Partner Blog

The power of multi-disciplinary learning to accelerate change and drive impact

SARA’s Gender Transformative Group shares their reflection on being part of the academy. Join the SARA Knowledge Exchange in Stellenbosch from 10-12 July.

Written by: Karl Deering, Caitlin Shannon, Chikondi Chabvuta, and Patience Mgoli-Mwale
GRP Areas of work: Knowledge Theme: Gender, youth and marginalized groups

Multi-disciplinary and inter-sectoral collaboration are appealing buzz terms in humanitarian, development and conservation circles and there is constant expectation around ‘breaking down silos’ and ‘driving nexus action’. Easier said than done given governmental mandates, power dynamics, donor interests – and more. What seems to be an obvious, but often-missed opportunity, is steering integration and fostering multi-disciplinarity through research and learning. By creating collaborative spaces to share learning and knowledge, reflect on challenges and co-create solutions, humanitarian, development, and conservation actors could make more progress more quickly. This solution may seem obvious, but what does it look like and what does it take in practice?

Participating in the Southern Africa Resilience Academy

Four staff from CARE participated in the last of three research lab workshops of the Southern Africa Resilience Academy (SARA), an initiative supported by the Global Resilience Partnership (GRP) and hosted by the University of Stellenbosch. SARA brought together eight groups of specialists (academics and practitioners) from Southern Africa and beyond representing the spheres of ecology, climate change, food security, urban planning, social protection, education, health, gender and social inclusion, justice and rights and conservation to explore challenges and propose solutions under the rubric of ‘resilience and equity’. The question before us: How do we build resilience for people and nature in an equitable and just manner?

The University of Stellenbosch coordinated and convened three workshops in Southern Africa. Development of both academic (peer-reviewed articles) and non-academic products was coordinated across groups and shepherded by staff at the University of Stellenbosch in collaboration with a science communication partner. While modest in size, the investment will surely pay great dividends, including because of its focus on generating and disseminating academic and non-academic products.

Working together and challenging assumptions

Deliberations and evidence presented have been both fascinating and inspiring. Smaller groups focus on specific themes but in the context of wider peer group scrutiny and support. CARE has led the Gender Transformative Group, which brings a diverse mix of academic, practice, policy, and civil society participation. We have come with our experiences and our perspectives – personal and professional – alongside the evidence and testimony we have been synthesizing over the past year and a half. Our peers in other groups, advancing research related to urban food systems and conservation among other areas, constructively challenged our assumptions, our methodology, and our conclusions. And we did likewise for them, specifically elevating the fundamental need to integrate gender equality approaches in theories of change and solutions to problems long grappled in these spaces. 

Deliberations and evidence presented have been both fascinating and inspiring.

The result has been an enriched and accelerated learning experience for all groups—a changing of mindsets, if you will. We are in the process of publishing academic, policy and practice materials – addressing social, ecological, economic, and political dynamics in our subject matter and we are excited that we are making a tangible contribution to interdisciplinary and inter-sectoral problem solving. We have shared and learned on topics as diverse as good governance and social accountability, behavioral change, localization, environmental integrity, climate information, safety nets and social capital and food and water systems. Most of all, we are proud that our focus on gender equality has infused both the scholarship and the action of such a diverse group across the Southern Africa region. The need for investment in and conscious and intentional commitment to gender transformative approaches to address inequity, exclusion and injustice within resilience approaches has been resoundingly absorbed. 

The result has been an enriched and accelerated learning experience for all groups—a changing of mindsets

A commitment to a more gender equal and just world

Our research and learning process has shown both the importance of integrating gender into resilience and climate justice programming. The process of synthesis and reflection at different levels (interviewing women and men in our programmes, unpacking our programme evidence in the region, and receiving peer feedback) has made it abundantly clear that the mutually reinforcing benefits of gender equality and climate change adaptation approaches in resilience building are seldom intentionally integrated. This raises the question of how we practically and effectively deliver on this. Part of the answer is stronger and more effective collaboration and partnership, ensuring that we are more intentional in our integration. 

Investment in this kind of multi-disciplinary learning creates space for collaboration and partnership, and for strengthening capacities on the research-learning-practice spectrum. While we have gone some way to breaking silos, the end of our SARA participation marks the beginning of another journey. Into the future, we look to create similar opportunities both within CARE and among other diverse organisations to further accelerate learning as we continue in our commitment to a more gender equal and just world. 

SARA Knowledge Exchange, 10-12 July

SARA is hosting a Knowledge Exchange event from 10-12 July in Stellenbosch, South Africa. A new round of SARA is currently being planned for 2025-2027. This event will offer opportunities to connect with others interested in becoming involved in the next round of working groups, working to synthesise knowledge under a common theme. 

Learn more at:

Registration is open from 10 June to 1 July.