Celebrating International Collaborations at THE Awards Conference and Ceremony


The Hub’s collaboration with South Africa’s Empatheatre was celebrated at the ‘Oscars of Higher Education’ – the Times Higher Education Awards (THE) and THE Campus Live UK&IE conference that ‘bring together higher education leaders, industry partners and policy experts’ from the UK and Ireland ‘to discuss, debate and plan how to achieve institutional success’.  

philile mbatha and Elisa Morgera at the Times Higher Education Awards conference and ceremony. Photo: Milica Prokic

The nomination for International Collaboration of the Year 

On 7 December 2023, One Ocean Hub Director Elisa Morgera, Deputy Director Philile Mbatha, and Knowledge Exchange Associate Milica Prokic (University of Strathclyde) attended the Times Higher Education Awards (THE) conference and ceremony. The Hub’s collaboration with South Africa’s Empatheatre, was nominatied for the prestigious award in the category of the International Collaboration of the Year, recognising ‘exceptional projects or joint ventures carried out between a UK or Irish institution and international partners.’ Empatheater is a collective of researchers, actors, activists and writers who co-develop scripts, theatre productions, animations, documentaries and films with Indigenous and other knowledge holders. The nomination focused on the Empatheatre’s play ‘Lalela uLwandle’ (‘Listen to the Sea), which illuminates the close connections between human rights and ocean-climate governance, both locally and internationally. 

The Hub would like to congratulate the Sheffield Hallam team on their well deserved win in this category.  They collaborated with the International Organisation for Migration on SCAAN, Security Communications and Analysis Network – a security platform that has been used to keep UN agency staff safe in some of the world’s most volatile environments and conflicts of our time, including World Health Organisation’s response to Ebola (2017-18) and supporting humanitarian interventions following the Turkey-Syria earthquake.

Photo: Milica Prokic

Exchanging experiences at the THE Conference 

The Conference program included the THE Award Spotlight panels, where the nominees in each category could share their work in more detail and reflect together on challenges and achievements. The panellists for the International Collaboration of the Year category discussed the nature and the impact of international collaborations, as well as the challenges that come with these multi-layered, inter and trans-disciplinary, complex collaborations and their experiences in overcoming them.  

Elisa Morgera contextualised the ongoing collaboration with Empatheatre as part of the Hub,’s larger international, inter- and transdisciplinary research collaborative program seeking inclusive and equitable modes of ocean governance. She underscored that Lalela uLwandle demonstrates how natural and social scientists, lawyers and artists can collaborate with holders of different knowledge systems respectfully and constructively, to develop a more integrated understanding of environmental challenges. She introduced the audience to the core purpose of Hub’s collaboration with Empatheatre, ‘to literally put centre stage the stories of exclusion, unique knowledge and socio-cultural connections to the ocean of those that are usually left out of decisions that affect the ocean and their own lives, well-being, economies, cultures and spirituality.’  

Photo: Milica Prokic

Elisa shared Empatheatre’s research ethics approach, noting that the production for Lalela uLwandle employed a careful, iterative process to ensure that the communities feel accurately represented and co-identify strategically which audiences should be reached out to with the performance. While the play is idiosyncratically South African, Elisa report that it resonated deeply with international audience too at the Climate COP in 2022 as well as at the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome and at the United Nations Headquarters in New York in 2023. Elisa observed that ‘Lalela uLwandle allows different experts (climate, ocean, fisheries, human rights, development experts) to understand the lived realities of those most affected by the negative impacts of poor decision connected to the ocean’ , and in so doing to re-imagine together more sustainable, fair and integrated approaches to ocean governance.  

Reflecting on challenges  

Photo: Milica Prokic

Perhaps unsurprisingly, all the nominees reflected on the challenges of securing further funds for their ambitious, high-impact projects built on innovative international collaborations. In terms of specific challenges for the One Ocean Hub as a whole, Elisa flagged up those that were there from the outset, such as the ‘deep ideological tensions among researchers in different disciplines, as well as tensions due to the power relations of a project funded by the UK but working with multiple partners from across the Global South’. She discussed how the Hub worked through them, by co-developing a Code of Practice that distils key lessons learnt from previous projects about what went wrong and commit not to repeat these mistakes. And agreement was made across the Hub that tensions and fairness issues would be addressed explicitly as areas of learning, with researchers being supported in this process that can be very unsettling. Elisa also noted the role of the Hub’s funder – UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund – who allowed an iterative research design, that could be adapted to the learning from these challenges and tensions. It turned out that these findings and methods are now one of the most transferable and sought-after outcomes of the Hub’s work, contributing to international processes well beyond the Hub’s areas of research (such as the negotiations of a pandemic treaty under the World Health Organisation). 

Elisa concluded:  

“So many valuable impacts have been generated through implementation of the One Ocean Hub so far, so we are very much hoping that we will secure continuous support to continue building on our achievements, and to continue to demonstrate that fair international partnerships are both possible and necessary if we are to have any chance of addressing intractable global challenges and achieving lasting change.” 

Related SDGs:

  • Good health and well-being
  • Quality education
  • Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  • Climate action
  • Life below water
  • Peace, justice and strong institutions