02 June 2021 | Story Rulanzen Martin | Photo UFS Photo Archive
Prof Melanie Walker, an A1-rated researcher, is one of the foremost academics in human development and education studies.

Prof Melanie Walker, Distinguished Professor in the Centre for Development Support at the University of the Free State (UFS), has been elected as President of the Human Development and Capability Association (HDCA). This is the first time that the HDCA president is from the Global South. 

The HDCA is an international association for academics and practitioners who, according to Prof Walker, “seek to create an intellectual community around the ideas of human development and the capability approach and relate these ideas to development practices and the policy arena”. 

Prof Walker holds the SARChi Chair in Higher Education and Human Development, and is one of three A-rated National Research Foundation (NRF) researchers at the UFS. She follows in the illustrious footsteps of previous HDCA presidents, including esteemed academics such as Prof Martha Nussbaum, who received an honorary doctorate from the UFS in 2012, and Nobel prize winner, Amartya Sen

An established UFS presence 

Since its inception in 2004, Prof Walker has been involved with the HDCA through various positions and roles, thus establishing a strong UFS presence within the organisation. “We already have a strong research presence in the HDCA through the group I have established at the UFS, which is now well-known and highly respected,” Prof Walker says. She is also hopeful that more researchers from the UFS may consider joining the HDCA and developing human development-focused research partnerships with others in the HDCA.

Highlighting Global South issues 

Through her new position as president-elect of the HDCA from September 2021, she wants to expand the reach and responsiveness of the HDCA in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). “In Southern Africa we have a growing community, but we need to be stronger elsewhere.  This would provide the platform to take forward public debates about inequalities as obstacles to sustainable human development,” Prof Walker says.  However, these problems and challenges occur everywhere in a world of “growing inequalities and exclusions”. 

In these COVID-19 times, a focus on human development seems more needed than ever - Prof Melanie Walker 

Apart from expanding the presence of the HDCA in SSA together with its executive, Prof Walker hopes to “further strengthen the organisation and its research, practice and policy ‘voice’, and its capacity-building activities. I would also like to put ideas from decoloniality and the North-South knowledge inequalities on the table, as well as our knowledge-producing practices.” 

The global presence of the HDCA 

The international footprint of the HDCA is extensive, with members in more than 70 countries. The organisation hosts an annual international conference, bringing together various thematic groups, regional networks, and holds regular webinars and workshops. It also publishes the peer-reviewed Journal of Human Development and Capabilities.  The HDCA promotes research within a vast array of disciplines, ranging from economics to philosophy, development studies, health, education, law, government, and sociology.  “The HDCA takes forward significant capabilitarian scholarship with shared purposes to advance knowledge, development practices, and policy in and for human development,” Prof Walker says. 

The organisation aims to challenge the narrow understanding of economic growth as the end of development, and of human capital production as the prime purpose of education. “In these COVID-19 times, a focus on human development seems more needed than ever,” Prof Walker says. 

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