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Published: 02 Jun, 2021

Hundreds gather for a sustainable future in developing countries

NEWS How can development research contribute to a sustainable world? This is the key question for the online research conference DevRes2021 to be held on 14–16 June, gathering hundreds of stakeholders. This year, Umeå University will host the conference together with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and Formas.

Text: Johanna Fredriksson

The theme for this year’s conference is Advancing Sustainable Transformation and will cover 50 sessions and panels for three days in mid-June. Hundreds of researchers, funding bodies, decision-makers and other stakeholders from all over the world will participate. The purpose is to create a place to meet to discuss how development research can contribute to a transformation for sustainability in low-resource settings.

DevRes – Development Research – is organised by the Swedish Research Council, the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency and Formas. Since 2016, the Swedish Research Council has invited a Swedish higher education institution to host the conference each time. This year, Umeå University will host the event together with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences. 

The relevance of the overall theme and the overall questions has grown stronger during the pandemic.

The conference should have taken place in 2020, but due to COVID-19, it was postponed for one year. The situation around the world has made the theme yet more pressing. 

“The relevance of the overall theme and the overall questions – how we are linked and how we are dependent on each other – has grown stronger during the pandemic,” says Professor Anna-Karin Hurtig, Head of the Department of Epidemiology and Global Health and chairperson of the DevRes2021 conference steering committee.
The steering committee consists of just over ten researchers from various faculties at Umeå University and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

How can Umeå University contribute to this theme?

“We are a comprehensive university, which helps us to enable creative cross-disciplinary discussions. We have researchers with huge experience and long-term collaborations across the world, and young researchers with curiosity and interest, and this forms a good basis for this work,” says Anna-Karin Hurtig, who also thinks that research on sustainability is fundamental for a university to be relevant today.

Which of the 17 sustainable development goals of the 2030 Agenda does the conference cover?

“All of them. The conference is wide-spanning – like an umbrella mirroring the time and challenges we face now and what lies ahead.”

Arena for younger researchers

Not only the theme is wide-spanning and comprehensive, the organisers are also eager to strive for a wide mix of speakers and moderators.

“We wish to emphasise that this is a conference in which young researchers have a given place, and in which local experiences are highlighted together with work from international organisations or well-known universities. These meetings often bring with them interesting dimensions that can inspire, challenge or lead to new solutions or collaborations.”

Conferences such as DevRes are a great forum to share new knowledge, discuss strategies and meet other colleagues and future collaborators.

One of the more junior participants is Natxo García López, doctoral student at the Department of Applied Physics and Electronics at Umeå University. His research revolves around sustainable bioenergy systems in low-resource settings focusing on cooking and heating. Before he took on doctoral studies in Umeå, he worked for various research institutes in Kenya. 

“Our society is facing enormous challenges related to poverty, inequality, and climate change among others, all targeted by the 2030 Agenda. To overcome the named challenges, we need to develop and implement solutions and mitigation strategies that require strong and broad collaborations both among different actors within the development sector but also among researchers from different disciplines within the development research sector. In this context, conferences such as DevRes are a great forum to share new knowledge, discuss strategies and meet other colleagues and future collaborators,” says Natxo García López.

Among the established speakers is Ellinor Ädelroth, Professor Emerita at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at Umeå University. She is one of the keynote speakers and she will contribute from Congo, where she works at the Panzi Hospital treating women and children who are victims of sexual abuse. Ellinor Ädelroth works closely with chief physician Denis Mukwege, 2018 Nobel Peace Prize winner and honorary doctor of Umeå University. 

“I’ll be talking about why progress and development, and as well as much of the research conducted, cannot take place without peace and justice. Take a look at the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example,” says Ellinor Ädelroth. 

“I’ll be talking about why progress and development, and as well as much of the research conducted, cannot take place without peace and justice.

In her mind, the link to Sweden has had a great impact on the work with women and children in Congo.

“Not least by appointing Dr. Mukwege honorary doctor of Umeå University in 2010. Umeå University was actually the first university that recognised his work in this field,” she says. 

Due to the pandemic, DevRes is being organised online this year – something that has both benefits and disadvantages. One of the pros is that the online version opens up for more participants to take part, such as young researchers, or others who may otherwise not have had the chance too joining, or those who are just interested in these issues.

How to continue

Besides creating a place to meet for stakeholders, the organisers are also expecting the conference to be a forum for evaluating what has been achieved so far in development research, how to move forward and survey the needs and challenges that Sweden as a platform has in this field, both in terms of research and politics. 

“From a global perspective too: what do we need to consider when it comes to research for sustainable development and what role does Sweden have,” says Anna-Karin Hurtig.

Facts about the conference

DevRes stands for Development Research
The theme for this year’s conference is Advancing Sustainable Transformation

Date of event: 14–16 June
Held online at Zoom.

30 countries are represented in the 50 sessions and panels. More countries may be added among the participants. 

Registration is open. In previous years, 300–400 participants have taken part. 

The conference has been organised every other year since 2016.
Organising parties are the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency, the Swedish Research Council and Formas.

Each time, a Swedish higher education institution hosts the conference. This year, Umeå University will host the conference, together with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences.

Find the event here. 

Learn more here.