IUC Official Launching Workshop -Mr. Wannes Verbeeck's Speech

Dear Presidents,
Dear vice-rector,
Dear first secretary of the Belgian embassy in Ethiopia,
Dear directors and professors,
Dear guests,
 
As programme officer in charge of the follow-up of the VLIR-UOS projects in Ethiopia, I’m very glad to be here with you today, to launch this new programme of institutional cooperation between Bahir Dar University and the Flemish universities of Belgium.
Many of the people involved in the new programme already got the opportunity to familiarise themselves with VLIR-UOS, but because today we are presenting the programme to a broader audience, this is the right moment to present our organisation to all of you. I’ll start with a brief general introduction on who we are, what we do and how we do it. After that, I’ll give more detailed information on our strategy and programme for Ethiopia, and on how this new BDU programme fits in.
First: what is VLIR-UOS? VLIR stands for ‘Flemish Interuniversity Council’, and regroups all 5 universities of Flanders, the northern part of Belgium. UOS stands for ‘University development cooperation’. VLIR-UOS was created in 1998 and is funded entirely by the Belgian ministry for development cooperation.
What does VLIR-UOS do? VLIR-UOS supports partnerships between universities and university colleges in Flanders and the South, looking for innovative responses to global and local challenges. VLIR-UOS operates at the intersection of development cooperation and academic internationalization. Through supporting these partnerships, VLIR-UOS aims to strengthen Higher Education Institutes as development actors. In all VLIR-UOS interventions, both scientific quality as development relevance are paramount. All activities need to lead to clear results, generating a positive impact on society. To attain this impact, and to make it sustainable, collaboration and synergy between Higher Education Institutes and other development actors such as national and international NGO’s, but also government institutions and private sector, is essential.
This vision on impact is translated into the VLIR-UOS motto, ‘Sharing minds, changing lives’. Sharing minds is a means, not a goal in itself. The sharing of minds, the exchange of information, knowledge, ideas and experiences must lead to changing life for the better for the people in the partner countries.
How do we do this – sharing minds, changing lives? By funding scholarships for students from partner countries, and by funding cooperation project in these partner countries. These cooperation projects can interfere at different levels, from the individual level of scholarships over the departmental level to the institutional level and the national level. In order to better frame these interventions, VLIR-UOS elaborated country strategies which represent the strategic niche where the needs and questions of the South link up with the expertise and offer from the North. Based on this strategy, VLIR-UOS organises project calls, and the selected interventions constitute the country programme.
As from 2017, VLIR-UOS started to work with 5 year programmes, and the transversal themes of Gender, Environmental sustainability and digital for development are becoming increasingly important. Also synergies and complementarities with other Belgian actors active in a given country is getting more and more important. These synergies are based on a Joint Context Analysis and elaborated per country by all the actors in a Joint Strategic Framework.
 
The VLIR-UOS country strategy for Ethiopia was elaborated in 2013. This process included many consultation processes both in Belgium as in Ethiopia, and resulted in a selection of 10 main partner institutions. Content-wise, 4 main themes were identified:

  1. Food security and agriculture
  2. Environment and water
  3. Economic and social development
  4. Health

On top of that, 3 transversal themes were identified:

  1. ICT and information management
  2. Governance, Institutional Strengthening and management
  3. Gender and diversity

Based on the this strategy, several interventions were selected competitively. For the moment, at departmental level, VLIR-UOS supports 7 TEAM projects all over Ethiopia, in the areas of governance, food technology, land management, agriculture and water. Moreover, 5 post IUC RIP projects at Mekelle University are funded. These built on 12 years of IUC experience at this institution, where an IUC programme was funded from 2002 up to 2013. The IUC programme with Jimma University is now in its final stage and will phase out, but 2 new IUC programmes will start this year. Apart from the IUC programme at BDU, another IUC programme with Arba Minch University will be launched this year. Another new intervention is the Network programme, where Jimma University will coordinate a national network on health, with the participation of Ambo University, Hawassa University and the DebreZeit campus of Addis Abeba University.
 
So now I explained you what VLIR-UOS does, in general and more specifically in Ethiopia. But what about the new IUC programme with BDU?
What is this IUC – Institutional University Cooperation? As the name suggests, IUC is a cooperation programme that intervenes at institutional level. This means it does not focus on 1 department, 1 faculty or 1 scientific discipline. Instead, it is multi-disciplinary, and involves several departments, several faculties, and in fact the entire partner university, with the academic and administrative support of several Flemish universities. Also budgetwise, IUC is the biggest project type offered by VLIR-UOS and can be considered as our ‘flagship programme’. The general objective of an IUC programme is to empower the local partner university as institution to better fulfil its role as development actor in society. IUC is about ‘sharing of minds’ leading to ‘changing lives’ through synergetic set of complementary and interdisciplinary interventions guided by the university strategy and developmental priorities.
IUC programmes are long-term programmes of up to 10 years of cooperation. It is about building capacity on the several levels of research, education and service to society. In an IUC programme, the spirit of partnership is essential. It is a match between the priorities of the partner university and the interest and expertise offered by the Flemish counterparts. Also the support of the top management of the local university is essential in order to have a successful IUC, but I’m sure that this is the case already for BDU, as is reflected in the Memorandum of Understanding that is established between VLIR-UOS and BDU, as first spin-off of this IUC programme.
 
The idea of an IUC programme at BDU originated several years ago from previous departmental VLIR-UOS projects. In 2015, VLIR-UOS launched a call for IUC concept notes, and the proposal submitted by BDU was selected by the VLIR-UOS selection commission. Later, at the start of 2016, several Flemish academics from 4 different universities joined. The programme was formulated in detail in April, and again submitted to VLIR-UOS. In its turn, VLIR-UOS incorporated this IUC proposal into its Ethiopia country programme and submitted it to the Belgian government in September 2016.
In December, VLIR-UOS received a very good score for its Ethiopia programme, which means the country programme together with all its planned interventions will be approved by the minister. This means that also for the IUC with BDU, a green light has been given, and that today, the first phase of 5 years of cooperation can be launched officially!
More information on the content of the programme has been given in the other presentations, so I would like to end this presentation with whishing BDU and the entire IUC team all the best with the IUC programme. Last year, during the formulation of the programme, we went with the entire team for a field trip in the hills nearby Bahir Dar, where we could experience the beautiful countryside, see the fields and meet the people. In a small village, we were invited into a small hut, were a mother had recently given birth to her baby. Although the family was very happy with the new baby, this visit in the small hut confronted us with the poverty and the difficult circumstances many people in Ethiopia live in. Later that week, prof. Enyew and prof. Nyssen told we it was their dream that this IUC programme, through research and capacity building, would have – at the long term - a positive effect on the lives of the poor people in the region. I profoundly hope that this dream will come true, and that the sharing of minds will lead to a positive change of lives! Thank you very much for your attention!
Wannes Verbeeck
VLIR-UOS programme officer
Bahir Dar, 16 January 2017