Discussing case studies. Photo credit: Eduardo Marenco, UPEACE.
Teaching is not easy, for me at least. Indeed it can be nerve-wracking to stand in front of a room, looking out at a room of people ready to learn and engage intellectually. But I find it to be incredibly rewarding work as well: to be able to catalyze learning and spark discussion is more than worth a few jitters.
So it was a tremendous privilege to be able to spend a weekend in May giving a delivery case study training at one of GDI’s newest partners, the UN-mandated University for Peace (UPEACE).
It is really exciting for us to be able to welcome UPEACE to the GDI family. GDI has long seen its core strength as emanating from its partnerships. By working with a diverse slate of partners, GDI is able to bring out and share unique insights from practitioners and policymakers working in a wide variety of sectors and regions. In the case of UPEACE, students and staff who attended the training will write case studies on particular interventions and experiences in peacebuilding and development.
Our partners at UPEACE also expressed their excitement at moving forward with this endeavor. Yoriko Yasukawa, Senior Advisor to the Rector, was a gracious host and facilitator during my visit to UPEACE. I caught up with her after the training, and she shared some thoughts on what this partnership means for UPEACE:
“I think that by joining GDI, UPEACE will gain a number of important things. One is to become part of a global community of organizations that are thinking about, and generating and sharing knowledge about challenges in the implementation of development programs and how to overcome them. As an institution that is engaged in education about peace building in a holistic sense that includes inclusive and sustainable development, becoming an active part of such a community will allow us to enrich our own reservoir of knowledge that we can in turn share with our students, and also contribute to building and expanding that wealth for the broader benefit of all those interested.”
The benefits of this partnership, given that UPEACE is an academic institution, also extend to the students who will be writing cases. Yoriko points out that “Another important benefit is the training provided to our students on case study writing, which I think goes beyond just the how-to of producing case studies but also helps them to think more systematically about how to approach development programming – or programming of any kind – in general. These are skills that will help them in their careers, whatever field they choose.”
What was the training like?
The University for Peace gives one the sense immediately of being a special place. The low-slung buildings of the campus, interspersed with sculptures celebrating peace and peacemakers, hug the verdant hills outside San Jose, the capital of Costa Rica. It reminded me, a bit, of the university nestled in the Appalachians where my father teaches: the same green waves of mountains, the same moderate altitude.
And it proved to be a lovely setting for vibrant discussion among some 15 UPEACE students and staff. We started with a presentation and discussion of the theoretical underpinnings of GDI, and why we need this kind of focus on implementation knowledge.
“It was very impressive to learn about the GDI's efforts in gathering knowledge on implementation challenges and identifying lessons learnt for future project,” said Lena, a UPEACE student who attended the training.
While GDI has a standard case study approach, each training is a little different, based on the needs and interests of the hosting partner. This training was quite interactive, as I tried my best to keep up with the keenly engaged, motivated students and practitioners who made up the training group. We also benefitted from the extensive experience of Yoriko, who graciously served as a subject for a mock interview exercise based on her experiences working for the UN.
After the training, students said that this hands-on and interactive mode worked well, and that they appreciated the practical exercises, which allowed them to deepen and test their initial ideas for case selection.
For example, Harmonie, a student attending the training said she was “impressed with the practical aspects of the training such as the role play interview and the discussions pertaining to strategies for handling likely challenges.”
Puck, another UPEACE student agreed, saying “What I liked about the training was that it was very practice oriented. It contained of course theoretical knowledge and theories, but everything was either explained or applied, which made the relevance very clear.”
UPEACE students are currently working to identify potential projects, drawing on the practical exercises during the training. Students will be able to tap into their academic and practical interests and passions to document useful operational know-how and implementation experiences.
On the last day of the training, one of the thunderstorms common to Costa Rica’s rainy season blew in across the valley. We watched the curtains of rain sweep over the campus, streaming down the windows and pattering against the walls.
After the rain stopped, the drumming on the roof fading away, we said our goodbyes and dispersed. There was work to be done – students would finish their classes over the following month and then turn to writing case studies. Based on my experience during the training, I am excited to see these cases, and to support students during the coming months of research and writing.
And I remain grateful to my hosts at UPEACE for the opportunity to share some practical knowledge on GDI case studies with a dynamic group of students and staff. It was exciting to be able to engage around these vital topics, and I look forward to seeing how these case studies can contribute to the broader body of implementation knowledge that GDI is building.