Rutherford Fellowship supports research of fairer, more caring economies

11 November 2021

A University of Canterbury researcher plans to use her Rutherford Discovery Fellowship to explore how community investment can lead towards a more caring, holistic economy.

  • Associate Professor Kelly Dombroski on-site with the team at Cultivate Christchu

    Associate Professor Kelly Dombroski on-site with the team at Cultivate Christchurch, an urban farm where she has conducted research on alternative approaches to return on investment.

Sustainable Development Goals 10 - Reduced Inequalities

Associate Professor Kelly Dombroski is one of 11 New Zealand researchers awarded a Rutherford Discovery Fellowship, providing $800,000 over five years.

She says it will allow her to dedicate more time to her research. “With this project as my full-time job for the next five years, it will be a huge opportunity to collate what is already working in diverse communities in Aotearoa and Asia-Pacific, and use it to rethink economic change.” Associate Professor Dombroski says traditional economic models are driven by Western ideas of competition, profit and individualism but communities and governments are beginning to transition to more ‘holistic’ economies that prioritise wellbeing over economic growth. Examples of this are the  ‘Wellbeing Budget’, Living Standards Framework, and the Unite against Covid-19 campaign.

Despite calls for kindness and reform, child poverty and homelessness are still high, environmental wellbeing is declining, and partnerships based on Te Tiriti o Waitangi are often stalled by political agendas, she says.

Associate Professor Dombroski plans to investigate community organisations that are already on the ground and engaged in the types of economies that care about social change, beginning with case studies in urban areas, farming, composting, and co-housing. This will be followed by studies with diverse communities that include Māori and Asia-Pacific-based community organisations.

“I hope to support a number of Māori and Asia-Pacific postgraduate students into these and other important Māori-led partner projects as well,” she says.

The Fellowship programme will allow her to partner with communities investing their time, energy, and finances into transformation to understand the kinds of people, practices and organisations that drive and emerge from such investment. The programme will also build on these partnerships and findings to co-develop a way forward by accounting for investments of time and energy in terms of social and environmental wellbeing.

Associate Professor Dombroski says receiving the fellowship is a career highlight for her after growing up in Wairarapa and “often struggling to work out how to operate in higher education”. “During my academic career I have had four children and multiple periods of leave and part-time work, and lived far from my extended family. It is such a huge boost to my confidence and a huge testament to the practical and emotional support of my family.

“It also speaks to the global support I have received from my colleagues in the Community Economies Research Network and the Community Economies Institute, where my work has been challenged, nurtured and shared in deep, long-term collaborations.”

Rutherford Discovery Fellowships are awarded to mid-career researchers to support them to accelerate their careers.

Royal Society Te Apārangi manages the programme on behalf of the New Zealand Government with funding from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

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