Nov 23, 2021

Human Flourishing in Majority World Low- and Middle- Income Countries

Bringing underrepresented perspectives to the field of flourishing by partnering with multidisciplinary scholars from 6 African countries.

By Toni C. Antonucci, Ph.D and Pamela Wadende, Ph.D

This post is the eighth in a series from the 11 Awardees of the Templeton World Charity Foundation's Grand Challenges for Human Flourishing. The Foundation is investing US $60 million to grow the field of human flourishing to encompass scientific research, practice, and policy. Check back as we launch further requests for proposals under this important rubric.

Currently, most Human Flourishing (HF) research has been conducted in High-Income Countries (HIC.) There is relatively little research in HF conducted in Low- and Middle-Income Countries (LMICs.) We argue that exploring how Human Flourishing is conceptualized in LMICs will provide important insights concerning the fundamental meaning and instantiation of the human flourishing concept. We believe that the contexts of HIC and LMICs are different. HIC societies are generally individualist in comparison to LMICs which are commonly collectivist. In most African cultures, for example, an understanding of human flourishing is represented by the terms such as ubuntu (I am because we are) emanating from Nguni Bantu communities across South African countries and utu (shared humanity, moral goodness) popularly used by East African Swahili communities.  

To further explore the conceptualization of human flourishing in Africa, we have partnered with 10 African scholars from 6 African countries, namely Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. These scholars are part of a highly prestigious program funded by the International Society for Study of Behavioural Development and the Jacobs Foundation. They were competitively selected and represent a multidisciplinary team of African scholars who were chosen to participate in an intensive program of professional development and enrichment. We tapped this already accomplished team to join us in our goal to conduct a study that focuses on definitions and conceptualizations of human flourishing in Africa. 

The project will also encourage and support a cohort of scholars from LMICs. We began data collection by holding a regional workshop, held virtually from August 23 to 27, 2021. The workshop theme was “Exploring and Promoting Human Flourishing in African Contexts.’ In this workshop, attended by 64 participants from 14 countries, we began to tap African perspectives on the concept of human flourishing. The keynote speakers included world-renowned human flourishing expert Prof. Tyler VanderWeele, as well as senior African scholars Prof. Robert Serpell, Prof. Therese Tchombe, Prof. Peter Baguma. We also invited ISSBD/Jacobs 2020-2023 African professional development faculty member, Julie Robinson, who provided an invited lecture on how to prepare a research abstract for an international conference. This was a practical benefit for the young and emerging scholars invited to the program and we felt would be useful for our human flourishing scholars who will wish to bring their work to the international stage. We asked the young and emerging scholars in attendance to share their views on the concept of human flourishing. They offered interesting and thought-provoking conceptualizations of what human flourishing means to them in both a personal and professional sense. We are now in the process of building from these insights to design pilot projects, which will receive seed funding from our Templeton World Charity Foundation planning grant, to conduct preliminary research designed to begin to ascertain African definitions and conceptualizations of human flourishing. In this pilot research, we will further consider the facilitating role of social relations in human flourishing 

The pilot will consist of a carefully designed, intense, mixed-method study across the 6 African countries represented by the team. The fellows will recruit two multigenerational families per site and conduct both Focused Group Discussions (FGDs) and face-to-face, virtually hosted, interviews. In addition, two members of the community identified as knowledgeable of the target community culture will be interviewed. The fellows have been meeting to choose and/or develop data instruments to be used across the sites. Thus, we will benefit from uniformity of data design and methods while at the same time exploring differences across cultures. We believe this type of in-depth exploration is critically necessary at this point of our research. The multigenerational design will permit exploration of within family similarities and differences across age, gender, and role, thus permitting an expansive identification of the concept of human flourishing from these various perspectives and cultures.

Exploring human flourishing in the majority world will offer insights into the fundamental and global meaning of the concept and how it might be successfully adapted to different settings and cultures.

Researchers – Principal and Co-Principal Investigator

Prof. Toni Antonucci is the Principal Investigator of the project. She is the Douvan Collegiate Professor of Psychology and Director of the Life Course Development Program at the University of Michigan. She is also President of the International Society of the Study of Behavioral Development. She studies how social relations influence health and well-being.

Pamela Wadende is the Co-Principal Investigator of the Project. She is from Kisii University in Kenya. Her interests are in culturally adaptive early childhood education and care services that ease the transition from home to school for young children. For this project, she intends to work among the Turkana of Northern Kenya.

Researchers – Team Members

  • Ejuu Godfrey is from Kyambogo University in Uganda. He is interested in culturally relevant early childhood education services. His research site is in Budaka district in Eastern Uganda. 
  • Missaye Mulatie Mengstie is from the University of Gondar in Ethiopia. His research interests are social justice, early childhood care and education. His research site is in Gondar, Ethiopia. 
  • Valentine Ngalim, from the University of Bamenda, is interested in the Philosophy of Education with an emphasis on educational justice, culture, inclusion, and education. His research site will be among the Bangwa people in the South West Region of Cameroon and the Nso people of Cameroon.
  • Ijang Bih Ngyah-Etchutambe, from University of Buea in Cameroon, is interested in the psychology of skill development. Her research site will be among the Bangwa people in the South West Region of Cameroon and the Nso people of Cameroon.
  • Rose Atieno Opiyo, from Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology in Kenya, is interested in Early Childcare and Education with emphasis on Child Protection, Family Literacy, and Early Literacy Development. Her research site is Teso, Kenya.
  • Pambas Basil Tandika, from University of Dodoma in Tanzania, interested in Early learning and child development. His research site is in Dodoma, Tanzania. 
  • Kwesi Nkum Wilson, from Komenda College of Education in Ghana, is interested in counselling psychology across the lifespan. His research site is Central Region, Volta Region in Ghana.
  • Fai Lilian Wiysahnyuy, from the University of Bamenda, is interested in Teaching-Learning Transaction and Early Childhood Development/Education. Her research site will be among the Bangwa people in the South West Region of Cameroon and the Nso people of Cameroon.
  • Martina Njungwa Zinkeng, from the University of Buea in Cameroon, is interested in learning, cognitive ability and cultural development of girls and women in education. Her research site will be among the Bangwa people in the South West Region of Cameroon and the Nso people of Cameroon.

Faculty supporting the project
An advisory board of senior scholars from Africa and other parts of the world includes Amina Abubakar, Director Institute for Human developments, Aga Khan University, Kenya; Anne Petersen, University of Michigan, African Studies Center; Hiro Yoshikawa, Courtney Sale Ross of Globalization and Education and University Professor, New York University; Kofi Marfo, Prof Emeritus, University of South Florida and Aga Kahn University; Julie Robinson, Department of Psychology and Social Work (retired), Flinders University, Australia; Paul Oburu, Associate Professor, Maseno University, Kenya; Robert Serpell, Professor Emeritus, University of Zambia; Therese Tchombe, Professor Emeritus of University of Buea; Tina Malti, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto, Mississauga and incoming ISSBD President.