Dr Joanne Larty is the work package lead for Entrepreneurship and Innovation [WP1] on the RECIRCULATE project. She is also a senior lecturer in the Department of Entrepreneurship and Strategy at Lancaster University Management School. In her previous career, she worked as an IT consultant and then moved into marketing and became a Marketing Manager for an IT consultancy. Dr Joanne Larty has nearly a decade of experience working with small businesses on a range of innovative and entrepreneurial projects.
Dr Akanimo Odon recently interviewed Joanne to find out a little more about her and her views and work on research and partnerships within the RECIRULATE Project.
Give us a sense of your current work and affiliations.
My current role includes both a research and teaching element. My current research is around the intersection between entrepreneurship (including entrepreneurship education), place and sustainability. I also teach various aspects of entrepreneurship, and entrepreneurial thinking, on a number of undergraduate, postgraduate and MBA programmes, and I’m also Director of Teaching and Learning within my department, as well as the programme director for BSc Management and Entrepreneurship.
You are the co-lead for the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Work Package of the RECIRCULATE project, why is entrepreneurship important to the project?
If we look at entrepreneurship in its broadest sense, it’s about making positive changes to the world. In the context of RECIRCULATE, there’s a lot of new findings and ideas emerging from groups of scientists who are working on a variety of projects around water (drinking water, water for irrigation, and waste water) and the circular economy. The outcomes, technologies, and importantly the knowledge and skills created and shared through these projects, have potential to create positive change for communities across sub-Saharan Africa (and elsewhere), but the challenge is how you scale these ideas and build on the knowledge and skills. This is where entrepreneurial thinking is invaluable and our approach to solving this key challenge has been to adopt a place-based approach to entrepreneurship, that looks to how everyone working on the project, across all partner institutions can create value for the communities that are important to them.
Can you explain more about a place-based approach to entrepreneurial thinking?
Yes, a place-based approach to entrepreneurial thinking involves three core steps. First, it is about starting from identifying local problems and challenges that you might be able to help address using your skills and knowledge. This step requires an understanding the needs of local communities, and understanding what makes those local communities unique, thus highlighting the importance of academics and scientists connecting to local communities that matter to them. Second, it is about breaking out of academic silos and forming partnerships and working in teams, that might include academics from different disciplines, as well as policy makers, community leaders, NGOs and private sector organizations. Third, it is about understanding how that team might work to create impact and positive change for the local communities that matter to them.
How have you worked with strategic partners across sub-Saharan Africa on place-based entrepreneurial thinking?
From the start, a fundamental principle of the project has been collaboration with our partners across sub-Saharan Africa, and every aspect of the project has involved co-design and co-delivery. Within the entrepreneurship and innovation work package this has involved a variety of projects, including the creation of a network that brings together female entrepreneurs from across sub-Saharan Africa, as well as the co-design and co-delivery of a series of workshops to engender a spirit of entrepreneurial thinking amongst academics and scientists, with a more recent project funded by the British Council to create an online/blended workshop on entrepreneurial thinking with partner institutions that they can further develop and roll-out within their institutions and beyond.
You mention here the recent British Council grant to develop an online / blended program on Stimulating Entrepreneurial Thinking in Scientists (SETS). Can you highlight what makes this interesting and unique?
Our approach to developing the online programme has been to work closely with our partners to understand the opportunities and challenges of moving to an online/blended approach to the delivery of SETS workshops. We wanted to ensure that we did not develop a prescriptive, one-size fits all approach to an online SETS programme, as we understood that approaches to stimulating entrepreneurial thinking need to be adapted to the contexts of institutions and individuals’ needs. We therefore instead set out to co-design with our partners a learning environment for SETS that took principles of entrepreneurial thinking and principles of online learning and created a flexible learning environment that our partner institutions could tailor to their own institutions, and to different audiences. This approach focuses on providing a foundational understanding of entrepreneurial thinking, to provide inspiration for the many varieties of entrepreneurial thinking for academics and scientists, as well as engendering collaboration both within and across institutions for knowledge sharing and exchange.
You’ve mentioned the importance of working with partners on many projects, what do you think underpins successful equitable and sustainable partnerships?
This is perhaps where the principles of a place-based approach are important, it is about understanding and respecting differences in institutions’ and individuals’ contexts, and allowing co-design and co-development to emerge from the ground up rather than imposing something that might work for one organization or individual but not another.
Any final thoughts please?
Given the many challenges we face within the world and within our own local communities, we must never forget that as academics and scientists we are in a very privileged position to be able to make a positive difference to the world. We are not only conducting our own research that can lead to positive change, but we are also engaged in teaching the next generation and it is important that we inspire them to understand how they too can make a positive difference to the communities and people that matter to them. Entrepreneurial thinking is part of making those changes and we need to continue to challenge the status quo, to think about current challenges in new ways, as well as being creative and resourceful. We can all be entrepreneurial.
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