ESPA leads the way in capacity building

Rina Mandimbiniaina Rabemorasata
April 22, 2016

Researcher Rina Mandimbiniaina attended our recent Summer School in New Lanark, Scotland. Here she tells us why, in her own words, ESPA gets it right when it comes to capacity building.

Madagascar has been a popular place to conduct high-level international research, especially about conservation, with most of it being led by foreign researchers. I’m always disappointed because they know more about our country than we do!

However, we don’t have access to their results (papers or books) because they are either very expensive or inaccessible in Madagascar. They also only use research recognised internationally rather than bringing a real impact on the ground, in country. In this process, local researchers are simply collecting data according to the research design and protocol already established. And we usually get very short training before going to the field. In such context, I would say that we are more translators rather than researchers – and this happens even when we have the same qualification as the foreign researcher.

It’s not like that with ESPA. I really like how they break this traditional way of conducting research, and they think about the impact of research on the ground. They not only look at tangible results which can be applied to improve local livelihoods and influence local policy, but also help local researchers build their research capacities.

I have been with P4ges project since 2013 and have been getting great experiences. When I look back at my progression during these two years, I’m really proud of myself and my project  because  it  has helped me to grow as a socio-economic researcher. I come from a different background, geography and tourism, which is not an ideal fit with my current position as a socio-economic researcher. And of course, it is my first time working with English as the primary language of communication in the project. As my fourth language after Malagasy, French and Spanish, I thought it would be very difficult for me. However, my supervisor (Mahesh Poudyal) reassured me and said that they were seeking a researcher who is willing to learn and be involved in all research process, and not just be a field assistant.

I’ve had a lot of opportunities to get training locally and internationally. For example, in the socio-economic team, I got trained about conducting socio-economic research with specific topics such as ethics, research tools and methods, choice experiment, household survey, and ecosystem services.

Internationally, ESPA give me opportunities to attend the ESPA social research event in 2014 in London. I was amazed to see the ESPA project teams from all around the word gather in London and share their experiences with each other. From our project, I represented the local researchers from Madagascar. It was challenging because it was my first time attending such a big event. I was presenting on the topic of conducting socio-economic surveys in remote areas, which was very well-received.

I also recently attended the ESPA Summer School in New Lanark. It was an inspiring course with different perspectives, and I’ve learned a lot from it. For example, I get to know about implementing PES in pro-poor countries through the presentation given by Dr Nigel Asquith, Director of Policy Fundacion Natura Bolivia. It was a concrete case, but could be applied in different countries and adapted according to the local context.

There was deep discussions about the research impacts of many other interesting topics. I had the opportunity to meet people who are working in various fields and from different countries. It was amazing to see the interactions between us during these four days. And of course, I enjoyed visiting the New Lanark site.

I’m currently spending one more month at Bangor University, to start on data analysis and literature reviews while preparing for the upcoming community engagement exercise in Madagascar. It is an exciting experience and busy month, but I’m so keen to learn more from all P4ges team based here, and I’m very thankful to P4ges and ESPA for supporting me. 

All the local researchers have been actively involved from the beginning of this project: research design, field works, data management, writing papers….all of these experiences have been just amazing for me.

From the research skills and experience I have gained from P4ges and ESPA, I believe that I can pursue my career in research with confidence. I can also say that the exchange of knowledge and skills between northern and southern researchers has made this a successful project.

This kind of experience reflects perfectly the impact an ESPA project can have on capacity building for local researchers. I really hope international funders of research will take the initiative and follow ESPA’s lead to build the capacity of researchers from developing countries as one of their key targets.