The first cohort of the Graduate Research Programme 2016/17 facilitated by the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC) and United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has successfully completed its tenure.

The graduate researchers under this programme were presented with certificates after successfully completing the 12-month programme which draws to a close this month (September).

UNDP Resident Representative Mr Israel Dessalegne said this initiative has been part of the 2016-2020 Country Document Programme (CDP) theory of change aimed at ensuring that evidence generation to inform national policy reform and programmatic significance is facilitated.

“We are all encouraged to realise the fruits of the UNDP/SEPARC partnership enabling stronger integration of research and development of knowledge products for policy progression,” he said during the certification ceremony held at UNDP on Monday.

“We note positive outputs from this group through the socio-economic study of the El Nino drought which triggered national discussions. We look forward to the technical recommendations adopted for future use by national counterparts, namely parliament, commissions, parastatals, non-governmental organisations and the private sector.”

Mr Dessalegne said public-private partnership solutions are required for sustainable development and identification of niche economic growth nodes for the country, further adding that these (PPP solutions) need to be revealed in research.

“Data-mining and management remain critical skills in the sustainable development agenda, and we look forward to the national demand of research work. We wish you all success and the best in your future endeavours,” he told the researchers.

SEPARC Executive Director Dr Thula Sizwe Dlamini noted that during the year, each of the graduate researchers has produced a complete academic paper, a topical thought piece and policy brief resulting from the studies they have completed.

He also noted that the programme had achieved its objectives; that is, offering graduates the opportunity to acquire practical experience in policy analysis and research work, as well as undergoing intensive on-the-job training to build their capacities in research skills, personal development, and leadership.

“The graduate researchers have all had the opportunity to present their studies in public forums, as well as participated in government processes. They have all contributed to the development of this country, through generating the necessary data and information for innovative policy solutions geared towards achieving national sustainable development, and they now have the opportunity to present their papers to a larger audience at the Swaziland Economic Conference scheduled for October,” he said.

“It has been a wonderful journey and we trust the products we have developed at SEPARC. We are grateful to UNDP for the significant support. We have achieved what we set out to do with the programme and we want to globalise it, particularly through our interactions with the University of Arkansas’ graduate students who have been doing internships at the Centre – a partnership we hope to grow in future.

“We hope the graduate researchers will be our ambassadors and advocates of research, as we expect them to continue building capacity around the country. One of our key mandates is to build capacity as well as to conduct collaborative research in Swaziland, which the programme has allowed us to do,” Dr Dlamini added.

UNDP Programme Specialist Ms Sithembiso Gina said the development agency is happy to have partnered with SEPARC on a programme whose objective is to grow Swaziland’s economy through innovative solutions provided by Swazis. She said it is the agency’s hope that the programme should give the country another flagship study for 2018, as was the case with the socio-economic impact assessment drought study produced by SEPARC this year.

“We need to start selling research because it is very critical to development. We also want the studies we facilitate in the future to be market driven so that we can sell the data that is generated to the private sector,” she said.

Adding, Ms Gina said the graduate research programme is a one of a kind partnership, as it is the first and only one in all of UNDP country offices. “It is a flagship partnership gapping graduate research. Our objective is to assist SEPARC grow as a think tank, particularly as the Centre has a challenge of maintaining its sustainability through growth. International linkages are also important, as we need to take success lessons from other countries in the region as well as internationally, and tailor them to fit into addressing our specific needs.”

Speaking on behalf of the graduate researchers, Tengetile Hlophe expressed gratitude towards SEPARC and UNDP for having chosen them to participate in this life-changing programme. “We are grateful to SEPARC and UNDP for giving us a great opportunity in terms of professional development. We got an opportunity to gain practical experience in research and policy analysis; we joined the Centre with just theoretical knowledge and now we have gained some valuable skills in the field. For that, we thank you.”

The certificates of completion were presented to the graduate researchers by UNDP Deputy Resident Representative Lars Tushuizen, who also wished them well in their future endeavours, further encouraging the graduates to use the solid foundation provided by the programme to pursue careers in research.