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Partnerships of Equivalence & Building a Disability Movement

Themes: AT 2030, Participation and partnerships

By Dr Catherine Holloway

Partnerships of equivalence was a term I first heard in Delhi. It was used by UCL's Vice-Provost International, Dame Nicola Brewer to explain the types of relationship UCL enters into as part of its Global Engagement Strategy. Such partnerships of equivalence – reciprocal relationships of mutual respect – depend on commitment to build trust and to engage for the long term. They are relationships to which both parties have something significant to offer. Subsequent learnings will naturally flow in both directions. Critically, they allow for more than the sum of just combined individual activities. They lead to significant, sustained change.

I was reminded of partnerships of equivalence during a recent workshop in South Africa to develop a Pan-Africa network to advance disability research. The workshop was held in the University of Kwazulu Natal in Durban, South Africa. It had two broad aims. First, to establish a sustainable partnership between Global North and Sub-Saharan Africa disability researchers, which would serve as a foundation for knowledge sharing and skill transfer to advance excellence in disability research. Second, to develop a strategy to build disability research hubs with African researchers to improve research and training capacity in Africa and in the field of disability more generally. Funding for the workshop was awarded through a GCRF bid to Paul Lynch at the University of Birmingham and developed with Jill Hananss-Hancock (MRC, South Africa) and Hannah Kuper (LSHTM).

The workshop represented the opportunity to develop partnerships of equivalence between Sub-Saharan African institutions, within these institutions and with partners from the Global North. There was a rich discussion about power dynamics within these relationships. Noting the much-tainted past of colonialism which still lingers in South Africa in particular. The relationships between scientists and disabled people and disabled peoples’ organisations was also richly explored. Unpicking the complementarities between, for example AFRINEAD and the new network. In all cases what emerged was a need for collaboration, joint exploration and bold vision.

One discussion in particular stands out as it reminded me of our initial work to establish GDI Hub. Jacques lloyd who is an expert in both rehabilitation and advocacy described the work he is doing to establish community-level disability sports days across South Africa. With minimal funding, a lot of hard work, and crucially through partnerships with local people and agencies, Jacques has successfully developed a recipe of sporting events to improve health and wellbeing. Pairing sporting events open to all levels of ability with critical healthcare interventions such as connection to assistive technology services and HIV screening. The photos reminded me of National Paralympic Day in London and Motivate East. Things I had not heard of before we began the journey of GDI Hub; but essential building blocks of the disability innovation foundations.

On leaving the workshop I felt the same excitement I had once felt when setting up the GDI Hub – the tingling feeling you get when you know that people are coming together to do something new and extraordinary.

The workshop has laid the foundation for a co-developed new agenda for disability research in Africa. GDI Hub is humbled, privileged and excited to have a role in shaping this exciting, timely and ambitious endeavor. Watch this space!

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