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Innovation Scholars Program alums co-host design thinking workshop at RUFORUM

Published: Monday, 20 Nov 2017
Author: Katie Deska
Department: Global Center for Food Systems Innovation

Shortly after celebrating their graduation from the 15-month Innovation Scholars Program, spearheaded by Michigan State University's (MSU) Global Center for Food Systems Innovation (GCFSI), faculty and leaders from Malawi's Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) shared what they learned with other university leaders from across the continent.

Three of the program's graduates, LUANAR faculty members Ms. Zione Kalumikiza, Dr. Sera Gondwe and Dr. Wilfred Kadewa, co-facilitated a design thinking workshop during a side event leading up to the 13th Annual General Meeting of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM), held in late October. The theme of this year's meeting, Vision 2030, aligned with the sustainable development goals outlined by the United Nations in 2015.

Check out local reporter Catherine Mloza-Banda's story on the Innovation Scholars Program, shared on the RUFORUM blog.

The MSU-LUANAR side event focused on transformative leadership and was hosted in partnership with MSU's Alliance for African Partnership (AAP). Dr. Amy Jamison, AAP's Associate Director for Institutional Engagement, opened the session by providing background on the decades-long history of the MSU-LUANAR collaboration.

Innovation Scholars Program graduates and lead facilitators Dr. Kurt Richter, Deputy Director of GCFSI; Dr. John Bonnell, Program Director of MSU's Tanzania Partnership Program; and Dr. Bill Heinrich, Director of Assessment with MSU's Hub for Innovation in Learning and Technology, then engaged the room full of roughly 100 vice chancellors, deans, principals, and heads of departments from the RUFORUM network of over 60 African institutions of higher education.

"Before we got started, we said to the audience, 'You are leaders. Will you now trust us to lead you?'" recalled Heinrich. "If we hosted the workshop ourselves it would have been fine, but it was a lot better with our LUANAR partners."

In line with the style of all previous workshops of the Innovation Scholars Program, the graduates relied on the process of design thinking to activate participants. Focusing first on empathy, graduates asked the audience to pair up and interview their partner. They were prompted to consider the question, 'What does it mean to run a meeting that leads to transformative change?' Participants listened to their partners and identified the nature of their problems, then moved into the next stage of design thinking—ideation.

Kalumikiza, Gondwe, and Kadewa urged the audience to brainstorm potential solutions to overcome the obstacles identified in their partner's situation. Working side-by-side with Innovation Scholars Program facilitators, the team demonstrated tools for transformation to university faculty and officials. They answered questions and challenged participants to step outside their comfort zone.

The train-the-trainers approach embedded in the Innovation Scholars Program enables the program's graduates to share the design thinking framework with faculty, students, and others at their institution, as well as with communities and universities in other parts of the region.

"The LUANAR faculty were eager to lead, and they did a great job, especially considering the short timeframe for them to transition from learning this methodology to leading others through it," said Bonnell. "They explained the process of design thinking articulately and modeled it successfully to their peer leaders and faculty from across the continent."

The lead ISP team is pursing application of the program in several higher education and community partnerships, outside of higher education institutions, and in funding and development agencies seeking to refine approaches to human and institutional capacity building.

"The affirmative responses to the design thinking workshop that we received indicates there is a need for and interest in the human-centered approach embedded in the Innovation Scholars Program," said Heinrich.

For more on the Innovation Scholars Program, please click here.

Housed within MSU's International Studies and Programs unit, the Global Center for Food Systems Innovation addresses critical pressures on the world's food supply by creating, testing and enabling the scaling of solutions. GCFSI takes a multidisciplinary approach that encompasses the entire food system and considers major environmental, economic and social trends, as well as workforce development needs that will impact future food security. Launched in 2012, GCFSI is one of eight development labs established through the Higher Education Solutions Network of the United States Agency for International Development.