managed by S. Hanisch (Communication)
The aim of Big Red Earth is to support the University of Toliara in south-western Madagascar through curriculum innovations, regional and international networking, advisory services, and fundraising to make it a leader and hub for regional sustainable development. We work especially with the agricultural science institute and the teacher training school of the University, as they represent key disciplines for the development of the region.
Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. The South-West is characterized by high food insecurity, poverty, low quality of education and unsustainable use of natural resources, while it is at the same time an important biodiversity hotspot.
The region has been described as a “project cemetery” (UNICEF, 2011) due to the lack of lasting positive impact on livelihoods and land use systems despite the work of numerous international aid and development organizations as well as research projects. Patterns of short term project management, lack of continuity and lack of coordination have created a local culture of dependency and undermined local competencies to develop sustained and effective grassroots solutions. This situation persists despite widespread recognition of such needs among stakeholders and development actors.
Big Red Earth emerged from a collaboration since 2012, between the founding members and the University of Toliara in the regional capital, as well as with the regional ministry for rural development and several regionally active NGO’s.
We increasingly realized that among the numerous international development organizations, hardly any have strategic and coordinated capacity building as their primary focus or work closely with the University of Toliara. Furthermore, international research projects are too often more interested in extractive research, viewing capacity building and participatory development of sustainable land use systems as outside of their scope.
The importance of higher education and capacity building for “21st century competencies” is also increasingly recognized to be central to sustainable development and to finding innovative and regional solutions to complex problems such as population growth, corruption, governance and adaptation to climate change.
We thus became convinced that bolstering the capacity of University of Toliara to more effectively inform and support community development efforts presents one of the most strategic, cost-effective and lasting approaches to address these long-recognized challenges at the regional scale.
Our approach entails competency-based curriculum design (CBCD) and strengthening of community partnerships, such as through the university-assisted community school (UACS) model. Through these we want to cultivate competencies such as critical and interdisciplinary thinking, creativity, problem solving, understanding concepts and methods of science, independent and teamwork, leadership, as well as information technology skills, and strengthen them through long-term integration into curricula and teaching practices.
By supporting University of Toliara in these strategies, Big Red Earth offers innovative, cost-effective and long-term solutions to international development cooperation in south-western Madagascar.
We envision a future in which the University of Toliara is a recognized institution locally, regionally, nationally, and globally for its significant contributions to both science and community development across Madagascar.