CDES busier than ever under lockdown

As COVID-19 forced countries went into lockdown, the Centre for Development Economics and Sustainability (CDES) became busier than usual. Partnering  with collaborators such as NGOs, individual researchers and other research organisations in developing countries, it was able to conduct rapid actionable research and communicate these findings to policymakers to assist in the response to COVID-19.
"We were working along two lines of thought. We wanted to contribute to the public policy debate about different stimulus measures so we wrote pieces on India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Australia," says CDES director Asad Islam.

"We also wanted to quickly spread information on safety and protective measures to poor people in developing countries, so in collaboration with our partners we hired people to reach out to 100,000 people in India and Bangladesh."

CDES also wanted to give other researchers the opportunities to run similar projects in other countries and after an application process, several Monash projects were awarded funding.

Topics include understanding how COVID-19 influences the wellbeing of the elderly in Australia; evaluating the ethical appeal of ventilator allocation protocols; the impact of COVID-19 on employment in developing countries in Asia; and the response of India’s public hospitals to COVID-19.

In parallel, CDES are running very popular webinars, reaching worldwide audiences. "We wanted to understand broader issues than we usually deal with and talk to people who are in the policy circle, " says Professor Islam.

"This series has been hugely successful. For a seminar on COVID-19 in South Asia we had over 350 registered participants. Professor Jeffrey Sachs, one of world's the best sustainable development economists, participated in one of these seminars.

Professor Jeffrey Sachs

This is not only interesting content but also great for creating impact and brand building for Monash," says Professor Islam.

Previous topics have covered gender, the Indian economy under COVID-19 and how the poor cannot protect themselves against the pandemic. Future webinars will focus on food security and nutrition, the future of cities after Covid-19, challenges in international trade due to covid-19, and policy challenges for Southeast and East Asian countries.

And the research continues.

"We are working on food security, discrimination, stigma and mental health in developing countries to try to understand what kind of messaging could be more efficient in reaching out to and helping  these people to tackle the pandemic.

"We are offering tele counselling services in Bangladesh so women can get a weekly tele counselling and can call back at any time to reach out for help about mental health and contacts for how to access food. In India, we are fighting fake news as there are a lot of misconceptions around the virus. For example, a lot of landlords are refusing to rent to doctors because they think the doctors are bringing the virus back."

CDES has the support of the faculty in offering more research grants for further long-term projects with a large impact. And the webinar series will continue at least until the end of July.

"We plan to go beyond in order to present some of the early research results which are currently now in the field," Professor Islam says.

"It is our moral obligation to respond to this crises. We can fill some gaps in a way that the colleagues in departments might not be able to do quickly and have more impact outside of citations and publications."