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Meet the expert: Marleen Dekker

Many African countries have experienced substantial economic growth in the last two decades. How can we make sure that the poor and vulnerable also benefit from this? And will the corona virus dismiss the progress that has already been made? LeidenGlobal spoke with professor of Inclusive Development in Africa Marleen Dekker, who is also senior researcher at the African Studies Centre Leiden and coordinator of the INCLUDE Knowledge Platform.

After completing the MA Human Geography at the University of Amsterdam, Dekker obtained a PhD in Development Economics from the Vrije Universiteit. She started working for the African Studies Centre Leiden in 2007. Ten years later she became a professor at Leiden University.

Dekker is currently involved in a research project that looks at the influence of social norms on financial decision-making in Zambia. Instead of taking the household as a unit for observation, the project looks at differences between spouses. 'Husbands and wives generally have different ideas on how to earn money and how to spend it', Dekker says. 'These (gender-specific) values and norms are often overlooked when implementing financial services in Africa.' For that reason, the project shares and discusses its results with different stakeholders, such as the Zambian organisation Financial Sector Deepening.

Due to the corona virus, the researchers are not able to travel to Zambia for a further exploration of their preliminary quantative findings. Therefore, they are now remotely working with the local team to continue the research. The corona pandemic also interferes with one of Dekkers’ other projects. The Leiden-Delft-Erasmus minor African Dynamics, that Dekker coordinates, will probably not be able to offer its students three weeks of field study in Africa next year. However, Dekker is not worried: 'We are now exploring matching up our students with African peers online, so that they can work together on idea competitions.'

The relevance of INCLUDE Knowledge Platform, on the contrary, has become more pronounced during COVID. Now that the virus uncovers many structural problems the African continent has been grappling with for years and many are unable to work because of the lockdown, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs asks the platform for advice on the best policy response more frequently. 'We strongly support the option to provide income support for the poor, not just as a safety net during lockdown, just like the government is doing in the Netherlands, but also to promote long term development', Dekker says. ‘As a platform we provide information on what works and what does not, based on rigorous research, hereby making sure that innovations are translated into the context of the country in which they are implemented.’

 

Interview by LeidenGlobal intern Merel Snoep

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> Photo on the right by Marco Okhuizen