Reflections on the state of anti-colonialism in academic global health grant funding

  • Refrain from buying into academic global health’s current metrics of success. As students, we know that publication count and impact factor feel like currency, determining our specialty, our residency programs, future jobs, and more. We feel an ever-present pressure to publish, a pressure that does not lessen, but rather will intensify as we climb the ladder of traditional academic success. Try to reimagine what academic success could look like outside of publication count. Ask yourself what other metrics should govern your success as a scholar, and reflect on how these metrics can scale globally in a manner that is more equitable than traditional metrics are today. And, when you are working within traditional metrics of success, center your LMIC-based partners, for example in positions of lead author on publications or sole principal investigator on funding applications.
  • Avoid using phrases like ‘cultural competence’ and ‘capacity building,’ which are, in themselves, laced with colonialism and paternalism. Instead, strive for language that is founded on equal partnership and humility. Feel empowered to use your voice to respectfully challenge professors of medicine and global health who continue to use this harmful language while teaching you.
  • Seek to de-intellectualize your anti-colonial global health work. Central to de-intellectualizing is centering your global partners in conversation about how your partnership has been, or has failed to be, anti-colonial to date.
  • Remind yourself that successful anti-colonial global health no longer requires western scholars or students, no longer centers western academic institutions, and is no longer dependent on western sources of funding. This means that our work as global health academics from the global north, when done right, should be self-limiting, with the goal of becoming increasingly less central to the work with this passage of time. In this sense, we should aim to capacitate ourselves out of a job.
  • Provide grant funding directly and solely for scholars from LMICs to design and implement projects independently; perhaps, operationalizing this would require earmarking a specific percentage of their funds for LMIC-scholar led projects, to hold themselves accountable. Pushback to this proposal might sound something like: “having projects tied to US-based academic medical centers ensures that the funds are used efficiently; these institutions have the experience required because they have done it before.” I challenge this pushback, as it is laced with colonial paternalism — the assumption that only Western institutions can efficiently use funds fails to recognize the expertise of LMIC-based scholars.
  • Refrain from dictating funding priorities from academic, US-based offices; instead, leverage a community-based participatory process that engages scholars and community leaders from the country of study, on the ground, from the first steps.
  • Accept applications submitted in using the language of the country of study. To be language agnostic will require both providing multilingual submission instructions, and hiring translators or multilingual reviewers. This will broaden access to a wider range of scholars from the country of study who are less proficient in English, but no less capable to conduct the kind of innovative health care systems research needed.
  • Critically re-assess the language and frameworks your organization uses around funding diversity and equity, specifically centering feedback from LMIC voices.

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