all of Africa. The supply-chain program in the W. P. Carey School of Business at ASU is recognized as one of the best, typically ranked in the top five nationwide by U.S. News & World Report.

CARISCA started after the U.S. Agency for International Development asked universities around the world to propose new ideas to solve long-standing problems in the developing world.

“It’s become apparent, in the era of COVID especially, that a healthy supply chain is incredibly important to every aspect of the economy in a society, including food and medicine,” Feinson said.

KNUST also has a strong supply chain degree program and is already in a partnership with ASU through the MasterCard Scholars program, so the two universities submitted a proposal, and it was the only one accepted by USAID. The $15 million grant is the largest ever for a project in the W. P. Carey School of Business.

ASU International Development projects involve not only faculty expertise, but students’ creative solutions as well. Students in the Luminosity Lab at ASU developed an app called Shipshape as part of a USAID project that was in partnership with KNUST in 2019.

Shipshape is a way to teach basic supply-chain concepts to regular people in Africa – for example, estimating demand so a shopkeeper can manage inventory, or not ordering too much medicine so that it expires before it can be used at a clinic.

The MasterCard Scholars at ASU helped the Luminosity students test the first version of the app on campus. Then the Luminosity team traveled to KNUST in Ghana to test the app locally.

“The students were invited to present to some of the highest ranking officials with USAID in health development and they did a spectacular job,” Feinson said.

“The rationale for using students is that they’re incredibly creative and have the skills. And it provides an educational opportunity for them.”

ASU International Development has paired several units across the university with projects to help people in the developing world.

  • ASU’s multidisciplinary LightWorks Initiative worked with two universities in Peshawar, Pakistan, on the Pakistan Centers for Advanced Studies in Energy program to increase energy research and education. The USAID-funded project has resulted in several new degree programs and PhD and master’s degree students in Pakistan.
  • The Thunderbird School of Global Management faculty delivers entrepreneurship training to women in Central America through the U.S. Department of State Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas Initiative.
  • Researchers at ASU’s Center for Global Health were part of a consortium of 19 universities that collaborated on the first-ever tool to reliably compare household water access across diverse international settings. The network worked in 24 countries and more than 8,000 households to create, implement and validate the tool’s survey research questions.
  • The U.S. Department of State funded a collaboration in which faculty from the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law works with Tecnológico de Monterrey on oral litigation and victim advocacy techniques. The Voz de las Victimas program provides clinical legal training to state prosecutors, judges, public defenders, victims’ court advocates and attorneys.

Feinson said ASU International Development is constantly working to close the gap between the university’s knowledge creation and the international development space.

“Both are massively complicated worlds and our role is figuring out how to shrink that gap,” he said. “We connect the dots.”

 And the knowledge creation goes both ways.

“These are robust partnerships, not just projects,” he said.

“They include deep relationships with universities in the various countries with a lot of information flowing in both directions.

“Our faculty is gaining a lot of new knowledge and new data.”

Top image courtesy of Pixabay.

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