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The Daily Tar Heel

New research center aims to address global social issues

The Global Social Development Innovations celebrated the launch of its brand new research center with proper fanfare: a symposium featuring globally renowned experts in their fields. GSDI was officially launched during a welcome dinner Oct. 11, followed by two separate symposiums Oct. 12 and Oct. 13. The event was open to the public, representing the center’s commitment to making research accessible to everyone. 

GSDI fulfills the University’s role as a global research institution and aims to address global social issues by engaging in interdisciplinary research. Gina Chowa, who serves as the director for GSDI, has witnessed the project come to life. In 2015, she received permission to begin planning the center, and construction started the following year. Now that the center is built, Chowa has a platform to partner with other researchers in North Carolina, in the United States and around the world.

“The chancellor says that this University is for the public by the public,” Chowa said. “So our center is exactly that. But, for us to be a global University, we have to be thinking about the word ‘global,’ because what happens in North Carolina does not end at the borders of North Carolina.”

One key feature the center offers is a public data hub with compiled research from GSDI. Chowa said students can use this as a resource or become involved with the center as research assistants and associates.

“Part of our mission is to train the next generation of scholars,” said Chowa. “Apart from just saying that, we consider ourselves as a lab. Students watch us as we work so that they can do it in a way that is culturally competent.”

The center currently collaborates with eight countries outside of the United States. GSDI values the input of local stakeholders in developing countries who have seen the first-hand effects of inequities and conflicts. David Ansong is a faculty fellow of GSDI and has been able to use his experiences to enhance his global perspective. His research, focusing on educational and economic disparities among youth, has given him an appreciation for the mission of GSDI.

“In Ghana, I saw firsthand very smart kids who couldn’t make it,” said Ansong. “And the main reason was because of economic insecurities, so families couldn’t afford an education. Even though school was free, there were still some fees that they had to pay.”

This situation is one of the examples of social inequities that still exist around the world. As GSDI’s lead researcher for health and social protection cores, Rainier Masa recognizes issues such as food insecurity to be major areas of concern in the world. Despite their different areas of expertise, Masa and Ansong are both studying issues that affect populations around the globe on a social level.

During the symposium, Masa notes that a common theme throughout the event was the importance of social work in the context of the global community. 

“I enjoyed the lecture given by keynote speaker Michael Sherraden during the launch dinner because it helped me to realize that a lot of the things we’re doing are social in nature,” Masa said. “The human interaction and relationships are essential to impacting change and that’s why it resonates to me because (at GSDI) we value human relationships.”

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