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See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

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By Kelly Merchan
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  • Polson Institute for Global Development
  • Department of Global Development
  • Global Development

Eight new projects funded by the Polson Institute for Global Development will promote research and teaching at the intersection of systemic inequality and social-environmental justice. 

This innovative set of proposals reflects Polson’s commitment to advance global development as a critical, innovative, and participatory practice across the Department of Global Development’s three areas of signature strength: wellbeing and inclusion; environmental sustainability; and food and nutritional security.

"We are really excited by the diversity of proposals this round," said Mildred Warner, professor of city and regional planning and global development and Director of the Polson Institute. "They reflect the broad reach of the department across the globe and our commitment to research, teaching, and extension."

The newly funded projects address complex global challenges through collaborative and interdisciplinary approaches — from globally engaged learning and network building to climate change case studies and critical analyses of urgent environmental challenges.  

While some grants build upon former success in the institute, such as sending graduate student researchers to collaborate with the International Potato Center in Ghana, other grants build upon existing relationships with the department’s global community, such as optimizing value chains of shea butter in partnership with recent Humphrey Fellow from Uganda. Recognizing that there is no existing structure for feminist scholars at Cornell to unite, one project proposed the creation of the Feminist Research for EquitablE Development (FREED) Collective, which will provide a space for researchers and students to analyze feminist theory and practice in development. 

Explore the full list of innovative research that will address critical global challenges facing people and the planet:   

Collaborative grants 

Expanded Mentored Research Experience Opportunities in Northern Ghana with the One CGIAR Project GROWING: Growing with GROWING: Building on the successful experience of attaching two Global Development (GDEV) students with Polson Institute support to the multi-disciplinary GROWING project in Northern Ghana, this project will strengthen this strategic partnership between Cornell’s Global Development and the International Potato Center (CIP) by enabling graduate students to have a mentored research experience.  This is a win-win investment for CIP and students seeking skills to construct a more sustainable, equitable world.  This collaboration will enable one MPS student in Global Development to undertake field research in 2024-2025 aligned with interests of the gender-transformative GROWING project.  In addition, a Global Development undergraduate student will have the opportunity to intern for two months tackling communication and knowledge management activities.  All students will share their findings and experience with the Ghanaian research and GDEV communities. 

Feminist Research for EquitablE Development (FREED) Collective: This collaborative grant aims to bring the next generation of feminist scholars together to create a collective, community, and collaborative network within and outside Cornell that is interested in applying feminist theory and practice to development. For an institution with a history of groundbreaking feminist scholars and an established program in Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies, there is a glaring dearth of an organized community of feminist scholars with active research, practice, and teaching around agriculture, education, or food systems on the Cornell campus. To fill that gap, we propose to seed the Feminist Research for EquitablE Development (FREED) group at Cornell. In its first year, faculty will host a hybrid workshop, author a position paper, and publish a scoping review and evidence gap map in gender in food systems.   

  • PIs: Hale Tufan, Ramya Ambikapathi, Aubryn Sidle
  • Collaborators: FGSS, City Region and Planning, Dyson School of Economics, Division of Nutritional Sciences, Department of Public Health, Labor Economics and Public Policy

Unpacking Uneven Findings in Distributive Environmental Injustice: Research on distributive environmental injustice has established that in most circumstances marginalized populations experience greater exposure to environmental harms. Yet the extent and nature of these inequities differ across locales with different histories, hazards with different biophysical dynamics, and studies with different designs. Researchers will complete a first-of-its-kind synthetic review and meta-analysis of research on inequity in hazard exposure. Their analyses will characterize uneven patterns of disparate exposure across hazards, locales, and research designs; identify factors driving these variations; and examine the methodological and contextual quality of this research. Building research skills and knowledge across a team of students and sharing their findings in a workshop on campus, this project will both address a key knowledge gap and lay a foundation for deepening treatment of environmental injustices in our undergraduate curriculum.

