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“When the pain of staying the same will be more than the fear of change”

“Aboriginal women are eight times more likely to be killed than non-aboriginal women,” said Dr Dawn Harvard, Interim President, Native Women’s Association of Canada speaking at the Community University Exposition Conference (CUExpo), one of the biggest conferences in the world on the theme of community engagement and community based research. (This year’s CUExpo was held in Ottawa, Canada from 25 May to 29 May 2015, titled, Citizen Solutions for a Better World.) She went on to speak about the issue of missing and murdered aboriginal women in Canada.

Dr Harvard’s message emphasising the need to focus on communities which are indigenous, marginalised or suppressed strikes a chord and resonates with the work done by PRIA to build engagement of marginalised communities to take control of their own development. Her message to ‘involve the communities, engage with them, hand in hand’ also touches the core of community based research, a concept being promoted by the UNESCO Chair on Community Based Research  and Social Responsibility in Higher Education. (Dr Rajesh Tandon, President of PRIA is Co-Chair along with Dr Budd Hall at the University of Victoria.) http://unescochair-cbrsr.org/unesco/

Questions on impact, quality, policy influence, training, and the de-colonisation of knowledge are some of the important issues discussed and deliberated upon in CUExpo. CUExpo also highlights various voices focused on research on mobilising people and knowledge through community based practices. For example, conversations on knowledge and community involvement can be stimulated creatively by the use of theatre as a community mobilisation tool. CUExpo is quite remarkable for the kinds of questions it poses on the way information is delivered; the issues it raises on how such information and services can sideline communities; the quality of community engagement currently being undertaken by universities and its implications on public life; and how to challenge the status-quo.

Citizens themselves have the power to change the course of their destiny and make the world a better place, through meaningful and well-directed actions. Bouncing off the idea of communities creating positive change, Michelle Gauthier, vice-president of Imagine Canada, challenges us to re-think the impact charities could have if they thought of themselves as a collective rather than individuals. It’s something that makes sense to Abra Brynne, who works at Food Secure Canada in British Columbia. “There’s still an assumption that the language of academia conveys a superior knowledge to the language of the community,” says Brynne, adding that stronger connections still need to be built between universities and community organisations. Community based research brings the community and the university closer, in which both learn from each other and all knowledge is valued equally.

Want to know more about community based research and how your university can create meaningful partnerships with communities? Read  ‘Mainstreaming Community University Research Partnerships: Global Perspectives’, edited by Dr Budd Hall, Dr Rajesh Tandon and Dr Crystal Tremblay.

Free download available at  http://unescochair-cbrsr.org/unesco/resources/

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