Understanding why some societies develop while others lag is crucial for the UN and anyone else interested in the 2030 Agenda – be they policymakers, academics or NGOs. In this Q&A, Dr. Eleonora Nillesen talks about her research on corruption and development, and how it earned her the acclaimed GSBE Extramural Fellowship at Maastricht University’s School of Business and Economics.
What does this fellowship mean for you and the institute?
With this fellowship, the School of Business and Economics aims to appoint fellows who can help each other professionally. One clear example of this would be applying for grants together. The overall goal is to bring new researchers into the fold, while also bringing UNU-MERIT and SBE closer together in terms of research.
Who is eligible to apply?
They have a system whereby your publications from the last four years are awarded points. In other words: A+ = 12 pts, A = 10, B+ = 8, B = 6, C+ = 4, C = 2. This is based on an agreed ‘hierarchy’ of journal articles, whereby A+ are the top five journals within economics, business and finance.
You’re eligible for the fellowship once you’ve accumulated 16 points over the last four years, including at least one B+ publication. In my case, I had four articles, including one ‘A’ that earned me 10 points (so after that it wasn’t too difficult to reach the minimum threshold). In total, I got 22 points.
Is this linked to your international research? If so, how so?
Yes, it’s linked to the research I did on corruption in Liberia and to another study, also conducted in Liberia, on the importance of family networks for development outcomes. What we show is that those family networks are so strong that they reduce individual incentives to prosper – they end up sharing not only burdens but everything they earn. Going further, what links all these papers is that they focus on institutions and development outcomes; they show that weak formal institutions retard development.
In Liberia, the lack of property rights and social security, for example, have a negative impact on development. Digging deeper, the lack of formal safety nets make people rely even more on their networks, which in turn reduces incentives to invest. This then becomes a vicious circle. For my ‘A’ publication, we looked in detail at corrupt local chiefs and how that reduced incentives for investment.
What did your other papers focus on?
Three focused on Liberia and the other was for the Annual Review of Resource Economics, where we reviewed the literature for theoretical and empirical evidence on the link between natural resources and violent conflict. Although the cross-country evidence is inconclusive, micro-level studies demonstrate a clear negative link between resource wealth and peace and stability.
How did you come across the fellowship?
I was encouraged to apply by Bart Verspagen, the Director of UNU-MERIT, who mentioned it to me at our annual meeting. I looked into it and it seemed interesting because it would allow me to be informed about other interesting research within the network, bounce ideas around and explore possibilities for collaboration.
The fellowship runs for four years (my initial tenure lasts until 2021) but you can apply to renew it for another four years. There are currently 14 extramural fellows in total; and right now there are several UNU-MERIT researchers who are also fellows at SBE — but they’re not classified as extramural. Still, they have to comply with the same criteria to obtain this status.
What comes next?
In my current work I focus on the role of formal and informal institutions in mediating violence and extremism. I am also developing initiatives to assess the impact of grass-roots interventions (e.g. debate clubs and online platforms) on countering violent extremism, as well as anti-radicalisation programmes, using novel survey experiments and data from social media. I hope the fellowship helps me to inspire and collaborate with other fellows interested in what I believe is a fascinating and extremely topical field of research.
The opinions expressed here are the author’s own; they do not necessarily reflect the views of UNU.
Gonne Beekman; Herman Pijpers