April 22, 2019

E4C’s Fellowship Prepares an Architect for Leadership Among Researchers in Congo

Elisabeth Vistwamba (front right) and colleagues pose at an IRI training session. Land administrators and UCBC alumni learned to use GIS and digital land administration tools.

Elisabeth Vitswamba engaged leadership skills she practiced in Engineering for Change’s Research Fellowship to train researchers at the Integrated Research Institute of the Université Chretiènne Bilingue du Congo (UCBC). Her contribution to internal capacity building has helped equip the institute’s staff to teach land administrators and community members mobile data collection tools and GIS land administration tools to improve transparency, functionality, and accessibility of land administration in the DRC, part of a project called Sharing the Land. The project aims to understand and influence how the land is used and managed in an attempt to reduce land related conflict. Until she was forced to leave the country as a precaution against the ebola outbreak, Elisabeth was a supporting partner in an ambitious collaboration that includes UCBC, the Congolese government, UN Habitat, and the Global Land Tool Network (GLTN) among others.

Easing Land Conflict in DRC: An Introduction to Open-Source Mapping Tools – Elisabeth Vitswamba

Elisabeth’s education is in architecture, but this work drew on her self-directed interest in digital mapping and data collection tools. She developed curricula and helped train the research institute’s staff in GIS and data collection tools such as OSMAnd, GPS Essentials, KoboToolBox, Excel, QGIS, and STDM (Social Tenure Domain Model). The position also called for leadership among researchers, a specific skill set that E4C’s Expert Fellows can develop.

“During last year’s E4C fellowship, I oversaw the work of researchers from different backgrounds, edited research materials, and communicated with content partners. It is experience that I think has given me more confidence as a leader and collaborator at the intersection of multiple disciplines,” Elisabeth says.

Mapping Precedents and Techniques: A Review – Elisabeth Vitswamba

Work in global development confronts unique obstacles, and Elisabeth contended with one several months after starting her new position. The ebola outbreak prompted the university to send its international staff out of the region in August 2018. Since then, Elisabeth has been living in Uganda. The outbreak continues, and because Elisabeth’s was not designed to be off site, she was unable to renew her contract. The outbreak, insecurity and the culmination of her role at the institute amount to uncertainty about the future of her employment. But she has plans for that eventuality.

In the short term, she is tapping her contact list for opportunities.

“Networking is an important part of being in this field and is generally how people find work, especially early on in their careers (it is how I first came across the E4C fellowship). I am currently looking to find temporary work for an architecture practice or NGO in Uganda, or else find free-lance architectural work or research that can be done remotely, similar to the E4C fellowship,” Elisabeth says.

One aspect of E4C’s Research Fellowship is the opportunity to write and publish original research papers. Elisabeth contributed to three papers in her field (please see the links below). She has taken the research a step further to submit a paper to the Non-Conventional Materials and Technologies Conference (NOCMAT) that will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in July.

“I’m looking forward to networking at this event and connecting with others with experience in materials research,” Elisabeth says.

In the long term, Elisabeth plans to open a design firm with a materials research and community-development arm, likely based in Kinshasa, where she and her husband plan to live.

“My longer-term ambition within the next five years is to start an architecture practice that uses profits from regular building projects to fund non-profit design work and sustainable construction material research. I think that working with E4C as an expert fellow has given me ideas for how collaborations can be a key part of accomplishing larger ambitions,” Elisabeth says.

The plan leaves room for continued work with IRI, the research institute, however.

“I am hopeful that it is something that I can pick up again down the road as I believe the project has opportunity for significant impact,” Elisabeth says.

Elisabeth Vitswamba (top right) and colleagues with IRI lay ground work in 2014 to create the first digital base map of Beni using open source GIS tools. She wrote about the experience here: Easing Land Conflict in DRC: An Introduction to Open-Source Mapping Tools.

For more information on E4C’s Research Fellowship and to see our current and former fellows, including Elisabeth, please see the E4C Fellowship page.

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