The LASER PULSE consortium members (Purdue University, Indiana University, University of Notre Dame, Catholic Relief Services and Makerere University-ResilientAfrica Network) convened in Washington DC, for the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) LASER PULSE Research for Development Learning Summit, Tuesday May, 2nd, 2023. The consortium members were joined by USAID officials, other partners and stakeholders to share its findings and learnings in working with USAID on research for development  toward promoting generation and accessibility of Higher Education Institution (HEI)-sourced research for decision making.

(Left) LASER PULSE Program Director Pallavi Gupta familiarized participants with LASER PULSE, (middle) John Glover, Executive Director of Global Development and Innovation, Purdue Applied Research Initiative, emceed the event, and (right) Yuehwern Yih, LASER PULSE Academic Director, and Professor, School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University, opened and framed the Summit.

This Summit brought together representatives from USAID Missions, Bureaus and Independent Offices (M/B/IOs), the LASER PULSE consortium, Higher Education Institutions (HEIs), NGOs, Private Sector, and donors to share LASER PULSE’s experience of utilizing academic rigor to produce solutions for development challenges alongside 26+ USAID M/B/IOs.

“It is always our priority to provide an opportunity for our audience and our diverse partners to learn from one another,” said Pallavi Gupta, LASER PULSE Program Director .

The Summit opening remarks were delivered by LASER PULSE Academic Director Yuehwern Yih. She noted that development research coupled with innovation are at the peak of the work ongoing within Higher Education Institutions. Development research is a shared responsibility across partners/collaborators but we need to apply the User-Centered Design for it to thrive even better and more. “At this point, it is fulfilling that development research is informing policy although there is a need to increase uptake of research outputs through cross-sectoral partnerships,” Prof. Yih said. “We all need to continue innovating in an effort to propose solutions to address the diverse community challenges so that together we can make a difference,” Prof. Yih added.

Mohamed Abdel-Kader, Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub at USAID delivered the keynote address noting that the efforts by and within Higher Education Institutions need to be supported. He applauded HEIs for closely working with partners across the globe noting that it is such partners who know more about the community challenges and local needs and thus can meaningfully contribute to the proposed solutions. “We talk about this new age of being mindful in diversity, equity, and inclusion. What does that mean if our work isn’t accessible? This work needs to be open to communities around the world and not just tied up in an ivory tower,” Abdel-Kader added.  He urged all the summit participants to keep their operational doors open to international collaborations and research engagements in order to make a significant contribution to both science and non-science related work. Abdel-Kader emphasized that development research and other partnerships are key for various reasons including the fact that there is need to increase;

  • The knowledge base
  • Student opportunities to engage, learn, unlearn and relearn
  • Multidisciplinary engagements which are vital for development research to thrive

Mohamed Abdel-Kader, USAID’s Chief Innovation Officer and Executive Director of the Innovation, Technology, and Research Hub (Center) responding to some of the questions raised just after delivering his keynote address at the summit. On his right-hand side is Professor Yuehwern Yih, Academic Director, LASER PULSE and on his left is Pallavi Gupta, Program Director, LASER PULSE.

Pallavi Gupta, Program Director, LASER PULSE, Purdue University later shared the LASER PULSE overview noting that research needs to get perspectives of different stakeholders and to this effect the LASER PULSE consortium had brought together 3,200 researchers and practitioners across 86 countries. With funding from USAID, LASER PULSE is supporting 47 multidisciplinary projects in 19 countries. She emphasized the need for dissemination of research outputs with emphasis on defining the target audience in order to appropriately prepare the necessary Information Education and Communication materials.

The event was characterized by panel discussions starting with the Food Security and Nutrition Panel. This panel provided an opportunity to share about the multidisciplinary projects being implemented across the globe with funding from USAID through LASER PULSE. Key to note from these guided discussions is that most of the project activities are designed as hands-on activities.  Research translation was embedded and thus capacity strengthening was not only in carrying out research but also utilizing research findings. For the first time, a nutrition glossary was developed both in English and the Lao language and this will be diversely used. Local communities need to work more together to propose, identify and develop solutions to address community challenges. The Government of the Republic of Uganda was applauded for already allocating approximately $8 million to research annually and this, participants recommended, should be embraced by other governments too so that development research is further supported to inform national and later international growth.

Panel on Food Security and Nutrition. moderated by Betty Bugusu (middle), Technical Director, LASER PULSE, Purdue University. Left is Summit emcee John Glover, Executive Director of Global Development and Innovation, Purdue Applied Research Initiative. Right is Gerald Shively, Director of International Programs in Agriculture, Associate Dean, College of Agriculture and Professor of Agricultural Economics Purdue University. Not pictured include virtual panelists Margaret Henning, Senior Learning Advisor, USAID Ethiopia, Dr. Kizito Nishimwe, faculty at the Department Food Science and Technology, University of Rwanda, and Patrick Ketiem, Institute Director, KALRO Agricultural Mechanization Research Institute Katumani, Kenya.

The Education Panel discussions included sharing about successful work at LASER in education,  such as the Tusome (‘Let’s Read’) project implemented by University of Nairobi in Kenya, which has had spillover effects to other institutions and countries. Project implementation processes leveraged the Embedded Research Translation Model, and the Tusome case study report is currently being referenced as a successfully implemented program with transferable lessons on multilingual education internationally. It was also noted that LASER PULSE  projects have taken care to ensure inclusion of people living with disabilities and the community driven solutions they seek to be implemented.

