Pamoja Summit designed to accompany African partners

Author: Kara Kelly

The up-and-coming Pamoja ND Africa initiative focused on collaborative, interdisciplinary research and professional connections hosted a two-day conference, “Pamoja Nairobi Partnership Summit,” on May 24 and 25 at Strathmore University School of Business in Nairobi, Kenya.

With administrative and financial support from the Keough School of Global Affairs’ Pulte and Kellogg Institutes and Notre Dame International, the Summit was a forum for cultivating relationships among higher education leaders.

“Because the conference wasn’t focused on a specific project, we could take a step back and imagine what’s possible,” Associate Professor of Political Science, Pulte Institute Faculty Fellow, and co-organizer Jaimie Bleck said. “As a result, we are part of a richer fabric in terms of the interdisciplinary connections and the buy-in we got from top university leadership on the continent.”

When planning the event, Bleck and her partner Ellis A. Adams, an associate professor of geography and environmental policy and core Pulte Faculty member, recruited African campus and sector leaders dedicated to the success of their institutions. “Once strategic alliances are formed,” Bleck said, “it’s easier to capitalize on the potential.”

Bleck and Adams have also embraced an approach that measures success by new partnerships formed as part of the Pamoja ND Africa network — and by how many Notre Dame students look to study abroad in Africa. “There is real potential here,” Bleck said, “that feeds into Notre Dame’s mission to engage the world and the world to engage Notre Dame through scholarly collaboration.”

With new bonds formed, Bleck and Adams say the focus is now on building bidirectional relationships where connection works in both directions, enabling each entity to link to the other. “A lot of partners see Africa as just a calling for help. You go, you help, you leave. We want to do it differently because Notre Dame can do better in the region.” Adams said. “We’re reimagining the way Notre Dame can work with Africa.”

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The Pamoja Nairobi Partnership Summit in Nairobi, Kenya.
View more photos from the event on the Pulte Institute's Facebook page.


The Pamoja ND Africa initiative has 36 Notre Dame team members — faculty, researchers, sector leaders, and staff. It began as a working group in Kellogg and formalized after receiving a $100,000 planning grant from former Provost Marie Lynn Miranda’s “Moment to See, Courage to Act” initiative in late 2021.

Bleck says the Pulte Institute’s five-year SHARE cooperative agreement with USAID to advance global education priorities to improve student learning outcomes has been a model for capacity exchange. (The Pulte Institute actively works with in-country partners across the globe to create an infrastructure for evidence-building—collecting, organizing, and distributing data.) 

“Deep, innovative work relies on such partnerships,” Bleck said. “We’ve recognized in Pulte from the beginning parallels in what we’re trying to do, but also the pragmatic savvy of making conversations and meetings happen and what it takes to sustain them.”

Acknowledging there will be multiple steps, a medium-term goal is finding a “sister” university in Africa to support Notre Dame students and help them navigate the continent. A long-term goal is the establishment of a Notre Dame Global Gateway in Africa — an academic and intellectual center where scholars, students, and leaders from universities, government, business, and the broader community could gather for mutual benefit.

“The Pamoja ND Africa initiative is mutual in how we work together,” Adams said, “And that was the genesis of the word Pamoja, which translates as together. We want to accompany Africa so that together we can achieve a bigger goal.”