Having let out my own whoop of delight on reading my email this morning I knew I was not alone – our corridors are a-buzz with the excellent news that Professor John Gaventa has been appointed as Director of Research here at IDS. John is currently Director of the Coady International Institute and Vice President of International Development at StFX University in Canada. He was formerly Chair of Oxfam GB, for which he received an OBE, and is renowned as a leading researcher, educator and practitioner on issues of citizenship and citizen engagement, power and participation, and governance and accountability around the world.
For many years John was at IDS heading up our Participation Team and associated research consortia, which is how I came to know him. He was an inspirational colleague and leader, combining clear-thinking, innovative and wise research with a genuinely participatory and pioneering approach, all of which are deeply rooted in a life of activism and a compelling conviction that it is possible to change the world for the better.
One of the first times I met John, some 17 years ago, was attending a film screening one lunchtime about a community he was involved with in the US. It documented how a group of citizens, mostly poor but living in a resource-rich valley, came together to fight for their rights which were being eroded by a large, powerful and intimidating mining company. In the conversation afterwards John told some hair-raising tales of the activities he and the community undertook together to achieve this. I found the film very inspiring but was also struck by the importance of research and leadership that stems from the personal: from being part of real-life, grounded and sometimes challenging experiences, and from being able to reflect and learn from them.
John’s enthusiasm, thinking and vision has continued to influence and encourage me (and many, many others around the world) over the intervening years. I am so glad he is returning to take up this role at IDS. And I know that someone who, on a rare weekend off, can determinedly walk 100km in under 30 hours to raise money for Oxfam will have the energy to steer IDS research into a bright and exciting future. We all look forward to your return John – see you in January!
Jane Stevens is the Comms Officer for the PPSC Team at IDS.
Read a previous blog piece by Jane Stevens:
- The Quiet Revolution of Participatory Numbers
- Launching Participatory Methods website: From spare room to the world