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Using Strategic International Partnerships to Promote Deep Global Learning


Charles R. Bantz


HIV-positive, pregnant, abandoned by the baby’s father, and ostracized by her impoverished family, Evelyn Njoki was destitute and hopeless. Even though she sought treatment at Moi University’s hospital in Kenya and her baby was born HIV-free, Njoki thought she had a death sentence and didn’t know how she and her child would survive.
Some 10 years later, I met Njoki when I traveled to Africa. “I thought I would be dead by now,” she said. With a big smile, she shared with me the motto she had coined: “HIV-Positive and Living Positively.” She had become a jewelry maker and founder of the Imani Workshops. Imani, a Kiswahili word that translates to “faith,” is a job-training program for Kenyans living with HIV who are trying to rebuild their lives.
Last September, Njoki traveled 8,000 miles from Kenya to Indiana and talked with students in IUPUI’s Herron School of Art and Design about making jewelry from recycled materials. During the same trip, she shared her story with students in our Kelley School of Business and IU School of Law–Indianapolis. They learned how microcredit and fair trade help Imani Workshop participants become self-sufficient while undergoing treatment for HI V/AIDS.
This extraordinary relationship between Indiana and Kenya began 20 years ago, when a group of physicians from the IU School of Medicine began working with Moi University to build a medical school in Eldoret, Kenya. By 2000, the AIDS epidemic was rampant; physicians discovered that antiretroviral drugs without adequate nutrition for the patient were ineffective. While undergoing treatment, patients could not provide for their families. The IU–Moi partnership needed a more comprehensive approach to be effective, so a demonstration farm was established to provide food and to model sustainable agricultural techniques. Now, with Imani Workshop sales providing income security, the Academic Model Providing Access to Health Care (AMPATH), as it is now known, has expanded its model for AIDS treatment to the provision of more comprehensive primary care.
Comprehensive, multifaceted, community-based in both countries, and sustainable for the long term—these are the principles and goals that led to AMPATH’s success. They have also defined the model for IUPUI’s new focus on strategic international partnerships.
A New Approach to Internationalization
Historically, international agreements were successful if they yielded faculty/student exchange programs or a joint project, and often, the relationship lasted only as long as the originators were in place. AMPATH led us to a new approach to international collaboration.
In November 2006, I traveled to Moi University in Kenya with a cross-disciplinary contingent of deans to sign IUPUI’s first strategic international partnership agreement. Now faculty in nursing, dentistry, social work, liberal arts, engineering, tourism, and others have joined colleagues in medicine in working with their counterparts at Moi University on various collaborations. IUPUI’s School of Informatics created computer-based training programs to help Kenyan doctors learn how AIDS progresses, while Moi University faculty help our faculty treat patients when they cannot rely on technologies available in the United States. A member of our sociology faculty is writing a paper with colleagues from Moi on controlling domestic violence in both Kenya and the United States.
The primary advantage of this international partnership strategy is that it enhances disciplinary knowledge and the well-being of the communities that are linked together, thus creating dynamic, bi-national academic communities that can develop beyond what either institution could do on its own. Partners mutually serve as incubators for curriculum internationalization; study abroad; diversification of the student/faculty body; and civic, economic, and cultural development. Participants gain an in-depth appreciation for international interdependence based on mutual contact and problem solving. The relationships deepen as new projects build upon previous ones. Each partner has a long-term base of operations in the other country, which reduces the often high start-up costs and can create economies of scale.
A distinct advantage to this approach is that the campuses can exchange courses and teach collaboratively with their partner institutions both virtually and face to face. The cumulative effect, as faculty bring into the classroom a deep and complex understanding of each partner’s community and country, can have a strong impact on student learning across the curriculum, even in courses not directly connected to the partnership. Faculty model the very cross-national competencies we want students to learn.
Last December, I traveled to China to sign IUPUI’s second strategic alliance agreement—this time with Sun Yat-Sen University in Guangzhou. IUPUI was among a select group of universities, including Oxford, that partnered with Sun Yat-Sen University on a successful proposal to the Chinese Ministry of Education to host a Confucius Institute in their home countries. These institutes have been established worldwide to offer residents an opportunity to learn Chinese language, culture, and history, and to promote cross-cultural understanding.
Placement of a Confucius Institute in Indiana’s capital city was attractive to the Chinese because of existing relationships between IUPUI and business, governmental, and civic leaders. Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard, for example, recently expanded the Sister Cities program to increase the city’s international profile and attract foreign investment. The latest of these is Hangzhou, home to Zhejiang University, which—like Sun Yat-Sen University—has a top-ranked medical school.
A third strategic partnership, with Universidad Autónoma del Estado de Hidalgo in central Mexico, is under development. For many years, our schools of medicine, nursing, dentistry, and social work have worked in Mexico and with the growing number of Mexican immigrants in central Indiana to provide health care and education. IUPUI gave its initiatives in Mexico a boost by naming the new Binational/Cross-Cultural Health Enhancement Center a “Signature Center,” which involves a significant investment infusion that will strengthen the center’s ability to attract additional funding.

In January 2009, IUPUI received the Heiskell International Education Award for Innovation in International Partnerships. The Institute of International Education, which administers the award, is the home of the Fulbright Program. In March 2009, a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant for curriculum internationalization enabled IUPUI faculty and Indianapolis Public School teachers to travel to Kenya. Moi University faculty led a seminar to foster an understanding of Africa derived from direct experience, dialogue with Africans, and collaborative service activities. It will advance teaching on Africa, Kenya, and Swahili by educators in our city from grade school to graduate school.
Roadblocks and Rewards
There are challenges with IUPUI’s approach. True collaboration requires taking the time to build relationships, necessitates openness to learning the limits of our knowledge and culture, and is not possible without mutual benefit. Deep partnerships also must be open to change; both partners need to adapt. Sudden changes in the political or social climate can have an impact, such as when Kenya’s post-election violence in early 2008 turned the compound in Eldoret, known as IU House, into a sanctuary.
The deep learning that grows from successful strategic alliances extends to the campus as a whole from the students, staff, and faculty who spend time working with one another. Colleagues share their experience through classes, lectures, research, and their passion for the partnership activity, and encourage others to pursue similar experiences. For example, Robert Einterz, one of the founders of the IU–Moi partnership, gave a “Last Lecture” in conjunction with IUPUI’s Academic Honors Convocation this past spring (available on by searching for Einterz’s name).
While we wisely make the economic argument for international experiences, the transformative character of the deep learning that we see in our strategic alliances has made me a champion for that model. It may require more discipline and more time, but it makes more of a difference.
Charles R. Bantz is chancellor of Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI).