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Department of Geography


Development consultants and contractors: for-profit companies in the changing world of ‘Aidland’

Project team

Emma Mawdsley University of Cambridge logo

Emma Mawdsley

(Primary Investigator), University of Cambridge

Professor Emma Mawdsley is Professor of Human Geography and Fellow of Newnham College, University of Cambridge and the Primary Investigator for the DC&C project. In addition to overseeing the project, Emma leads the work on knowledge exchange conversations between stakeholders, and also co-leads the work on analysing the UK policy context and the broader generation of theory reflecting the realities of ‘Aidland’.

Alongside work on the DC&C project, Emma’s overarching research interests are in the politics (broadly interpreted) of international development. Recent work focuses on DFID/FCDO’s growing private sector-led growth agenda, financialisation and development, and donor exit from and transition within partner countries. Emma has a particular interest in South-South development cooperation but also in how this growing phenomenon and other national and global shifts are affecting the (so-called) ‘traditional’ donors. Emma has an ongoing research connection to India.

Paul Gilbert University of Sussex logo

Paul Gilbert

(Co-Investigator), University of Sussex

Dr Paul Gilbert is a Senior Lecturer in International Development, University of Sussex. Paul is a co-investigator for the DC&C project, leading the work to map and analyse financial flows and contracts of ODA funded projects.

Alongside work on the DC&C project, Paul’s research (undertaken in Bangladesh, the UK & South Africa) has primarily focused on law, finance and sovereignty in relation to natural resource extraction, and the role of private sector finance/for-profit actors in international development. Paul also explores these issues in his teaching by engaging with science and technology studies, political ecology, postcolonial studies and the sociology/geography of finance. Underpinning much of his teaching and research is a concern with how durable colonial structures shape the contemporary global economy.

Jo-Anna Russon University of Nottingham logo

Jo-Anna Russon

(Co-Investigator), University of Nottingham

Dr Jo-Anna Russon is a Research Fellow in the School of Education, University of Nottingham. Jo-Anna is a co-investigator for the DC&C project, co-leading the work on policy and theory related to the UK context and leading the education case studies. Jo-Anna is also responsible for the day-to-day management of the project.

Alongside work on the DC&C project, Jo-Anna’s main area of interest is the relationship between the private sector and development, particularly in the context of UK ODA, drawing on corporate responsibility and political economy to explore both opportunities and conflicting interests therein. As a Research Fellow she also co-leads research and scholarship in the field of international vocational education and training (VET) in sub-Saharan Africa, bringing an interdisciplinary perspective based on her expertise on the private sector and international development.

Jessica Sklair

Jessica Sklair

(Co-Investigator), Queen Mary University of London

Dr Jessica Sklair is a Lecturer in the School of Business and Management and a Fellow of the Institute for the Humanities and Social Sciences, Queen Mary University of London. Jessica is a co-investigator for the DC&C project, responsible for leading the project case studies.

Alongside work on the DC&C project, Jessica’s research spans three main areas: (i) elite philanthropy, philanthrocapitalism and ‘impact investing’; (ii) financialisation and the role of the private sector in international development, and (iii) wealth elites, inheritance and business succession processes in Brazil. Jessica is also co-leading a research project with Dr Farwa Sial, that explores the adoption of innovative financing mechanisms by philanthropic foundations in the Middle East (funded by the Centre for Strategic Philanthropy at the Cambridge Judge Business School), along with various other projects and academic publications in line with her expertise on financialisation within the development sector in Brazil, Latin America and more broadly.

Brendan Whitty UEA logo

Brendan Whitty

(Co-Investigator), University of East Anglia

Dr Brendan Whitty is a lecturer in Development Practice in the School of International Development, University of East Anglia. Brendan is a co-investigator for the DC&C project, responsible for leading the work on understanding the contractor and consultancy sector through the lens of the case firms.

Alongside work on the DC&C project, Brendan’s teaching and research address the practicalities of delivering development support in the real world with a critical lens. Brendan spent three years in post-invasion Afghanistan, which prompted a focus on improving aid accountability and effectiveness as researcher, evaluator and policy advocate. Brendan studies the policies, tools and bureaucratic and programmatic contexts of development agencies, and the implications of these processes. To do this, Brendan supplements development management literature with insights from the anthropology of development and Science and Technology Studies.

Sarah Hughes University of Cambridge logo

Sarah Hughes

University of Cambridge

Sarah Hughes-McLure is a PhD candidate in the Department of Geography at the University of Cambridge. Sarah is a Post-Doctoral Research Associate for the DC&C project, contributing to the work on financial analysis, case study on disaster risk management and financing, and knowledge exchange with stakeholders.

Alongside work on the DC&C project, Sarah’s research interests are in development, economic geography, and political economy. Her PhD is on development finance, specifically ‘innovative’ financing for development, with a focus on the role of the private sector and private finance. Before her PhD, Sarah was a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group from 2014 to 2019.

Olivia Taylor University of Sussex logo

Dr Olivia Taylor

University of Sussex

Dr Olivia Taylor is a Research Fellow in International Development at the University of Sussex. Olivia works with Dr Paul Gilbert on the critical financial analysis component of the DC&C project, mapping and analysing financial flows and contracts within UK ODA expenditure.

Olivia’s overarching research interests span questions of environment and development with a particular focus on political economy analysis. Her PhD (2018-2022) entitled ‘Shifting liabilities and logics of decision-making: the Political Economy of Disaster Risk Financing’, was funded by a NERC-ESRC studentship and highlighted the increasing hybridization between insurance-based approaches and more traditional humanitarian financing.

Ellie Thompson University of Cambridge logo

Ellie Thompson

University of Cambridge

Ellie Thompson is a Research Assistant for the DC&C project working on the changing landscape of UK aid and the role of the private sector. Prior to joining the project, she interned with the International Program at the Migration Policy Institute. Ellie has a Master’s in Migration Studies from the University of Oxford and a BA in Geography from the University of Cambridge.