Small grants

Community-Engaged Global Learning in Malawi: The Community-Engaged Global Learning in Malawi project will support the inclusion of 10 students from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) to participate in Professor Rachel Bezner Kerr’s Winter 2025 faculty-led study trip to Malawi. Dr. Frank Tchuwa of LUANAR will co-teach the field course with Prof. Bezner Kerr. Together, Cornell and LUANAR students will collaborate with local farmers, communities, and researchers to learn about agroecology in practice, including farmer experimentation, indigenous knowledge, and gender issues in agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa. Students will take part in a range of activities, such as agroecological farming, visiting community seed banks and agroecological markets, cooking and tasting during recipe days and meeting with policymakers. This collaboration between Cornell and local students abroad will deepen student learning about engaged community development on key topics related to food security and sustainability and will foster cross-cultural reciprocal exchange in engaged global learning.

Shea Value Chain and Carbon Credit Potential in Northern Uganda: The global shea butter market, valued at approximately $3 billion, has yet to significantly impact the shea belt of northern Uganda, where shea trees flourish abundantly. For decades, women in the region have sold raw nuts or employed traditional production methods, denying them the economic advantages of value addition. Consequently, the local community, deprived of benefits from the trees, resorts to cutting them down, making shea trees one of Uganda's most endangered species. The "Optimizing Shea Value" project, comprising an interdisciplinary team from Global Development and Okere City in Uganda, aims to conduct ethnographic research, geo-mapping, and market assessments to foster shea value chain development and regeneration for maximizing social, environmental, and economic benefits. The project focuses on three objectives: (1) geospatial mapping to determine shea tree population in Otuke District and the development of a predictive model for their carbon market potential; (2) evaluating the role of formal and informal institutions in ensuring sustainable environmental governance of shea parklands in Otuke District; and (3) conducting a value-chain analysis for Uganda’s nilotica shea butter.

Navigating Climate Adaptation: Competing Interests and Trade-offs: Water scarcity due to climate change is a critical issue affecting millions of people's livelihoods, particularly in rural areas. Decision-makers face challenges as they balance competing interests among agricultural and industrial activities, public services and environmental protection. Collaborative efforts involving multiple stakeholders are underway, but questions linger about how to involve all parties in decision-making processes and deal with unintended consequences. Researchers will focus on understanding how decision-makers navigate these complexities when developing climate adaptation strategies in rural landscapes. They aim to gain insights by mapping and analyzing initiatives and stakeholders involved in addressing climate, water, and food security issues in Mexico. The findings of this research will offer valuable insights to aid decision-makers in crafting inclusive and evidence-based strategies to adapt to climate change toward sustainable food systems.

The Rush for Carbon Credits in Mozambique: What Are the Implications for Socio-environmental Justice?: Just socio-environmental futures require moving away from climate solutions that adversely impact rural development and vulnerability. In the context of the global urgency of transforming carbon credits into the most exported commodity from Africa, the objective of this project is to assess the degree to which carbon markets are contributing to socio-environmental (in)justice. Understanding the role of relevant drivers and actors such as financial institutions, international organizations, civil society and the state in restructuring carbon projects’ outcomes and benefit sharing is essential to grasp their ability to effectively meet socioenvironmental goals. Through the experience of rural households in Mozambique, this research will explore how differentiated mechanisms of producing carbon credits shape socioecological configurations of rural subsistence and social reproduction. This proposal refers to intended pre-fieldwork activities in two study sites, including green and blue carbon projects, with the highest carbon credit production potential in the country.

Working groups

Energy and Society Research Working Group : Energy research focuses heavily on technology and engineering advancement, emphasizing the development of innovative solutions to improve energy efficiency and reliability. Emerging literature, however, has highlighted its socio-technical nature that encompasses energy transition interactions and dynamics, multi-stakeholder involvement, policy frameworks, and human-scale centered energy services. Addressing this new stream of literature, the Energy and Society Research Working Group aims to facilitate discussions to understand how policies, infrastructure, and technologies interact to increase access to clean and reliable energy in the Global South. The Working Group envisions to create a collaborative platform for students and postdocs in Global Development and across campus and build a supportive community of scholars to advance energy and society research.

Recent Polson project successes

Learn about the impact past grantees have made over the last year.

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