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Thoughts on a New Year


The arc of the moral universe in long, but it bends towards justice
Martin Luther King

You can’t cross the sea merely by standing and staring at the water
Rabindranath Tagore

To annihilate indigenous populations eventually paves the way to our own annihilation. They are the only people who practice sustainable living. We think they are relics of the past, but they may be the gatekeepers to our future
Arundhati Roy

In earlier Indigenous times, the solstices, both winter and summer would have been the times for reflection on what has happened and what might lie ahead.  These days it is most common for us to give ourselves over to reflections based on the New Year of the Gregorian Calendar. The Gregorian calendar is evidence of the spread of the Western canon in the 16th Century. This calendar was named after Pope Gregory the XIII in 1572.  It replaced almost all of the ancient calendars so that aside from some awareness of an Islamic calendar, we mostly forget that Afghanistan, Indonesia, Ethiopia, India, Japan, Thailand and other places all have their own calendars. We raise this point because when working on issues of knowledge democracy it is useful to give visibility to the invisible knowledge that has been papered over by colonialism.

We have chosen our opening words from people whose work and lives inspires us.  Taken together, they remind us that hope remains in spite of the darkness, that action is required if we are to move forward and that the teachings from our most ancient people may provide the light for our most modern times.

Over the past five years, the work of our UNESCO Chair has followed two general streams: a series of international state-of-the art studies on community based research and advocacy work associated with the publication of two World Reports on Higher Education in collaboration with the Global University Network for Innovation (GUNI).  We have shared the findings from our research studies and from the GUNi reports widely. Over the past year we have accepted invited keynotes and workshop presentations in Korea, India, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Colombia, Argentina, USA, Canada, Italy, Spain, England, Belgium, Ireland, Uganda, South Africa and Mexico.  We will continue to play this outreach role in support of our partner organizations and networks.  We can report that the movement of community based, engaged, participatory research and engagement has grown significantly over the past years. A quite special event took place at the source of the Nile River in Uganda in May of 2017, a gathering of Indigenous Knowledge Keepers from Turtle Island and Uganda. It is a privilege for us to be able to continue to learn from so many of you. We should add that our work has been deeply informed and continues to be informed by feminist perspectives on knowledge and by Indigenous ways of knowing.

2018 marks a shift in our focus.  While we will continue to pursue research to learn more about the mysteries and joys of co-construction of knowledge and democratic action, we are deeply aware of that there is a new generation of women and men who want to learn how to do the work that we call participatory research.  We are also aware that with the setting of the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals, there is a global commitment to social change and that the knowledge strategy, the collaboration between those with lived experiences of poverty, gender violence, food insecurity, inequality and more is a key to our hopes for realizing the Sustainable Development Goals.  With this in mind, we have launched the Knowledge for Change (K4C) Global Consortium on Training for Community Based Participatory Research in both India and Canada.  The two of us have made major commitments of our time to facilitating groups of CBPR Mentors over the coming three years.  The first cohort of the K4C begins the third week of January 2018.  At the heart of the K4C are a series of local training hubs, partnerships between practitioner organizations and universities where training in local languages, cultural and political contexts will take place.  The first set of hubs is being established in India (3), Indonesia, South Africa, Colombia, Italy and Cuba. More hubs are under discussion in the UK, Canada (an Indigenous hub), Spain, Japan, Uganda, Ghana, Benin, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Ecuador and more. Our goal is to support hub development in those parts of the global North and South with the least resources and the greatest need for transformative action.

We are deeply grateful to our host institutions, the University of Victoria, the Society for Participatory Research in Asia and by the Higher Education section of UNESCO, Paris.  We are humbled by the support that we receive from everyone.

Wafa Singh, our India Coordinator and Walter Lepore, our Canada Coordinator have been super stars over the past year keeping us going through the lows and the highs. Namaste!

We are part of a wonderful global family of organisations and networks that we interact with on a daily basis: GUNi, The Talloires Network, PASCAL International Observatory, the Living Knowledge Network, Engaged Scholarship Consortium, Association of Commonwealth Universities (ACU), International Association of Universities (IAU), The National Coordinating Centre for Public Engagement (NCCPE).

In Canada, we acknowledge with gratitude that we work on the traditional territory of the Lekwungen speaking peoples, the Esquimalt, Songhees and W̱SÁNEĆ First Nations. We are grateful for continuing support from the Canadian Commission for UNESCO, IDRC, from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and from the Ford Foundation (for work in Cuba/Colombia) and out national association Community Based Research Canada.

In India, we extend our gratitude to the large number of partner universities who have stood with us in our journey, organizations like the British Council and Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry who have supported and endorsed our ideas, our friends in the University Grants Commission and the Association of Indian Universities, who continue to express solidarity with us and lastly, our colleagues and friends whose unconditional support has been valuable for us. Both the Indian National Commission for UNESCO and the UNESCO Regional Office have been constant partners.

We apologize if we are missing anyone in our gratitude trail, but we do want to assure you that we value our friendship and partnership with everyone whom we have come across, and we look forward to strengthened relations as we step towards our new journey in the New Year!

Happy New Year 2018!

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