The gift of innovation

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Kate McEntee and Chris Nyinevi
Kate McEntee and Chris Nyinevi are addressing inequity through their graduate research.

Support for graduate research propels the next generation of innovators.

Innovation is a tricky business, requiring mastery of previous advances alongside sufficient detachment from those norms to visualise something better.

Turning an idea into reality requires a long list of arduous endeavours – creativity, deep thinking, rigorous trial-and-error research, collaboration, mentorship and unremitting determination – as well as a large dollop of luck.

The intensity of the process means that few people have the financial means to follow it through.

Given that innovation is vital to the wellbeing of modern societies, how are the people who undertake this work supported?

Professor Matthew Gillespie, Vice-Provost, Faculty and Graduate Affairs at Monash University, says the answer may surprise some: a good deal of the heavy lifting is actually performed by the humble PhD scholarship.

“Postgraduate students, by and large, are a very strong workforce within a university. They make advances at the cutting edge of human endeavour, and they are a university’s future thought leaders,” he says.

One of the most significant gifts to Monash has recently established the Raydon Scholars program. This transformational endowed PhD scholarship allows six talented Monash University PhD students a year to activate their research as a force for social good. Made possible by a generous $8.8m donation from the Narodowski Investment Trust, it is one of Australia’s largest philanthropic gifts towards supporting the next generation of researchers in the social sciences and humanities field.

All six inaugural scholars are focused on creating positive change in the areas of social justice, inclusion, human rights and sustainability, and are drawn from the faculties of Arts, Law, Education and Art, Design and Architecture (MADA).

“We are deeply grateful for this generous gift, which is supporting some of our best and brightest minds in contributing to impactful research for the social good of the community,” Matthew says.

"I cried with relief when I was awarded the scholarship. It means all my focus can go into my research and hopefully creating something of value for people. I am so grateful to the donors for making this possible.” – Kate McEntee

Raydon scholar Chris Nyinevi

Chris Nyinevi’s choice of research topics comes, in part, from life experience.

“I grew up in Ghana, West Africa, where I witnessed firsthand a lack of accountability by corporations for abuses of human rights, social justice and the environment, in particular from mining of natural resources,” he says.

He sees an unfair power dynamic within the legal frameworks (customary international law and international investment agreements) that govern these relationships. Legal obligations reside with the host country to protect the investment activity, but grant the nation and its people little recourse to protect human rights and the environment.

While there are initiatives underway to correct such power inequality through new international agreements, this approach entails timeframes measured in decades.

“My goal with this PhD project is to work on an alternative strategy that can make change much more rapidly,” Chris says.

This involves developing a legal argument that uses existing international legal principles to hold investors accountable and liable for damages they cause.

“Ultimately, I want to provide the foundations for arguing a case at international arbitration that sets a new and fairer precedent,” he says.

Importantly, Chris has a teaching job waiting for him at his alma mater – the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST) in Kumasi – where no course in international investment law exists.

That means the expertise and connections Chris gains while at Monash will help build capacity in these issues in Ghana well into the future.

Chris is based at Monash Law.

Raydon scholar Kate McEntee

Kate McEntee’s focus is not on any single social inequity challenge. Rather, she wants to help innovate thinking and inter-relational tools to more systematically solve problems of inequity.

She thinks innovation is possible using ‘design thinking’ – a practice that helps to transcend ingrained patterns of thinking to change business-as-usual processes and outcomes.

Design thinking focuses on understanding people’s needs when designing the products and services they use. Some of the world’s leading technology brands, such as Apple and Google, were early adopters – and remain keen practitioners – of this approach.

Kate, however, wants to apply it to the design of social services for diverse communities.

To that end, she is broadening the human-centric nature of design thinking by bringing in Kimberlé Crenshaw’s 1989 concept of intersectionality. In this, dominant social identities – race, sex, gender identity, sexuality, able-bodiedness and class – are seen to form a hierarchy of privilege that results in an interlocked system of discrimination and disadvantage.

“I want to develop practices that social service providers can use to explore identity issues to address how these invisible forces of power and privilege make their way into the design of services and perpetuate disempowerment,” she says.

Kate’s ultimate goal is to help ensure that life outcomes aren’t based on people’s identity characteristics.

Kate is based at Monash Art Design and Architecture.

More information

To find out more about establishing a named PhD scholarship, contact Marcus Ward at marcus.ward@monash.edu.

Words: Melissa Marino; Photo: Daniel Mahon