Writer: Blair Fannin, 979-845-2259, firstname.lastname@example.org
COLLEGE STATION – Drawing on its vast research expertise and pool of students eager to study and develop problem-solving solutions, Texas A&M University was recently selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development to partner in its new Higher Education Solutions Network designed to develop innovative solutions to global development challenges.
Dr. Edwin Price, the Howard G. Buffett Foundation Chair on Conflict and Development and center director, officially unveiled the proposed center, pending Texas A&M University System Board of Regents approval, at a reception Jan. 24 at the George Bush Presidential Library and Museum in College Station.
The proposed center, part of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Texas A&M, is charged with defining and solving key problems in the areas of global health, food security and chronic conflict.
“There were nearly 500 applications (during the grant process) and it was a highly competitive process,” Price told attendees. “We are extremely pleased to have been selected.”
The Texas A&M Conflict and Development Center is a partnership among the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the Bush School of Government and Public Service and the School of Rural Public Health in the Texas A&M Health Science Center.
Dr. Kim Dooley, associate dean for academic operations, told reception attendees, “This center fits well with our college’s grand challenges – enriching youth, feeding the world, improving health, protecting the environment, and growing our economy. It is fitting to launch this project as we also celebrate the 150th anniversary of the land grant university concept where institutions like Texas A&M bring their expertise to bear on society’s problems, whether they be local or global.”
Larry Garber, USAID deputy assistant administrator, said the agency is looking to gain valuable resources from its partnerships with universities. He said previously USAID solicited research specific projects from universities, but now the focus is “open source solution” instead of solicitation.
“We wanted people to come up with creative ideas and work with us,” Garber said during a lecture at Texas A&M. “We want to engage with university communities to collaborate on working with analytic gaps.”
Garber said the agency is not only looking for expertise in a specific discipline, but “mobilizing multi-disciplinary folks and students as we all have a role to play.”
Price said early on he and faculty members were inspired in their work by the support and encouragement given by former Texas A&M President Robert Gates.
“As Landon Lecturer at Kansas State University in 2007 when he was Secretary of Defense, Dr. Gates said that ‘one of the lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that military success is not sufficient to win,’” Price said. “Gates said economic development, institution building and the rule of law, providing basic services to the people, training and equipping indigenous military and police forces were important factors as well.”
Price added that Gates said these, along with security, “are essential ingredients for long-term success.”
Garber said during the Bush Library reception event launching the USAID-funded center, 57 percent of current USAID funding is going to countries in conflict. He said even success stories among developing nations such as Mali have recently been set back by violent conflict.
Price said scholars and practitioners in economic development “have come to recognize that poverty, technology, conflict and development assistance are closely related.”
“Until recently, it was not well understood that development assistance needed to be ‘conflict sensitive,’” Price said. “Our goal is to assist the U.S. Agency for International Development to improve policies and programs so as to help countries to avoid conflict, to help families and communities survive conflict, and to support rapid recovery from conflict.”
Price said the end result of the center’s work is expected to be a reduction in conflict and improved lives for people affected by conflict.
“Over the next three months we will finalize our plans with USAID which is expected to include field labs in several developing countries as well as strong research and education programs among faculty and students at Texas A&M,” he said. “USAID encourages us to involve students as much as possible. The academic components are expected to include new courses, a Conflict and Development Academy, a certificate program, graduate research assistantships, post-doctoral fellowships and faculty research grants.”
Though the proposed center is a partnership of specific Texas A&M System entities, faculty from other units throughout the university are likely to be involved, for example from the liberal arts and geography.
In addition to working closely with Texas A&M colleges and international universities, the proposed Center on Conflict and Development will also work with nonprofits and the private sector.