Graduate Profile: Daniel Mundeva, MA International Studies

June 07, 2016

Growing up near gold mines in Tanzania, International Studies MA graduate Daniel Mundeva says he saw first-hand how relationships between local communities, governments and resource extraction companies can be fraught with tension and conflict. Having completed his BA in Environment and Sustainability at UBC, Mundeva says he chose SFU’s International Studies MA and the stream on Governance and Conflict because he wanted to “transition from the corporate world to public service” and because the program’s focus on governance, peace, and policy research appealed to him.

Mundeva’s research for his thesis looked at the concept of “Social License to Operate” (SLO), and analyzing the “state of the Tanzanian government’s policy support and capacity for implanting SLOs. While the concept is complex, Mundeva says an SLO is defined by “a community’s consent or support for a project to exist in that community.” He gives the example of the Kinder Morgan pipeline protests that have recently taken place on Burnaby Mountain as exemplary of a project where there is a lack of SLO: “Clearly the community didn't feel fully involved in the approval processes of that project and as we see, ramifications can arise from the neglect of community input.”

Mundeva’s own research topic stems from his work experience in the mining industry: he’s worked as an Environmental Specialist for Barrick Gold Corporation in Toronto, Canada, where he was responsible for assessing the company’s environmental practises. Mundeva says his MA thesis was focused on “analyzing how different stakeholders are involved in the decision-making process surrounding the management of natural resources in Tanzania.” Mundeva says, “a relationship between a government and a company is [usually] clearly outlined in contracts or 'development agreements' (DA). One would hope that those contracts or DAs also reflect the voices of communities that are going to be impacted (and sometimes it may appear so on paper). However, in practice, the voices and needs of communities are rarely prioritized and this oversight often causes a lot of conflicts and tensions to arise in natural resource extractions.”

Mundeva says his MA coursework helped him push his critical analysis to the next level. In particular, he says Elizabeth Cooper’s class, “Problems of International Policy and Practice” was challenging and inspirational. “Dr Cooper, with her experience in government ministry, challenged us to put ourselves in the shoes of global leaders and other change-makers and draft realistic real-life solutions. This course ultimately pushed me to take a critical but realistic angle while dealing with difficult tasks.” Similarly, Mundeva calls Gregory Feldman’s course, “State Failure and Reconstruction: Comparitive Perspectives” the most “thought-provoking class” he’d ever taken. “[In Dr. Feldman’s class] we critically unpacked some of the most pressing issues our world faces today, such as security and migration. He challenged us to critically analyze presumptions and ideologies many of us take for granted. I walked out of that class feeling more aware of systems and forces that determine important issues in our society such as labour, security and migration.”

In addition to his coursework and thesis in International Studies, Mundeva participated in a wide range of programs and volunteer work including a co-op with the Local Economic Development (LED) Lab, an NGO in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside (DTES). He call the experience “one of the most memorable” he’s ever undertaken. “As part of the LEDlab team, I was part of a very strong group of like-minded individuals who work hard to tackle issues like poverty and marginalization through a systems thinking approach. In other words, we tried to tackle system-wide factors impacting the livelihoods of DTES residents, while also deeply embedding ourselves in local, grassroots efforts.”

The experience was challenging and gave Mundeva the opportunity to liaise with members of a number of different (and sometimes adversarial) community groups. Partnered with the DTES Street Market Society, for example, Mundeva worked not only with individual vendors, but also members of the board of directors for the Street Market Society, the City of Vancouver, the Vancouver Police Department, and some of the Business Improvement Associations involved in the DTES. “Through these interactions, I was warranted a lot of responsibility to manage partnerships while also supporting decision-making processes to increase income generating opportunities for DTES residents and to build the organization's managerial capacity. These undertakings made my work very challenging but also incredibly rewarding.”
Throughout all these experiences, Mundeva says the research skills he honed while studying International Studies at SFU have been most invaluable. In addition to learning about research methods, he says, “I conducted an original field study in Tanzania [and] I felt like my supervisor, Dr. Cooper, prepared me well for the challenges that can accompany fieldwork.” Post-graduation, Mundeva is planning on continuing his work in the field of community engagement and public service and reports that he’s in discussions with a “prominent researcher to potentially become part of a team who is building a community engagement platform.”