Two University of Arkansas students have joined the Swaziland Economic Policy Analysis and Research Centre (SEPARC) for two months as part of the Centre’s professional development programme.

SEPARC and the University of Arkansas have a partnership that enables staff and students to take advantage of opportunities availed by the Centre’s professional development programme and the American institution’s graduate internship programme for developing countries.

The University of Arkansas’ colleges; the Dale Bumpers College of Agricultural, Food and Life Sciences – where SEPARC Executive Director Dr Thula Sizwe Dlamini serves as an adjunct Assistant Professor of Agricultural Economics – and the Sam M. Walton College of Business have collaborated with SEPARC to bring undergraduate and graduate students to companies and organisations in Swaziland, to assist in ongoing projects that could utilise and benefit from their expertise.

SEPARC has previously hosted three graduate students from the University of Arkansas. Another student from the University of Arkansas is currently on internship with the Swaziland Cane Growers Association, a pairing that was also facilitated by SEPARC.

 Erin Farmer

Erin Farmer from Fayetteville, Arkansas is currently pursuing three undergraduate degrees; a Bachelor of Arts in Economics, a Bachelor of Science in Physics, and a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics, with a minor in international economic development. Her research focus while on internship at SEPARC is on ‘The Effects of Research and Development Funding in the Economy of Eswatini’.

Two years ago, Erin participated in a service learning programme in Mozambique and began working on two economic development research projects, one of which was ‘The Elicit Demand-side Drivers of Food Security: A Choice Experiment in Northern Mozambique’. Last year, she travelled to Belize for an ongoing study that seeks to research ‘The Extent of HIV/AIDS Testing, Contraceptive Use, and the Causes of Poor Reproductive Health’.

After visiting Mozambique, Erin says she fell in love with southern Africa and became interested in economic development in this part of the world. So when her professor at the University of Arkansas, Dr Lanier Nalley described the opportunity of a project in Swaziland she jumped at the chance to once again work in southern Africa.

“After some research, I instantly saw the beauty of the country and the vibrant friendly culture of the people. I knew that it would be welcoming and that it would create an environment where ideas can be exchanged to gain meaningful perspectives,” she says.

Erin adds that she was delighted to accept an internship with SEPARC, particularly after meeting with Dr Dlamini. “SEPARC has an incredible relationship with our university, I’m very excited to be granted the opportunity to explore economic policy related analysis in Eswatini,” she says.

Asked what she hopes to achieve during her internship at SEPARC, Erin shares that she hopes to get a better understanding of how research institutions can effect change in their economy. “I would like to contribute a meaningful study that will influence the policy decisions around the research I will conduct during my time in Eswatini,” she adds.

She believes that at the end of the eight weeks, she will have greater knowledge and expertise that expands to other areas of development she had worked on previously. Erin is confident that her time at SEPARC will assist her gain critical thinking skills for graduate school, as well as hands on experience for a future career in international economic development.

Lancaster Richmond

Lancaster ‘Lane’ Richmond is another student from the University of Arkansas who is part of the professional development programme at SEPARC. Lane is about to receive a Finance Bachelor of Science in Business Administration with a Financial Management and Investment Concentration major and an International Business minor.

Last year, she participated in a service learning project in Nampula, Mozambique where she analysed ‘The Effects of the Merger and Acquisition of Frango King by Novos Horizontes’. “I learned a lot about how different the business culture can be in the United States from other countries, and how important it is to be adaptable,” she says.

Asked why she chose Eswatini for her internship, Lane says after completing her service learning project in Mozambique, she jumped at the chance to return to Africa. She says while in Mozambique, her professor and thesis advisor, Dr Amy Farmer approached her about the possibility of coming to Eswatini this year.

“It didn’t take a whole lot of convincing, she had me at Swaziland (Eswatini),” she recalls. Adding, Lane says after talking to some students who had previously visited the Kingdom for research and community development, she knew that it would be an incredible opportunity that she could not miss.

Lane says she knew right away that being at SEPARC would be a very different experience from which she could grow a lot. “I wasn’t sure where I would fit because I do not have a background in economics or research. However, after meeting with their Knowledge Manager, Teetee Zwane, I knew I could find my place at SEPARC,” she adds.

Lane is really excited to get started in helping out with growing SEPARC’s social media reach and website traction in the policy space. She hopes to better her knowledge about social media outreach, especially in a developing country, and improve her writing and analytical skills. She also hopes to form lasting friendships and new cultural understandings during her time in Eswatini.

“Social media and producing relatable online content is crucial to any person, organisation or business in today’s world. Learning how to get information out into the world effectively will be useful in any job,” she says when asked how she will use the knowledge gained during her internship to further her studies and/or career.

Lane hopes to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) in the next few years. She believes that the relevant business experience will increase the usefulness and applicability of her studies in her future career.