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Scholars participate in Research for Development Impact Conference

Posted: 7 September 2021

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Australia Awards recently supported 23 scholars from South Asia to attend the 2021 Research for Development Impact Conference, which facilitated action-oriented discussions on building a sustainable future for the Pacific and Southeast Asia in the face of current and anticipated disruptions.

The two-day event, organised by the Research for Development Impact Network and the University of Queensland, was hosted in Queensland, Australia, and delivered online on 1–2 July 2021.

The conference—which had the theme ‘Pathways through disruption – the future of sustainable development and recovery in the Pacific and Southeast Asia’—engaged more than 500 delegates globally and showcased many cross-sector presentations from over 100 presenters.

Delegates came from diverse professional backgrounds and included university staff, academics, researchers, postgraduate students, government officials, non-governmental organisation staff and others interested in the development sector. More than 200 Australia Awards recipients from 15 countries attended the conference, with a significant percentage being from South Asia.

Nimrat Singh Brar from India (pictured above) was among the Australia Awards scholars from South Asia who attended the conference. “I particularly learnt about how Australia has put development at the heart of its foreign policy and aligned it with its national interests,” he says. For Nimrat, who is currently pursuing a Master of Mechanical Engineering at Monash University, the best part of the conference was listening to Dr Cameron Hill speaking about Australia’s national interest in research for development impact.

“During the conference, I realised that to overcome global challenges such as climate change and poverty, nations must foster global partnerships and expedite their efforts beyond their regional interests,” Nimrat says.

This year, because the conference was online, Australia Awards participants from widespread locations could engage more broadly. More than 50 different topics were posted on the conference’s discussion boards. The most popular forum was the one with Australia Award scholars, with over 190 messages exchanged.

An international student forum was also held as part of the conference. It allowed students to hear from speakers, participate in workshops, and learn about research and initiatives on sustainable development in the Pacific and Southeast Asia. Scholar Gayatri Pande from India presented at a forum session titled ‘Developing pathways for sustainable development through localised action’.

“Personally, for me it was an academic milestone,” Gayatri says, referring to the fact that it was the first conference she had ever attended. “I had an opportunity to experience firsthand how researchers present their papers.” Her presentation was praised by her peers and the feedback she received was important for her. She said that it helped her to “better understand research practices” and to make improvements to her own research.

Australia Awards scholar Gayatri Pande

Gayatri also shared that the conference placed a lot of emphasis on women’s rights and brought forth perspectives of civil society leaders from the Pacific. “Growing up in India, I did not have much exposure to the Asia-Pacific region,” she says. Gayatri believes that she has been able to gain valuable insights into the issues and opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region because of the conference and through her Australia Awards experience.

“These connections will help me remain connected to the research activities that are ongoing in the Indo-Pacific, and in the future can be opportunities for research collaboration,” she says.

Although the conference was completely online, a few of the co-presenters from Gayatri’s session were based in Canberra, where she currently lives. Gayatri used this opportunity to interact with some of them in person and to build connections with them. She also connected with some co-presenters via channels such as LinkedIn. This has enabled her to keep further discussing the progress of her research with experts.

The conference’s final day showcased 19 sessions and gave participants the opportunity to hear from leaders from the Pacific, Australia and Southeast Asia. Highlights of the day included a keynote address from Peter Varghese AO, Chancellor of the University of Queensland, and a pre-recorded introduction from Julia Gillard AC, former Prime Minister of Australia.

Image on top: Australia Awards scholar Nimrat Singh Brar