“Partnerships evolve via shared research, education and development cooperation over time”

March 9, 2022
Niina Käyhkö, Professor of Digital Geospatial Research at the University of Turku and vice-Chair of the UniPID Board

Through the University of Turku’s continuous effort for collaborative internationalization, Käyhkö highlights the evident interconnection between research, education, and societal cooperation, and the value of collaboration building as the foundations for broader development impact.

UniPID’s 20 years of long-term commitment to strengthen Finnish universities’ research, education, and societal cooperation in international development is worth celebrating. The anniversary also gives an opportunity to reflect on some of the embodied elements of long-term academic partnerships.

The International Programme of the University of Turku 2021-2030 was published in 2021 to support the implementation of the Strategy 2030 of the University of Turku (UTU). UTU has rooted its strategy and internationalization on strengthening long-term and goal-oriented partnerships, which promote responsibility and sustainability. UniPID is one of the core networks of UTU in Finland to practice learning and research related to international development.

During the preparation of the International Programme, it became evident how strongly research, education and societal cooperation are interconnected and how important are good partnerships for sustainable, fair, and impactful pathways for development. I am particularly curious of how do these connections with partners in the Global South actually form and what does it take from institutions and individuals to reach the momentum. When can we truly thrive from cooperation?

During the early stages of my career, I came across with an advice from a colleague regarding the appreciation and importance of process over that of an end result. Little did I realize at that moment about the dimensions hidden in this personal guidance given to me by my Tanzanian colleague. We were just starting a new project together and exchanged ideas about its goals, our expectations, and ways of working. Later on, I realized the broader wisdom of this proverb with respect to institutional and personal development, and particularly the impact accelerating from it.

As researchers and as research-led institutions we seek to make development impact in this world with our academic competences. While we eagerly focus on our ambitious goals and speak about these, we gradually come to realize that pathways to these outcomes are largely unknown to us. Only retrospectively, we form an improved understanding of the actions leading towards improved development. Furthermore, we often experience a mismatch between what are our anticipated goals, and what are the means, which would take us there. This is of course a familiar challenge to all of us, who develop competences of people and institutions with a long-term perspective and broader impact in mind.

While universities’ partnerships are often declared through institutional commitments, their true justification and real impact materialize from the hard and durable work of the community members. Partnerships evolve via shared research, education and development cooperation over time. The process is not self-directing, but requires active nurturing of mutual interests over time. When a collaboration process is successful, it acts like a glue. You may not always see and hear it, but it is the true force, which eventually secures broader development impacts from the shared research and education work.

Partnership-bonding process definitely benefits from a mindset, where collective long-term benefits are valued over anyone’s individual short-term desires and outcomes. It also thrives from an attitude, where outcomes are not a property of a single entity, but rather open assets for inclusive access and use by the community members and beyond. When collaboration reaches a critical level of maturity, it starts catalyzing multiple research, education, and development activities under a trusted atmosphere. This leads to broader outcomes and development impacts.

Universities’ innovation space for global international development lies in this community-driven research and education collaboration, which turns into success pathways of societal impact and international development.

Making universities and researchers turn their attention more towards the partnership-making process as a pathway to success is easier said than done amidst of the competitive academic world. Our academic success tends still to be measured primarily by the productivity of academic outputs or project outcomes. Thus, recollecting those wise words of my colleague about the importance of the process over the end result led me to think that perhaps academic excellence for international development could be better practiced, understood, and valued through the lenses of the collaboration building-process: if we truly succeed in partnerships, this automatically leads to improved outcomes and broader development impacts.

This is why we should celebrate UniPID, 20 years of an active community of universities, that develops researchers, students, and the higher education community to continue their efforts to support opportunities for interdisciplinary research and education for global sustainable development.


Niina Käyhkö
Twitter @NiinaKayhko
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