Mawazo's Core Principles

Notes from an early brainstorming session

Notes from an early brainstorming session

In November 2016, when the Mawazo Institute was still mostly an idea, I called a friend who ran a scholarship programme in Ghana for advice on launching a new organisation.  He shared many useful suggestions, but one point in particular stood out to me: "The organisational culture you build when you're starting out will affect everything you do later." 

Some of Mawazo's core principles, like those in the photo above, have been clear to us from the very beginning.  We've previously written about the rationale for these ideas.  Other principles have come out during hours of discussion with our team and with a wide range of supportive colleagues, advisors, and friends.  Here are some of the values guiding our work.

Intersectional approaches.  Nearly all academics based in Africa -- male and female -- have access to fewer professional resources than their peers in the North.  We strongly believe that all African scholars deserve more support.  However, we were also struck by the fact that a large majority of university students and professors in Africa are men.  We're taking a step towards leveling the playing field by offering our year-long PhD Scholars programme to women. 

Continuous learning.  Rose and I have been very lucky to learn from the experience of many other organisations which support African scholars.  Conversations with groups like the Association for the Advancement of African Women Economists, the East Africa Social Science Translation Collaborative, the Centre for Higher Education Trust, and the Next Einstein Forum (among many others) have taught us a great deal about the advantages and limitations of existing models of support for African scholars.  We're also planning several surveys about the professional development needs of African women in academia, so we'll hear directly from our peers.  Keep an eye on our blog and newsletter for more information.

Giving and receiving feedback.  One of the major frustrations of the search for academic funding is the non-informative rejection letter: "We had many strong applicants, and couldn't accept everyone..."  This is a missed opportunity to help scholars improve their future applications.  We plan to provide feedback to all applicants for our Scholars programme -- both those accepted and rejected -- on the quality of their study questions and research designs.  We will also actively solicit feedback from our Scholars and participants in our public events about whether our programming is working well, or needs to be improved.

Academic freedom.  The rise of development consulting has been a mixed blessing for African academics.  It has offered many researchers an additional source of income at a time when university funding is limited.  However, scholars like Mahmood Mamdani argue that consultancies constrain academic freedom by forcing researchers to answer pre-determined questions, rather than allowing them to decide which questions are important to ask.  At Mawazo, we're focussing on research in the clean energy sector, which covers a wide ranges of topics that are important for development.  We encourage our Fellowship applicants to ask questions which provide both intellectual stimulation and practical value.