Research case study

Visit to Bogota, Colombia in March 2020

Audience at the GCRF viisit to Bogata

Supported by the GCRF@Essex research fund, University of Essex academic colleagues are collaborating with a wide range of Colombian organisations to address key issues of relevance to Colombia. Our academic colleagues and collaborators tackle several challenges ranging from projects focused on peacebuilding and collaborations addressing past injustices to projects helping strengthen the public’s right to information, projects focused on ecological sustainability and social well-being. This work contributes to the University of Essex’s commitment to providing excellence in education and research for the benefit of people and communities to help make the world a better place.

In early March 2020 a group of nine academic colleagues supported by the GCRF@Essex research fund joined an Essex delegation led by our Vice Chancellor Anthony Forster visiting several academic partnering institutions in Bogota, Colombia.

As part of this visit, Universidad Externado de Colombia kindly hosted a GCRF@Essex research workshop on their premises in Bogota on 2 March. Forty workshop participants from 15 different organisations including Colombian Universities, NGOs, government departments, the British Council and British Embassy, were welcomed by our VC Anthony Forster and the Universidad Externado President Juan Carlos Henao Pérez.

The GCRF@Essex research workshop was a mutually enriching experience for Essex colleagues and their Colombian collaborators and helped to cement their relationship and define their research collaboration further.

GCRF@Essex members at the Bogata visit in March 2020
GCRF@Essex members at the Bogata visit in March 2020
Audience during a GCRF@Essex presentation in Bogata March 2020
Audience during a GCRF@Essex presentation in Bogata March 2020

Projects discussed during the GCRF@Essex research

Reparations, Responsibility and Victimhood in Transitional Societies

Professor Clara Sandoval-Villalba

Partners/organisations - Queen’s University of Belfast, Dejusticia, Dublin City University

Description of project: The concept of reparations – making amends to victims of past wrongs - has long held relevance for post-conflict and transitional societies. Despite a number of high profile cases where reparations have been paid for the mass violation of human rights, fundamental questions remain in terms of how States should respond. Dr Clara Sandoval is contributing to a project based at Queen’s University, Belfast, looking at experiences in Colombia, Guatemala, Nepal, Northern Ireland, Peru and Uganda, to develop a better understanding of the relationship between reparations, responsibility and victimhood in transitional societies. The project will produce a number of case studies and undertake substantial public engagement, sharing its findings via an international conference, workshops in Geneva and New York, social media and print media op-eds.

Sustainable Rivers: Creative Methodology and Ecological Wellbeing

Dr Lisa Blackmore


  • Ana María Lozano, Curator-researcher (Pontificia Universidad Javerinana)
  • Alexander Herrera, Professor of Pre-Hispanic Art History (Universidad Los Andes)
  • Leonel Vásquez, Independent practice researcher, and Adjunct Professor of Sound Art (Universidad Los Andes)
  • Andrea Muñoz, Curator of Plural Nodo Cultural / Curator HAWAPI 2019

GCRF project type: Research pump priming

Description of project: This project brings together the arts, sciences and cultural policy to improve ecological sustainability and social well-being in Colombia and Peru. The rivers in these countries are rich in biodiversity, agricultural economies and cultural heritage. But water privatisation, scarcity, and contamination, caused by industry and expanding urbanisation, threaten ecological sustainability and the livelihoods and cultural identities of communities. Growing ecological awareness in the arts offers opportunities to tackle these challenges. However, arts institutions often have tight budgets and operate in isolation and in an ever-changing political environment. This project confronts these challenges by supporting collaborative links between diverse stakeholders, connecting researchers, artists, designers, curators, art students with biodiversity experts, policy makers, farmers and local community leaders at regional and transnational levels.

Mining, gender and social inequality in Colombian Indigenous Communities

Professor Nigel South

Partners/organisations: Professor David Rodriguz Goyes, Antonio Narinno University, Colombia GCRF project type – Research pump priming

Description of project: This project aims to examine the mining industry in Colombia and questions whether women are particularly disadvantaged by practices such as unsustainable mining. Colombia is the second most biodiverse country in the world and suffers the consequences of what is termed the ‘resource curse’ - countries rich in biodiversity and natural resources may suffer more violent conflict and exploitative plundering than other countries. By understanding the dynamics of mining and identifying unsound mining practices, the project aims to contribute to plans for climate action, for the protection of ecosystems, and for measures to secure gender equality within Indigenous communities

Tax and benefit microsimulation to tackle inequality in Colombia

Dr Holguer Xavier Jara Tamayo

Partners/organisations: Universidad Externado de Colombia: Dr Federico Corredor

GCRF project type: Impact

Description of project: Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in the world and the tax-benefit system currently does little in terms of redistributing income. Developed countries have used tax and benefit microsimulation models to achieve better redistributive policies increasing good governance and social justice. This project sought to transfer a tax-benefit model for Colombia (COLMOD) based on the renowned tax-benefit model EUROMOD - created at Essex - to an academic institution in Colombia: Externado. This university is now responsible for the use of the model for policy analysis of proposed reforms in Colombia. COLMOD has had a remarkable impact in the Faculty of Economics at Universidad Externado de Colombia and the future of the model is promising. The program has invested resources to build the Observatory of Development and Social Policy – ODEPS, which is going to publish a biannual report using microsimulations.

