Catalyzing Global Development through Higher Education Engagement


Research universities are often viewed as engines for economic development, touting impacts related to start-ups, tech transfer and regional labor markets. This identity, when viewed within the knowledge economy paradigm, positions universities and colleges as critical assets and catalysts for regional growth and vibrancy.

But similar expectations could hold within the space of global development. Clearly, universities and colleges offer resources and expertise that map to virtually every area of community need and challenge. Our institutions and faculty boast relationships with organizations and regions literally all around the world. And perhaps most importantly, our students are increasingly demanding high-touch learning experiences that connect them with real-world challenges, helping them to develop skills and competencies that are prized and rewarded by employers and gate keepers.

And our global partners are equally poised to engage. Even in the most underdeveloped countries and regions, colleges and universities sit ready to actualize their latent potential, holding riches in the form of technology and expertise, and connecting with community partners and leaders who share similar goals and commitments. And almost universally, these institutions are viewed as capacity builders within their larger systems, and are held responsible for developing the infrastructure and expertise needed to address the pervasive economic and social challenges that undermine long-term success and prosperity.

So what stops us from tapping into the potential of global engagement with both sides so ready and willing? As someone who has studied and tinkered in this domain for almost 15 years, I can assure you that the challenges are more complex than we might think. In addition to a growing aversion to anything deemed outside one’s core mission or strategic priorities, the very engagement models that we continue to pursue are structurally limited in their ability to catalyze impacts of the magnitude or nature that we so desperately need.

You see, higher education approaches partnerships in a way that is highly localized and self-directed. As we pursue specific grants or cultivate courses or target initiatives, we have well-defined goals and objectives that serve as the drivers of our engagement. Because our aims are inherently localized and specific, their reach, by design, is inherently limited. That is, even if our efforts are wildly successful, because of their localized focus and points of connection to the surrounding communities, they are restricted in their ability to catalyze broad and lasting impacts. And this localization in turn makes them inherently fragile and vulnerable, and highly dependent on the specific players and context that supports and nourishes them.

With that said, this doesn’t have to be the case. In fact, global partnerships (or really any partnerships) can be designed to be highly sustainable and expansive in their impacts. In fact, we can transform partnerships- perhaps not all, but surely the particularly strong and robust ones- to serve as catalysts for community development and impacts. We simply need to create models that have these features structurally integrated- think of them as parameters and inputs that are designed into their very architecture. And of course we need to nurture and support them, building out networks and related expertise- just as we do for any area of focus that is deemed both important and complex.

This notion of catalytic global engagement is what drives my own work and lays the foundation of our new Global Partner Studio initiative that I look forward to introducing in the months ahead. I can’t tell you how excited I am to share this work and invite your collective participation in its continued build-out. I believe that it is truly a focus worthy of our best investment and innovation. And I can’t wait to see what we accomplish as we create engagement systems that are inherently generative and catalytic, by design.


Marketing Menstrual Maintenance in the Mara Region


It’s been just over a week since our return from Tanzania and I’m still working to process all that transpired.

We had no idea that sanitary pads would feature so prominently in this trip or represent such a galvanizing focus for social entrepreneurship. Both Danielle and Lyndsey had researched this topic as part of their ELN independent studies and were well aware of the connections with girls’ education and public health.

But seeing Danielle working on the reusable pad project was an emotional experience for all of us. The idea had come from her final study abroad project and when she discovered Dare Women’s Foundation’s model via an internet search, they had offered to train our partners in Musoma. Danielle quickly raised the funds needed to support Stephen Marwa’s (Executive Director of Hope Revival Children’s Foundation) travel to Arusha. And here we were, returning just one year later with sewing materials, ready to support the start-up of a Musoma-based reusable sanitary pad project.

Danielle sewing

To our surprise, the very next day Stephen delivered the first batch of reusable pads (see featured photo) and I was proud to be the second customer -Danielle being the first. Stephen explained that after the pads are certified by the Ministry, they will be manufactured and sold. Proceeds will sustain the sewing project while also supporting school-aged girls unable to afford appropriate menstrual supplies.

I was so pleased with the pads that I carried the prototype with me as we visited leaders and organizations throughout the area.When we were introduced to the Anglican Bishop of Musoma, Dr. George Okoth, he was so impressed with the project and our interest in menstrual management that he asked us to visit a Safe House in Mugumu Serengeti where village girls fled go to escape Female Genital Mutilation (FGM). He explained that they had acquired a disposable pad machine that was sitting in storage, without any institutional knowledge about how to operate or fix it. Although Muguma was a clear departure from our itinerary we were all eager to accept the invitation. With a recent Engineering grad (Mathew Falcone), our own Macgyver Librarian (Cindi Tysick), and resident pad experts (Danielle and Lyndsey), how could we pass up the challenge?

Our 2+ hour drive to Muguma was both fascinating and bumpy. We winded our way around the massive Acacia gold mine as we tried to anticipate what lay ahead. When we arrived at the Mugumu Safe House we received a brief tour of the facility while learning about the daunting challenges facing the girls. And then Melina (Director) showed us the pad machine.


It was sitting in a a storage closet draped in plastic, obviously never touched or utilized. We all stood and stared at the impressive contraption, trying to comprehend what we were seeing. Then Lyndsey yelled, “It’s from the Pad Man!” We knew this to be a movie that our UB School of Management colleague, Debbie Grossman, who had visited Tanzania with us the last year had urged us all to see- but we hadn’t had had time. Within seconds the girls were texting Debbie and miraculously even though it was the crack of dawn in Buffalo, she immediately replied, confirming that the machine was indeed the same type and make of Indian apparatus featured in the movie.



And then they were off- a quick assessment (with the help of YouTube) revealed that nothing was wrong with the machine. There was simply no Tanzanian adapter for the Indian power cord. Dan quickly surrendered his travel converter and the machine immediately purred into action. Between Cindi and Matthew the first prototype was produced in minutes and once the girls got the hang of it, the Muguma Disposable Pad Project was born before our very eyes.

But our biggest joy came as Melina recognized what she had just stumbled upon. Suddenly, her prospects for supporting and stewarding the Safe House and its girls were much more promising.


How to celebrate the promise of girls’ empowerment in the Mara Region?  Early in our trip we were treated to unforgettable dancing and poetry by the new “Musoma Action, Girls Empowerment” group led by partner and friend Monica Achieng. These beautiful girls were gathering to celebrate their solidarity and share inspiring messages about education, self-empowerment and women’s health.


As we reflect on the beauty and vibrancy of the young women we met throughout the trip and the promise of their collective futures we can’t help thinking about menstrual management and girls’ empowerment in a new way. Clearly, there is much to celebrate and infinite opportunities to learn, share and collaborate around this important topic.

Hope Revival Website

Musoma Action Girls Empowerment Website