Event Summary: Human Capital Initiative Research Symposium 2024

Bandung City, Indonesia. Photo by Fikri Rasyid via Unsplash.

By Naomi Frim-Abrams

On March 29, 2024, the Human Capital Initiative (HCI) convened the new cohort of HCI Core Faculty Members to present their current research projects and spark conversations about potential areas for collaboration in the annual Human Capital Initiative Research Symposium.

With topics spanning long-term mobility in informal settlements, social and economic determinants of health outcomes, child malnutrition and more, the Symposium allowed Core Faculty members to provide suggestions and feedback on each other’s work and engage in interdisciplinary discussions. Speakers included Ben Marx, Economics; Solomon Owusu, Pardee School; Neha Gondal, Sociology; Salma Abdalla, School of Public Health; and Lindsey Locks, Sargent College of Health Sciences.

Below, read a description of their presentations to learn more about evolving research on human capital:

The session began with Solomon Owusu’s presentation, “Powering Structural Transformation and Economic Development in Africa Amid Evolving Global and Regional Megatrends.” He described his research interests as including structural transformation, jobs and inclusive growth, and global value chain trade. He argued that the challenge to the manufacturing-led growth model has opened up discussions about exploring different growth models and strategies in developing countries, particularly those in Africa. He highlighted the need for diverse narratives when addressing African countries’ development strategies. This opened the conversation to discuss development financing and modes of economic development, including in the service sector and agro-processing. He provided comprehensive data visualizations detailing relative labor productivity, employment shares and structural change over time, among others.

Ben Marx presented his ongoing field research in Kenya and Indonesia, as well as a broad overview of other HCI-related work. His research agenda includes global projects exploring elections in Senegal, Kenya and Uganda, religion and nation-building in Indonesia, and state-building in historical France. Most of the discussion centered around his project “Understanding Long-Term Mobility in Nairobi’s Slums,” supported by the BU Initiative on Cities. Faculty provided suggestions for research methodology and direction for the study involving the tracking of 1,123 households surveyed a decade ago in Nairobi’s largest informal settlement, called Kibera. His other ongoing project, “Changing Norms of Corruption Among Future Civil Servants,” explores ways to foster an anti-corruption environment among civil servants in partnership with a major civil service academy in Indonesia. The motivation and hypothesis for this project is that corruption persists among civil servants because of the perceived acceptability of corrupt practices by peers. In ongoing work, Marx and coauthors will test the impact of a treatment informing students about the true extent to which current civil servants disapprove of corrupt practices.

Neha Gondal shared her work “Permanent Residency Applications in the US – A Networks Lens,” an ongoing project investigating networks of permanent residency applications comprising hiring organizations and credentialing educational institutions and countries of citizenship. The overarching goal of her project is to analyze status and economic inequalities in the hiring of international workers with an eye toward ‘immigrant diversity.’ Her preliminary analysis shows inequalities in hiring practices based on educational qualifications and countries of citizenship. For example, elite and wealthy firms such as Meta and Apple are more likely to apply for green cards for graduates of elite schools, such as Cornell University, Carnegie Mellon and Columbia University at high salaries (greater than or equal to $200,000). However, the same firms tend to apply for green cards at relatively low salaries (less than or equal to $82,000) for graduates of somewhat less well-known higher educational organizations. Likewise, the evidence suggests that elite firms tend to apply for green cards for workers from lower-income countries for somewhat lower-income jobs.

Salma Abdalla’s presentation “Social and Economic Determinants of Health and Mental Health Outcomes in Eight Countries: A Cross-Country Comparison” described a range of the projects she is involved with, including: analyzing income and educational inequities in the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, using novel survey methods to understand global public sentiments around determinants of health and exploring the role mass traumatic events play in shaping population mental health. Her research interests span the commercial determinants of health, trauma and global population mental health, and microsocial-macrosocial forces and global health equity, among others. She utilizes various research methodologies within her work, with a focus on large-scale data analysis in the recent projects about which she presented. Her work opened a discussion on economic and trade forces affecting health outcomes, and cultural forces that can impact survey-taking and definitions of trauma for participants.

Finally, the event concluded with Lindsey Locks’s presentation, “The Global Scale-Up of Small-Quantity Lipid-Based Nutrient Supplements for the Prevention of Child Malnutrition.” She addressed her background as a global health nutritional epidemiologist and the current stage of research and program implementation with Small-Quantity Lipid-Based Nutrient Supplements (SQ-LNS). She explained the difficulties facing interventions in distributing supplemental nutrition products, including delivery and uptake. She also provided data from interventions (mostly clinical trials) distributing SQ-LNS that demonstrate the efficacy and potential cost-effectiveness of programs distributing SQ-LNS, but highlighted the lack of data from programs distributing SQ-LNS. Participants inquired about the manufacturing and ingredients of SQ-LNS, as well as the designs of various studies. Locks discussed how malnutrition can be a strong contributor to the burden of illness, especially in children, and the developmental importance of proper nutrition to support brain and body growth. She discussed the different types of malnutrition in children including stunting, wasting and anemia, and the markers of each, evidencing the importance of preventative nutrition programs for child well-being.

The Symposium successfully brought together HCI faculty and staff to learn from and discuss ongoing research projects. Moving forward, the event undoubtedly sparked the formation of new collaborative ideas and innovative projects to expand the scope of HCI’s research and policy work.


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