The Education Panel, was moderated by Leulsegged Kasa (middle left), Research Project Manager, LASER PULSE and Purdue University, with panelists including Julius Ssentongo (middle right), Director Operations and Eastern Africa Resilience Innovation Lab, Makerere University-ResilientAfrica Network (RAN), and Leah Maxson (far right), Senior Inclusive Education Advisor, Center for Education, Bureau for Development, Democracy and Innovation, USAID. Also pictured is event emcee John Glover. Not pictured include virtual panelists Adbirisak Dalmar, Founder and President, Somali Research and Development Institute (SORDI), Valerie Karr, Founding Partner and President, Inclusive Development  Partners (IDP) and Associate Professor, University of Massachusetts Boston.

The Economic Growth and Private Sector Engagement Panel discussions alluded to the fact that for development research to thrive, it is important that we all embrace and leverage private sector engagement. The private sector plays a key role in contributing to the uptake of research outputs and funding different research aspects to compliment the already secured and running funding. They also noted that the biggest challenge with creating, maintaining and leveraging from partnerships is stipulating what is in for each partner and communicating this early enough at project inception stages. It is important to design a Theory of Change for partner engagement given the different work culture in several organizations.

The Economic Growth and Private Sector Engagement Panel was moderated by Ross Meyers (far left), Research Project Manager, LASER PULSE, Purdue University, with panelists Susan Rae Ross (middle), Sr. Private Sector Engagement Advisor, Global Health Bureau, USAID, and Yuehwern Yih (right), Academic Director, LASER PULSE and Professor, School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University.

As well as sharing the experiences of its projects, LASER shared its lessons learned in working on this large USAID-funded program, through consortium partner leads. A panel on Lessons Learned from the LASER Experience featured diverse discussions covering several areas among which were the need to leverage LASER PULSE’s value proposition, the fact that universities provide a platform where local researchers can be leveraged, the need for inclusion to have female researchers and junior faculty as part of the research ecosystem to contribute to the same but also for capacity strengthening and building among others. This was also an opportunity for the discussants to deliberate about sustainability including the need to have a succession plan and encourage women also to participate in research and innovation, diversify grant writing, leverage institutional contexts (localization) for development research to thrive, identify and fill the gaps identified through-out the engagement processes among others.

Panel sharing Lessons from the LASER PULSE experience, with moderator Brent Wells (left), LASER PULSE Team Lead and Senior Strategic Lead and Program Officer, Research Division Innovation, Technology and Research Hub, Bureau for Development, Democracy and Innovation, USAID. Panelists included Tony Castleman, Catholic Relief Services Lead, LASER PULSE, Director of Agriculture, Water, Microfinance, and Director of Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning at Catholic Relief Services, Roy William Mayega, Deputy Chief of Party Makerere University–ResilientAfrica Network (RAN) representing Prof. William Bazeyo, Makerere University Consortium Lead, LASER PULSE and RAN Chief of Party, Teshome Alemneh, Indiana University Consortium Lead, LASER PULSE, Director of the Office of International Development at Indiana University,Michael Sweikar, University of Notre Dame Consortium Lead, LASER PULSE, Executive Director of the Pulte Institute for Global Development at the University of Notre Dame, and Yuehwern Yih (right), co-PI and Academic Director, LASER PULSE and Professor, School of Industrial Engineering, Purdue University.

Corrie Willson (middle left), Program Analyst II, Research Division, Innovation, Technology and Research Hub, Bureau for Development, Democracy, and Innovation, USAID guided discussions during the panel on LASER PULSE Engagement with Minority Serving Institutions. The panelists included Majed El-Dweik (middle), Vice President of Research and Economic Development, Alabama Agricultural and Mechanical University, Dana Alzouma (middle right), Minority Serving Institutions Coordinator, USAID, and Eurica Huggins Axum, Director of the USAID Donald M. Payne Fellowship Program at Howard University. Far left is event emcee John Glover. Godfrey Ejimakor, Professor of Applied Economics, Department of Agribusiness, Applied Economics and Agriscience Education, North Carolina A&T State University is not pictured and was featured as a virtual panelist.

The LASER Engagement with MSIs Panel noted the need to foster fellowship programs for the benefit of students, faculty and institutional staff. They also identified bottlenecks to engagements with minority serving institutions including; limited funding and passion, institutions working/operating in silos and thus not appreciating the fact that all can contribute to the general pool, need to support strategic partners to realize and appreciate what is in it for them and thus aid quick appreciation of partnerships among others. The event’s location at Howard University gave it a unique opportunity to focus on LASER PULSE projects with MSIs and the role MSIs can play in international development.

Brent Wells, LASER PULSE Team Lead, later closed the engagement noting that development research is a fundamental aspect of what USAID is doing. “We appreciate such opportunities to deliberate and share about the work we are doing in addition to seeking to do what we are doing even better because together we can do even better,” he said. He then called all participants to action saying, “Research informs decision making and thus strengthening the research capacity of local institutions is just the way to go in order for all of us to benefit. The summit participants then joined in a group photo and a networking reception.

Group photo at the end of the Summit.

More information is shared on Twitter #R4D2023 at https://www.facebook.com/laserpulsenetwork and https://twitter.com/laserpulse2

The full agenda and speaker information is available on the LASER PULSE website.

Alexandra Towns, Research Translation Strategy Lead, engaging with John Glover, Executive Director of Global Development and Innovation, Purdue Applied Research Initiative, on LASER PULSE’s Embedded Research Translation model.

Indiana University Associate Vice President for Research and Development, Teshome Alemneh (center), receiving recognition for his contributions as Indiana University Consortium Lead with LASER PULSE.

Participants engaging during the Summit

More Photos are shared here: https://epnac.smugmug.com/Client-images/LASER-PULSE/2023/SID-US-Event-USAID-LASER-PULSE-Research-for-Development-Lear/SID-US-Event-USAID-LASER-PULSE-Research-for-Development-Lear/

All images courtesy of LASER PULSE/Purdue University.

Compiled by: Harriet Adong, RAN Director Communications, Learning and Knowledge Management.