By Mareike Schomerus, Vice President, Busara Center & Research Director, SLRC
Like many good stories, this one starts with a flashback.
the people of southern Sudan vote for independence from Sudan in a referendum; Sudan accepts the outcome. Tunisia’s president Ben Ali goes into exile after protests in his country had started what would come to be known as the Arab Spring. In Egypt’s major cities, people take to the streets to demonstrate against the government; gatherings are soon violently cracked down. International development talk is about statebuilding, peacebuilding and how to use evidence for policies meant to address complex issues in very challenging circumstances.
And an international group of people got to work on answering some urgent and pressing questions.
An urgent question: what should this new research consortium on the experience of people who live with and have lived through violent conflict be called?
The pressing questions: how much does the international development sector really know about how people in and after violent conflict make a living, access services and negotiate the authorities that govern their lives? How well do current policies support people? Are existing assumptions of development programmes correct?
The urgent question was answered swiftly: the new research consortium was named the Secure Livelihoods Research Consortium (SLRC).
The pressing questions? Well, they kept SLRC busy for the decade that was to come. And after ten years of work, you can find many insights and answers in the numerous SLRC publications on securelivelihoods.org.
SLRC now also knows a lot more about the questions we need to continue asking—concerning the relationship between international development policies, people’s lives in very difficult situations, how change and improvement is imagined, as well as how we can never stop learning.
This questioning spirit will be one of the legacies of the SLRC, as it closes its doors today, on March 31, 2021.
SLRC lasted longer than expected: few research programmes get extended as generously as we did. Our donors—first and foremost DFID/ FCDO, Irish Aid and the European Commission—maintained their support for this particular pursuit of knowledge, possibly recognising that the many hands and minds that made up the SLRC continued to influence the international development discourse in profound ways.
SLRC research will live on as public goods: on our website, where we list all our publications. In the quantitative data set that we produced—a valuable resource in which respondents from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Uganda share profound insights into their lives across several survey rounds spanning almost a decade. I hope the data will continue to keep many more researchers busy in the years to come.
A research consortium of this length, breadth and depth does more than just generating new knowledge. It allows many voices to be heard, many researchers to grow, and offers many challenges to be grappled with. Having taken over from Rachel Slater as Research Director in 2017, I could not have imagined how much I was going to learn about both the delightful and the trialling aspects of supporting research that was seeking to be rigorous, insightful, nuanced, inclusive, multi-faceted, honest and usable by decision-makers. It has been exhilarating, tough, and humbling. My main sentiment is, however, thankfulness to the people who answered, the people who did the work, the people who listened and questioned.
In March 2021, after a rough pandemic year, so many new questions have emerged about livelihoods, violent conflict and why and when people trust their governments.
SLRC might sign off today. But the need to understand the complex influences that make people’s lives challenging, and the unfairness and inequality that contributes to such challenges, continues to be pressing.
Thus, like many good stories that purposefully avoid leaving their readers relaxed with neat narrative closures, this one also ends before everything is resolved.