Commonwealth Collaborations: Reflections on a Commonwealth Professional Fellowship at Lancaster University with Dr Felly Mugizi Tusiime

Dr Felly Mugizi Tusiime
Dr Felly Mugizi Tusiime

A Ugandan environmental scientist and farmer who spent six weeks working with Lancaster Environment Centre (LEC) as part of the Commonwealth Professional Fellowship programme said her experience had been hugely unique and stimulating.

Dr Felly Mugizi Tusiime said she won a place on the UK government programme by “writing from the heart” in her application. Initially she had no idea what to write and didn’t know anyone else who had applied to the scheme before.

Commonwealth Professional Fellowships are targeted at mid-career professionals from low- and middle-income countries. They spend a period of time at a UK host organisation, working on a targeted programme of professional development and capacity building designed to equip them to become ‘positive change agents’ in their home organisation.

Felly was one of three successful candidates who joined LEC for six weeks in February and March.

Although she faced challenges in her earlier life, she focused on making the best use of every available opportunity and was able to attract scholarships and study grants throughout her academic journey. She was discouraged from pursuing further studies, career advancement and acquiring property, but she had a strong desire to have land and a place she could call home.

She said: “Many young ladies and women are limiting their potential for fear of cultural and societal norms which result in chronic poverty. Left with limited options, they resort to over exploitation of the available natural resources causing environmental degradation, climate change and associated negative impacts which exacerbates the situation.”

Felly is now the National Project Coordinator (Strengthening the adaptive capacity and resilience of communities in Uganda's watersheds -Awoja Catchment Project) at the Ministry of Water and Environment in Uganda. She is also a farmer growing organic coffee in her home district. Having decided to take a personal sabbatical from her work, the fellowship was “perfect timing” for her.

“I was attracted to Lancaster University because of what it was offering,” she said. “It was very unique and stimulating, and there was an emphasis on supporting local communities. My focus in Uganda is to support job creation, and sustainable entrepreneurship. I’ve got far more out of this than I expected because I thought it was going to be sitting in a class being taken through the theory part, but I’ve got a lot more than theory. I’ve been introduced to the students, I was part of the classroom sessions, and I have seen the students being stimulated, and being prepared to be practical and to solve real life challenges. I love LEC’s model of co-creating with businesses to bring their projects to life. I’ve been able to interact with businesses - sharing experiences and ambitions.”

As well as spending time on the Lancaster University campus and in the city, Felly also went on several visits, including Lancaster Co-Housing, the School of Tropical Medicine and Blackburne House in Liverpool and the School of African and Oriental Studies (SOAS) in London.

“There’s been lots of energy,” she said. “I’ve connected with so many people with potential collaboration with my country in the future. I’ve learned the importance of thinking with a business mindset and coming with tested solutions. What I’m taking home is an approach. I’ve learned so much about effective networking and effective collaboration. Back home, we’re going to plant the trees, but how do I make sure all the investment we’re putting in place is realised? I have the solutions and I have very specific objectives, and this comes to life with collaboration. Know the knowledge, know the solutions you want, but engage with the beneficiaries - the people. At LEC, they’re not looking at the environment alone, they’re looking at it from an entrepreneurial perspective. It’s a business, so it’s saying okay, you can’t stop business from happening, but how do we keep it happening sustainably? You have to let the communities know, by domesticating the science, and making it work for the local community.”

Felly said she found her visit to Blackburne House, a social enterprise in Liverpool particularly insightful and inspiring. The charity, which supports the development of local and often vulnerable women, made her realise it wasn’t just her own country that had social and economic struggles. “When you look at the UK from my country, you get the impression that it’s always us that is suffering, but when you go to a place like that you realise that problems are everywhere. It’s the idea of ‘let us do what we can with what we have’. With so little they’ve managed to do so much.”

Back at Lancaster University, Felly said she made good contacts and potential collaborations beyond LEC with the Pentland Centre and Lancaster Management School around themes of sustainable livelihoods. She said: “Collaboration is key. There’s magic in making sure you’re not going it alone and making sure that everyone is happy with the same vision.

In Uganda, we are culturally patrilineal, so we need to do it in a way that the men don’t feel threatened. Diversity and inclusion are really important. Everybody wins and it makes life easier. If you grow together, life is better together. I believe we can do it and I now feel empowered to do it.”

We will be catching up regularly with each of our Commonwealth Professional Fellows over the next 12 months to mentor and encourage their impact journeys.

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