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Transformation is possible

We live in a complex world of accelerating change. The problems we face are connected and interdependent, as are the solutions. Many of these challenges are a result of climate change, water crises, the spread of infectious disease, food shortages, conflicts between countries and groups, cyber-attacks, fiscal crises and energy price shocks, among others. Addressing them and mitigating their impact requires collaboration across disciplines and areas of expertise, countries and governance systems, cultures and stakeholder groups.

It also requires funding and policy changes from the richer, more developed countries. Some experts argue that the billions spent on aid may not help the poor and may actually hurt them by creating aid dependency and corrupting their governments. We also know that foreign aid can be well spent and that development has more to do with the strength of a country’s institutions and governance systems, and its commitment to investing in its people through better education and health, than just pouring in huge amounts of money.

We also know that conditions are improving—extreme poverty rates have been cut in half in the past 25 years, child mortality has dropped significantly, and nations that were aid recipients are now more self-sufficient. Education is critical: It is estimated that of the 8.2 million fewer deaths of children younger than 5 years between 1970 and 2009, one-half can be attributed to more education among women of reproductive age.

Donors are predicting big breakthroughs in the next 15 years: in health, with child deaths down by half and more diseases eradicated; in farming with Africa and other parts of the world better able to feed their populations; and in education with technology and software revolutionizing learning (2015 Gates Annual Letter). And in all of these areas, universities have an important role to play in fostering positive change.

It is in this context that Virginia Tech’s president, Dr.Timothy Sands, has challenged the university’s community to engage in a visioning process called “Beyond Boundaries” designed to address the challenges and opportunities facing higher education institutions and to position Virginia Tech as a global land-grant university leader.

OIRED is central to this visioning process as well as to the practical operating models and approaches for university global engagement. Our office links Virginia Tech to the world through projects and activities that help raise the standard of living of people in poor countries. The USAID-funded Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Integrated Pest Management helps improve the livelihoods of people in developing countries by working with them to develop solutions to the agricultural challenges they face. The work is more than just about crop damage caused by pests and disease; it also addresses issues such as gender, nutrition, training and equitable use of resources.

Our work with universities in Africa, Asia, and Latin America strengthens their ability to educate the next generation of scientists, teachers and leaders. The USAID-funded Education and Research in Agriculture (ERA) in Senegal is a capacity-building project based on the land-grant model that helps the West African country revitalize its agriculture and improve food security by bringing together some of the best minds in agriculture in West Africa and the United States in collaborative research, extension and education activities. Another project, Innovation for Agricultural Training and Education (InnovATE), has the objective of helping USAID country offices address food insecurity and poverty as well as promote rural innovation and stimulate employment by strengthening agricultural training and education institutions and systems. A focus on women and gender in international development ensures that our projects and programs are gender-sensitive and have a positive impact on the most disadvantaged beneficiaries, many of whom are women and girls.

We are committed, in all of our efforts, to working together with local stakeholders—researchers, scientists, teachers, business people, NGO workers, policymakers, development practitioners, farmers and other rural people—to help them have the tools and knowledge they need to improve their lives.We do this by drawing on expertise from faculty, staff and students in units, departments and colleges across Virginia Tech’s campus.

We believe that through our research, partnerships, and capacity building, we contribute to solving problems in the world that affect all of us. We believe that transformations that improve livelihoods are possible. And this isn’t just a hypothesis; it is something we see happening every day when people come together to build better lives and futures for themselves. It embodies precisely the Virginia Tech spirit of Ut prosim (that I may serve).

Dr. Van Crowder

Dr. Van Crowder, Executive Director of OIRED