Implementing the Public’s Right to Access Information in Conflict-Affected

Professor Lars Waldorf

  • Pedro Vaca Villareal, Executive Director, Fundacion para la libertad de prensa (FLIP), Bogota
  • Mario Gomez, Executive Director International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES), Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • Kevin Dunion, Former Scottish Information Commissioner Co-Director, Centre for Freedom of University of Dundee

GCRF project type – Research pump priming

Description of project: Colombia and Sri Lanka have multiple development and governance challenges due to their lengthy civil conflicts, including increased poverty and inequality and reparations for serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. To address these challenges, Colombia and Sri Lanka need effective, accountable, transparent, and inclusive state institutions to deliver social assistance, land restitution, and reparations. One important way to develop this is through implementing the public’s right to information (RTI). RTI helps ensure that state institutions are responsive and accountable to the public – including conflict-affected individuals and groups. This project aims to strengthen RTI implementation in Colombia and Sri Lanka as a way of making the state institutions responsible for delivering social assistance, land restitution, and reparations more effective, accountable, transparent, and inclusive.

Supporting the work of the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace

Professor Sabine Michalowski


  • Daniel Marin: Dejusticia
  • Jaime Andres Contreras Fonseca: Special Jurisdiction for Peace/Universidad de los Andes

GCRF project type: Visiting Fellowship Impact (Engagement Fund)

Description of project: The Essex Transitional Justice Network is at the forefront of a number of debates relevant to the Colombian peace process. The aim of this project is to assist in addressing challenges in relation to human rights, good governance and social justice. By providing the Colombian Special Jurisdiction for Peace (SJP) with a range of tools, including a printed 'roadmap' and a series of workshops - it will seek to strengthen accountability, address past injustice and build confidence in state institutions.

Business, Peace and Sustainability

Professor Han Dorussen


  • Universidad Externado de Colombia: Professor Julián Arevalo Bencardino, Dr Helen Orjuela, Dr Andrés Camacho, Dr. Andrés Garcia, Carolina Quevedo
  • Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FiP)

GCRF project type: Research pump priming

Description of project: With political instability still a major development challenge for Colombia, this project examines the role of civil society organisations, in particular, business organisations, in peacebuilding and the strengthening of social capital, at a local level. It asks whether decentralisation of peacebuilding activities enhances societal trust in the peace process and how all of these factors could lead to local resilience. The project involves two workshops for entrepreneurs, held in two regions of Colombia most affected by the conflict. Participants will learn how to become agents of social change and peacebuilding in their territories. They will also have access to a virtual classroom where they can communicate further with the academics involved. Evaluation surveys (involving researchers, FiP, officials from the Colombian government and the UN Verification Mission in Colombia) will inform future interventions.

Strengthening Local Governance and Peacebuilding in Colombia using Data Analysis

Professor Royce Carroll

Partners / organisations:

  • Universidad Externado de Colombia:
  • Dr Paola Montilla, Head of the Government School;
  • Dr Eduardo Bechara, Professor and researcher at the Centre of Research OPERA; Dr David Ortiz, Professor and researcher at the Faculty of Economics;
  • Helen Oriuela, Professor and researcher at the Faculty of Economics;
  • Dr Johan Julio, Professor and researcher at OPERA;
  • Dr Javier Garay, Assistant professor, OASIS researcher and
  • Angela Gaitan, Research assistant at the Faculty of Economics.

GCRF project type: Research pump priming

Description of project: In the summer of 2019, four scholars from Externado took part in the Essex Summer School in Social Data Analysis and joined meetings with research officers and project managers from the Catalyst and EIRA projects. As a result, Externado launched COLGOV – a project that aims to bring together researchers wishing to draw on Essex’s experience with local authorities in the UK in order to bring it to Colombia. This project seeks to strengthen the academic links between Externado and Essex via a new set of proposed activities that aim to approach local governments in Colombia to address the specific policy challenge of peacebuilding projects. 

Following the workshop, academic colleagues from the Essex delegation and Colombia came together for a key debate focused on peacebuilding and transitional justice issues in relation to Colombia. Held at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, the lively panel discussion covered the political, economic, historical and cultural factors around peacebuilding, reparations and transitional justice issues. A recording of the discussion is available online.

The Bogota GCRF@Essex research visit helped to establish a co-hort of academic colleagues focused on tackling global challenges in Colombia, one of the focus countries of the GCRF@Essex programme. Several synergies between Essex researchers from different disciplines were identified and will be followed up on over the coming months. We aim to establish a network of academic colleagues and collaborators focused on similar challenges, which will help us to respond effectively to future funding calls as complementary expertise, and shared interests have been established.