Alumni Services

Out of Africa

Professor James Smith on how moving to South Africa in 1996 set his development wheels in motion and the global impact potential of the Vice Principal International role.

Professor James Smith

University was initially a very local endeavour for James Smith, who decided to study in his hometown of Dundee. His undergraduate degree in geography and environmental science broadened his horizons however and, in 1996, he became one of the first international students to enrol at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, after the fall of Apartheid.

It was a time of change, and hope, and optimism and James ended up staying for almost 10 years. During this time, he completed a PhD in environment and development, lectured and worked for Oxfam Southern Africa.

Impact of research

As a researcher, James focuses on understanding how we can best manage science and develop innovative technologies that will act as a catalyst to help alleviate poverty in Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

In 2012, he was awarded a prestigious European Research Council Advanced Grant to examine the evolution of medical and veterinary research surrounding trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) across Africa. The project will shed light on how scientific knowledge can be generated to help alleviate poverty and drive development in Africa.

James is also involved in several large international projects, notably the DfID PISCESproject, which is examining bioenergy security in East Africa and South Africa, and also the ESRC Innogen Centre, which is exploring the social, political and economic implications of the new life sciences.

What links these projects is a quest to understand how science can work better for development. It is understanding that links directly to action and visible outcomes.

Professionally, my research has had a lot of impact. I led the development of a programme to help provide better access to clean energy in East Africa that improved the lives of some 250,000 people through access to cleaner burning cooking stoves and more progressive government policy.

Professor James Smith

New opportunities

Now Vice Principal International, Professor James Smith has a role that allows him to combine his interests in teaching, research and global impact. From meeting Desmond Tutu in Cape Town in May, to discussing global development issues with alumni at the upcoming Talking and thinking with the Global Academies event in London in June, the role has broadened his horizons once again and opened up new possibilities and opportunities.

One new initiative is the MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program, a major new scholars' program that will train at least 200 outstanding, yet disadvantaged, African students to make a real difference upon their return home.

This Program will challenge the scholars to reach their potential and the university to provide a supportive and stimulating environment for them. Next week I am in Johannesburg and hoping to recruit our first small cohort of undergraduate scholars for September 2016.

Professor James Smith

Join James Smith in London

There is still time to join Professor James Smith in London on June 18 2016 and find out more about his research and the work of the University’s Global Academies. You can test your ideas, learn more about opportunities within global development and meet like-minded graduates in an informal and collaborative environment.

Whether you work in a related field, or are simply passionate about international development, the event will provide practical information, alongside the advertised talking and thinking, and plenty of opportunities to stay connected. Learn from Edinburgh’s leading academics and take advantage of their knowledge and experience.

Related links

Professor James Smith staff profile

Centre of African Studies

The MasterCard Foundation Scholars Program