Queen Margaret University

Queen Margaret University is connected to Malawi through its institute for Global Health and Development (IGHD), a multi-disciplinary centre for research and postgraduate education, addressing contemporary health and development challenges in low and middle income countries.  In addition, QMU is in partnership with the Malawian NGO, STEKA, nd the QMU based Scottish charity STEKAskills. Through this QMU has successfully offered scholarships to two STEKA residents on 6 month filmmaking courses, a 4.5 year scholarship to a young resident currently studying a BA (Hons) in Public Sociology, and a further 100 students have benefited through the STEKA projects.


Project 1: The Dialogue Project

Empowering young people, reducing donor dependency, reframing voluntourism, creating global understanding of the SDGs, providing quality work for young Malawians, challenging ‘white saviourism’.


Area of work: Education, Sustainable Development
Location of work:
Blantyre & surrounding districts

Project lead:
Emma Wood
Contact details:

Partner organisation: STEKA (Step Kids Awareness)
Contact details:

STEKAskills received a feasibility study small grant from the Scottish Government
More information:

Description of project

Our project, currently named The Unmunthu Dialogues, aims to co-produce a new model of voluntourism which empowers young Malawians to inspire their Scottish peers to communicate in solidarity to meet the UN’s vision for achieving the SDGs.

The UN states that voluntourism is a ‘powerful means’ of achieving the SDGs, but current models typically involve young people from the Global North going as volunteer-tourists to Global-South countries doing work which young people there could be paid for (building/ painting/ digging). Evidence shows this can disenfranchise local people, denying them agency. Our action research aims to co-produce an alternative approach with ‘beneficiaries’ of voluntourism, who have been denied a voice in determining how the practice can ‘help’ them. Young Malawian residents of a children’s home are working with a multidisciplinary team of academics and visionary Malawian activists to reinvent the voluntourism experience in a way which empowers them, reduces their donor dependency, provides them with high quality employment, generates sustainable income from visiting school groups and gives visiting Scottish pupils a deep understanding of global citizenship and ways to communicate in solidarity to bring about changes needed to achieve the SDGs.

The Dialogue Groups are run by young care experienced Malawians who have a range of diverse insights into live in Malawi. They tell stories they have chosen which relate to a number of SDGs in particular gender equality, climate change, poverty, education and the right to quality work and economic growth. They then facilitate critical analysis of the stories and topics with the young Scots. No ‘adults’ can take part or hear what’s discussed so the young people don’t need to perform in prescribed way as ‘learner’ or deliver the ‘right’ answers – they create new knowledge. Diversity means a range of different stories is shared and the ‘brave space’ enables them to be interrogated and interpreted from multiple perspectives.

Instead of giving donations, the Scottish school pupils pay to participate in these high quality Dialogue Groups (run by the young Malawians). The approach is based on Friere’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, aimed at empowering young people to challenge social norms and critically analyse the way they communicate, and could communicate for change. The Dialogue Groups run by young Malawians for Young Scots challenge the aid framed view of travelling to poor countries to ‘make a difference’ sometimes known as ‘white saviour trips’ and, in particular, the use of selfies and photographs which disempower Malawians.

Profit from the Dialogue Groups will be used to sustain a STEKA Centre for Vocational Skills and Community Enterprise.

Key successes and outcomes so far

We have completed a feasibility study, so we know that the approach can work successfully. We now need to continue to develop the approach so that it can be scaled up and run on a commercial basis.

If funding was available, we would also like to further develop a ‘selfless selfie’ photoelicitation approach to co-creating content to be shared with wide audiences on social media and in real life. This would enable young visitors to Malawi to communicate what they learn through dialogue with each other in a way designed to bring about the change in attitudes and behaviours needed to meet the SDG challenges.

We have modelled the critical dialogue approach and used it to test the way in which it empowers the young people and have collected evidence indicating how it works, showing that young Scots are experiencing a transformation in the way they view Malawians and their trip to Malawi (and the Malawians, a transformation in the way they view some of their own cultural practices and values). They can all identify what they learn in relation to the SDGs, and also about resilience and solidarity and some of the ways they can engage in bringing about positive change.

The key here is that new knowledge is created through the dialogues. For example, in addition to the more obvious learning points, the Scots reflect on social isolation in Scotland in relation to community in Malawi, the importance of legislation being in place and enacted, inequality as the cause of poverty and so on.

Future and ideas for partnership development

We would like to collaborate with partner organisations interested in allowing young people to visit and hear about the work they are doing in Malawi (especially if it’s SDG related) . This could just be the group of young Malawians who could then share their insight with their visitors, or it could be visits from the young Malawians accompanying visiting Scottish school pupils to operate as citizen journalists (and not take inappropriate photographs or position themselves as the centre of the narrative).

Alternatively, our Dialogue Team could train other Malawians to facilitate respectful visits from Global North visitors.

Project 2: Localised Evidence and Decision-making (LEAD)

Improving evidence use and usefulness for local decision-making in public health programmes.

University of Dundee image 2

Area of work: Public Health
Location of work:
Across Malawi

Project lead:
Georgina Pearson
Contact details:

Funding: Bloomsbury set
More information:

Description of project

In sub-Saharan Africa, local public health practitioners are part of a larger global health system, wherein they implement disease-specific, global health interventions. While these are largely financed by external agents through development assistance, the information and evidence needed for effective decision-making at this level has not been extensively studied. The LEAD Project addresses this need in public health decision-making.

Through new research and an extensive series of workshops the project will create explicit links between local practitioners and the development evidence, identifying local evidence needs and elucidating the complexity of implementation from the local perspective. Using a complex systems approach, this information will influence the methodological choices, inputs and outcomes of modelling intervention implementations, and will inform the exploration of artificial intelligence techniques.

The activities of the LEAD Project are aimed at improving the development and use of locally-applicable evidence for decisions surrounding global health interventions by local public health practitioners, which will ultimately produce better health outcomes for the intended beneficiaries. The LEAD Project focuses on mass drug administration (MDA) for schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminths around the African Great Lakes Region, as a representative global health intervention. Fieldwork is focused on the epidemiologically relevant areas of Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda.

The case of MDA is especially important in the context of antimicrobial resistance, with the mass distribution of tablets within child and maternal health for malaria, HIV, neglected tropical disease and chronic disease interventions potentially encouraging the emergence of resistant microbials, among other health concerns.

Key successes and outcomes so far

The project is currently in latter stages of conducting preliminary in-country workshops across the African Great Lakes Region. Current discussions are around what an ongoing partnership would look like, and what future work could result. The project is still in its early stages, so it is difficult to reflect, however a productive workshops was run in Malawi in December 2019.