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During the 2014-15 academic year, faculty from the UF Masters of Development Practice (MDP) Program led an innovative initiative in collaboration with two other member universities within the MDP Global Association Network: Sciences Po (Paris, France) and Université Cheikh Anta Diop (Dakar, Senegal). The aim was to promote institutional exchange across the Atlantic and to establish a network of faculty and graduate students working to address the specific development challenges facing the African Sahel in the context of security threats and climate change. This is the first initiative that builds on the MDP global network to foster inter-university collaboration on African development issues. The project received support from the UF Sahel Research Group, the Center for African Studies, and UF International Center.

The Sahel is an expansive region on the southern edge of the Saharan Desert characterized by intense environmental change, political and economic instability, and rapid population growth – all of which contribute to various security challenges in the region. Despite this complex confluence of issues, development initiatives have often failed to employ a systems approach, which would be well-suited to tackle interaction and feedback between sectors, scales, and states. The aim of the project is to shed light on the interplay between these different challenges and to generate development-based interventions and solutions aimed at alleviating social, environmental, economic and political insecurity. Project participants met three times during the 2014-15 academic year, once in each location. Periodic virtual conferences were scheduled throughout the year to facilitate long-distance collaboration. The culmination of the project will be the organization of a panel at the third International Conference on Sustainable Development Practice, to be held at Columbia University, New York (September 23-24, 2015). Project participants will present their group projects and subsequently finalize their work for peer-reviewed publication.

Symposium and workshop at UF

The first series of events took place at UF from September 20-26, 2014. The exchange week started off with a one-day symposium entitled “Demography and the Challenge of Social Change in the African Sahel”, which was attended by more than 50 faculty and graduate students and included three sessions. Click here for details of the program and more information. The symposium was followed by a series of workshops and lectures, designed to expose students to specific issues and to generate discussion so to facilitate small-team collaborative projects. The weeklong series of events concluded with the organic formation of three small groups of students, with each working on a selected theme, with the aim to produce deliverables in the form of a conference paper, a final report, and a policy brief. The three chosen themes are: climate information and gender in agricultural settings; use of technology (drones) for enhancing food production and management systems; and urban challenges and sustainable housing.

Exchange at Sciences Po, Paris

From February 28 to March 6, 2015, students and faculty from UF and UCAD visited the Paris School of International Affairs at Sciences Po, where the MDP program is located. The three groups of students had opportunity to continue working together with Faculty guidance, and they presented their respective research projects at a workshop at PSIA (see program below), where they received valuable feedbacks. The team visited and made contacts at the Sahel West Africa Club at OECD, the European Union Institute for Security Studies, and the main OECD headquarters. The team also attended a presentation by Denis Loyer, who spent his career at the Agence Française du Développement and shared personal insights into the life of a development practitioner.

Exchange at UCAD, Dakar

The third meeting took place at UCAD (Université Cheikh Anta Diop) in Dakar, during May 1-9, 2015. Several visits were organized with local actors and organizations. The whole group went on a field trip in the Thiès area, visiting two community-based projects aimed, respectively, to enhance sustainable food production through wind powered drip irrigation (Diender) and to combat soil erosion due to water runoff through stone lines, water retaining plants, and hand-dug trenches (Keur Musseu). The team visited WARC (West African Research Center) to learn about their many services and initiatives. Throughout their stay, student participants continued to work on their group projects and presented to an audience of academics and development practitioners at a workshop held at UCAD2, FASEG (Faculté des Sciences Economiques et de Gestion) on May 6. Dr Serra gave a lecture on May 4 to students from the MDP and two other Master programs titled: “Politiques agricoles: les cas du secteur coton au Mali, Bénin et Burkina”.


Though limited to one year, the project has created a new partnership between the MDP programs from the three universities, as well as a lasting bond among the individual participants. Thanks to the commitment of few faculty members and the willingness of the students to work hard and capitalize on this invaluable opportunity, this experience has demonstrated that a small grant can have huge returns and meaningful impacts on students’ personal and professional lives. The project promoters hope this initiative will inspire other forms of collaboration across the MDP global network of universities.

Project participants

Project coordinator: Dr Renata Serra (Center for African Studies and MDP Program, UF)

Other faculty/staff: Dr Sarah McKune (UF), Dr Aly Mbaye (UCAD, MDP Director), Ibrahima Barry (UCAD, MDP Coordinator), Kate Vivian (IPSIA, MDP Coordinator).


Student participants:

UF: Irving Chan Gomez, Rugiyatu Kane, Whitney Turientine

Sciences Po: Tzviako Chiderov, Desiré Zongo

UCAD: Iba Mar Faye, Ya Cor Ndione.