The long term effects, speech by Holger Bernt Hansen, Prof. African Studies, former Board Chair
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is a great honour and pleasure for me to be called upon on this occasion. For many years, I have been involved in the scholarship activities before and after this building became the centre of the program under the name Danida Fellowship Centre. In fact, it amounts to so many years that I ought to be disqualified because I have violated the ban on entering a Third Term, which African democracies are struggling to uphold. I entered even the fourth and fifth term, but in order to soften your judgment I hasten to emphasize that eventually I stepped down voluntarily and never thought of making myself president for life.
My many years of service in the chair give me a background to draw your attention to some wider perspectives associated with the anniversary. We are not just celebrating that this headquarters and hall of residence were inaugurated 25 years ago. The building in itself did also confirm a major change in the activities and a new direction in the scholarship program. It was confirmed that the program had become an integrated part of the Danish collaboration with developing countries. The activities fell within the Danish development policy and should be carried out according to the aid framework and guidelines. It meant that the training and educational activities should be geared to the needs and priorities in our partner countries, and that they should be responsive to the changing scenarios in the various countries. .
This has meant a great variety of activities and the involvement of a big number of partners from the Danish resource base, from agricultural training centres, technical colleges, accountancy courses, nursing schools to universities and research based institutions like the Danish Bilharziasis Laboratory (DBL).- just to mention one on this occasion!
All the way through there has been the challenge of meeting new demands and new requirements in order to adapt to changes and developments in the partner countries. And these days we are probably experiencing the most fundamental change. While earlier on focus mainly was on supplying people who could strengthen the capacity of the public sector in its service provisions, now the private sector has moved to the centre stage asking for people who are trained and qualified to work within an enabling environment for growth and sustainable development.
There is another dimension of the program which has not changed over the years. We may call it the social and cultural dimension. Our visitors should have an opportunity to experience the Danish way of life and learn a little about how the Danish society is organised, how its institutions work, how civil society functions and so on. Also what are the significant features of Danish culture – and I will like to add here: Danish culture more based on the heritage from Hans Christian Andersen than on the one from Soren Kierkegaard..
Let me illustrate this kind of activity from my own experience. In the early 1990’s I was involved in the training of two Ugandan female postgraduates. Soon after their first arrival, I took them for a walk around in Copenhagen to see the most scenic places. After a little while, one of them remarked. “But where are the soldiers?”. She had noticed a surprising contrast to what she was used to at home, and this gave both of them time for reflection how things at home ought to change and could be done differently. And they kept observing and learning during their time here, so when they eventually left they had reached an interesting characteristics of Danish way of life and Danish culture: “It is a culture of flags and candles”. So in this way it is not just a one way traffic – from us to them -, we get an incentive to look critically through our own windows.
Hence, over the years the scholarship program has stood on two feet, the professional one and the social and cultural one. The priority has naturally been given to the first one, but the second feet has given an added value that should not be underestimated. And it has opened for an exchange of experiences between the two parties.
Let me close by pointing to an element that has a bearing on the future and can have some longer term effects. Although we are in an area where it is difficult to conduct an evaluation and assess the impact there is one offspring of the scholarship activity that is of longer term importance. I am thinking of the contacts and networks that are created during the training in Denmark.
Again from my own experience. When over the years I have been travelling to countries where fellows have come from, they tell you about their good and often detailed memories from their time in Denmark even remembering the names of the odd places they have visited. But a frequent reaction is that they intend to make use of their old contacts, their network in Denmark when looking for advice and assistance in addressing new challenges. Areas where I often have met this reference to a Danish network are agriculture and health and more recently the environment..
And these years where job creation tops the agenda and there are frequent calls for investments and business engagement the scholarship program’s potential for creating contacts and networks also in this field should not be underestimated, but taken into account In that respect the scholarship program can serve as a useful investment. for the future. And the Danida Alumni Network is a very important step in that direction.