Academics Without Borders is no longer without a headquarters. Concordia University announced in October that it will house the non-governmental organization on its downtown Montreal campus. Working extensively with postsecondary institutions in the developing world – 14 different countries since its inception in 2007 – AWB is staffed by a network of international volunteers. With a waiting list of both volunteers and projects lined up, funding is the only factor holding back the organization from expanding its reach, says AWB founder and executive director Steven Davis, a retired philosophy professor based in Montreal. Raising funds, however, has proven to be difficult.
“Universities in the developing world are a hard sell,” says Dr. Davis. “Our work isn’t popular with aid agencies and foundations because it’s very hard to measure the impact of what we do. It’s the same problem all universities across the world face when trying to give a quantitative description of their activities. It’s not just the number of students you teach, it is what you’re teaching them and what they have actually learned.”
Among its current projects, Academics Without Boarders is working with a university in Ethiopia to increase the number of trained cardiologists in the country. With more than 94 million people, Ethiopia only has 12 recognized cardiologists and offers no standardized residency program in cardiology. To help change these numbers, Dr. Davis says the organization is sending over two experts in the next year to train the professors who will eventually be educating the next generation of cardiologists. For Dr. Davis, the goal is to have countries like Ethiopia able to help themselves and not depend on others. “How can you have good basic health without having well-educated health workers?” asks Dr. Davis. “Education is the missing part to the solution.”
In addition to the new office, Concordia will be supplying AWB with some financial support to help further the organization’s initiatives. With about 60 projects completed to date, Dr. Davis says he aims to ramp up to about 45 projects per year in the near future. Until then, he plans to work with Concordia academics and administrators to promote the university’s participation in AWB’s projects. Dr. Davis hopes eventually to create a network of Canadian universities that will be first to be notified when new volunteer opportunities arise.