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Knowledge exchange at UCL India Voices

By Sujitha Selvarajah, on 27 January 2017

Words and images: Sujitha Selvarajah. Sujitha is a UCL Global Health graduate and final year medical student who will be tweeting and blogging live from the upcoming Difficult Dialogues conference in Goa, of which UCL is Knowledge Partner.

UCL India Voices academic speed dating event, January 2017As part of the UCL Grand Challenge of Cultural Understanding, UCL India Voices hosted the first ever academic speed dating event following January’s South Asia Network Meeting.

With an organisation as large as UCL, with so many departments and different research interests, the potential for collaboration is huge.  It is this potential for collaboration within UCL, particularly on global projects, that underpinned the success of the evening.  It was an ideal platform bringing together people from different backgrounds and disciplines, who share similar interests and objectives.

As Vice-Provost International Dame Nicola Brewer told attendees: “UCL’s strength in forming global partnerships lies in its expertise across a wide range of disciplines.” The evening was a huge success, with many details exchanged and prospective future collaborations being discussed.

Ina Goel, from UCL’s Department of Gender and Sexuality Studies, was an organiser of the event. She said: “Often it becomes hard to break hierarchies in the academic set-up, and an event like ‘speed-dating’ becomes a fun platform not only to have multi-sectoral collaborations but also to get an opportunity to meet people which we might not otherwise get a chance to cross paths with.”

She added that the UCL Grand Challenges programme will soon be inviting applications for two small grants of up to £2,500 each to support innovative cross-disciplinary collaborations between researchers from across the university, to help build impactful partnerships with organisations in India.

Sparking conversation

IMG_0189_editedThe collaborative discussions set the scene for the upcoming Difficult Dialogues conference from 10-12 February, the theme of which asks “Is India’s Health a Grand Challenge?”

The summit is set to take place in Goa and Dr Aarathi Prasad (UCL Office of the Vice-Provost Research) who is on the steering committee, spoke about UCL’s role as Knowledge Partner.

Aarathi emphasised the importance of it not being an academic conference, but instead a forum for discussion and debate about some of the greatest issues and challenges facing universal healthcare in India.

Founded by Surina Narula, a UCL alumni, Difficult Dialogues will engage a range of stakeholders with its primary aim being to bridge the gap between policy makers and NGOs, clinicians and those on the front line.

Having paved the way as a global leader in forming the evidence base for the social determinants of health, UCL experts across different disciplines will be attending the conference and engaging in conversation that aims to spark conversation and impact policy.

Future opportunities

UCL’s South Asia Network is a forum that brings together academics working in the region to explore the current work of UCL as well as opportunities for future engagement.  Whilst there are many focus areas within the regions for UCL collaboration, such as Myanmar and Pakistan, the primary focus of the day’s activities was UCL’s involvement in India.

2017 being the year of the 70th anniversary of India’s Independence and the UK-India Cultural Exchange, also provided the ideal context for this.

UCL's Professor Monica Lakhanpaul, Professor Marie Lall and Dr Priti Parikh present their project at the January 2017 UCL South Asia Network meetingDuring the South Asia Network meeting, Narinder Kapur gave a presentation on the upcoming International Gandhi Conference. As part of the conference,  a new Gandhi scholarship has been set up by UCL, allowing five young people from India to attend the conference in the UK.  The five scholars will be selected after submitting an essay on the relevance of Gandhi in the 21st Century, and their work will be displayed at the event.

Professor Monica Lakhanpaul (UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health), Professor Marie Lall (UCL Institute of Education and Pro-Vice-Provost South Asia) and Dr Priti Parikh (UCL Department of Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering), updated the group on the ongoing success of their project A cross disciplinary approach to optimise infant feeding through schools and Anganwadi networks in India. They have secured funding and partnered with a number of Indian NGOs, Save the Children and local community members to develop integrated health, education and environmental interventions.  Professor Lakhanpaul highlighted trust as key to the success of bidirectional exchanges such as this one.

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