Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs

Bridging the Academic / Practitioner Divide

HI² International Fellow Loveness Makonese, (FAO), shares her experience working both as an academic and humanitarian practitioner in Zimbabwe on issues of HIV and AIDS, livelihoods, and building resilience within emerging settlements.

Q&A with Loveness Makonese (HI² International Fellow)

HI² -- How has your experience of being both an academic and a humanitarian practitioner affected how you approach your work? Do they mutually strengthen each other?

Loveness Makonese -- Immediately after my first degree, I worked in research, public service, and an International NGO for 10 years. My major responsibility then was to mainstream Gender, HIV and AIDS in development projects. However, I realized during that time that I had limited skills in monitoring, evaluating, and documenting lessons learned on the projects. Since HIV/AIDS were a new challenge for the development sector, the M&E technical units also did not have a clear understanding of operationalizing research and evaluations on HIV/AIDS. I decided to enroll for a Master’s degree and subsequently a PhD in order to enhance my research and analysis skills. Currently, I am conducting research with Rhodes University, as well as independently, while at the same time working for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). Working simultaneously both as an academic and practitioner has helped me a lot, especially when I am developing technical documents and capacity building initiatives. My academic background helps me effectively formulate learning objectives and institutionalize the training materials and programs in agricultural training colleges. When working on program formulation, I use my research skills to identify gaps and come up with evidence informed innovations. I serve as a task force member at a local University that is developing an MSc in Development Sciences, where by virtue of being a practitioner my practical insights have been helpful in developing a solid training programme at the University. Academics, humanitarian practitioners, and policy makers normally do not speak the same language. I understand both sides quite well and can interact effectively with both sectors. Humanitarian practitioners need quick solutions, whereas academics take time to do research and reach conclusions. I facilitate understanding between the two groups. For example, when two Universities and a local NGO in Zimbabwe wanted to conduct research on adolescent reproductive health, I facilitated the partnership and dealt with the operational challenges between the partners.

HI² -- Can you please tell us about your current research on livelihoods and HIV/AIDS within the context of building resilience?

Loveness Makonese -- Despite the fact that global HIV rates are declining and stabilizing, in Zimbabwe they are stabilizing at high rates above 10 percent. My academic as well as independent research seeks to understand how HIV and AIDS livelihoods issues manifest in emerging settlements, which are becoming hotspots for new and increasing infection rates. The focus is on understanding the factors that influence HIV infection risk and AIDS vulnerability in order to increase the resilience among those affected by HIV and AIDS. My research questions attempt to portray the complex dynamics around HIV and AIDS and reveal the wide variations between affected individuals, households, and communities.

HI² -- In Zimbabwe, how has food insecurity and resource scarcity impacted the risk of HIV infection?

Loveness Makonese -- Causes and consequences of HIV are closely associated with several intersecting development and humanitarian issues, namely, food security, poverty, and gender. Food scarcity in contexts where there is a lack of adequate employment and sustainable income generating activities may lead to negative coping mechanisms such as transactional sexual relationships and inter-generational sexual relationships between adult men and young girls. Temporary migration by vulnerable women, men, and young adults in search of food may expose them to harmful living conditions and also an increased chance of having multiple sexual partners.

HI² -- Can you elaborate on your work in mainstreaming gender throughout the projects and programs you work on?

Loveness Makonese -- Attention to gender equality pervades all programing work. I facilitate the development, implementation, monitoring, and review of gender strategies and action plans in my current work with FAO. This is critical in ensuring that women, men, and young adults influence and participate in all interventions and benefit equitably from them. Some of the interventions that we are currently carrying out include; access to livelihood opportunities, documentation of best practices, gender business schools; and piloting innovations like gender and learning platforms for both men and women.

HI² -- Much of your work has centered on strengthening community based organizations through capacity building. Can you tell us about the impact these programs have in terms of emergency preparedness and building resilience in Zimbabwe?

Loveness Makonese -- Building resilience, capacity, and preparedness are key to combating food insecurity and climate induced disasters. The capacity building initiatives are targeted at strengthening individual, household, and community capacity to work together to plan and prepare for disasters, as well as efforts to mitigate them. Effective community organization and collective group action is critical for local communities to be able to plan, prepare, and respond to food security threats. My capacity building initiatives with the FAO are targeted at improving community and institutional capacity to better coordinate and develop absorptive, adaptive, and transformative capacity to respond, mitigate, and exercise control over shocks and risks.