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Lena Gumaelius appointed as the new manager of the KTH Global Development Hub

We contribute to solving global challenges through educational cooperation.

Lena Gumelius leaning against a KTH building
Published Sep 19, 2023

Lena Gumaelius has recently been appointed as the new manager of KTH's Global Development Hub (GDH). This is an initiative created at KTH to promote education and innovation in a global context. The main goal of GDH's activities is to contribute to positive societal development through engineering education. This is done by giving our students the opportunity to work with global challenges during their studies. Let's hear what Lena Gumaelius herself has to say about the visions, goals and the journey ahead.

To kick things off, could you briefly introduce yourself and your background in the context of global development and innovation?

I am an engineer from KTH. I have previously worked as a manager and leader for many years at KTH, mostly at the Department of Learning. Recently, however, I have come back after a three-year assignment as vice-principal at Mälardalen University. I cannot really say that I have a background linked to global development or innovation but as a researcher in Biotechnology, a long time ago, I was involved in a SIDA project where we had several African doctoral students, experience still made this project feel extra exciting. But that is why I find it so exciting to take on the task as director of GDH. And GDH is so much more than innovation and global development. The project also includes the dimensions I have more experience with, such as educational development and university management. Of all the projects I have been involved in at KTH in some way, this initiative is the one that has triggered me and my interests the most. I simply think that GDH is important, in this work, many of us at KTH can be involved and make a difference. 

Can you share with our readers what your role as the new manager of KTH Global Development Hub entails? What are your primary responsibilities?

KTH has quite recently developed an Africa strategy where KTH wants to be active in the social development that is now taking place in Africa. GDH is one of the most important tools for creating a presence in an active way. My mission is simply to work to ensure that KTH develops a good platform in Africa, both for educational development, research, and innovation. With the expertise we have at KTH, we can make an enormous difference in Africa, and at the same time, we can bring home new perspectives and knowledge from the African context that are valuable here at home. 

Vision and Mission

The KTH Global Development Hub has ambitious goals related to global development. What excites you most about the mission of the hub, and what is your vision for its future impact?

Our work is based on the fact that we need a societal transformation to achieve sustainable development in the world. Engineers and engineering expertise play a huge role here, as technological development has not always gone hand in hand with sustainable development. I hope and believe that GDH's activities contribute to creating sustainable technological development. By working together with African countries, which for example are not stuck in the same infrastructure and technical systems as we have in Sweden, we can together identify and test new ways to solve problems both for the African continent and here at home. 

Innovation is a core aspect of this initiative. How do you plan to leverage your expertise to foster innovation within the hub and promote collaboration with various stakeholders?

One of the Hub's key tools is Challenge-driven education . By allowing students to work on societal challenges together with their teachers and external actors already during their studies, they train their ability to develop innovations. An ability they can use during their studies, but above all as active engineers. Within GDH, we are working to increase the number of challenge-driven activities both at KTH and at our partner universities in Africa. This means that we try to spread the concept through marketing to university management and teachers and offer courses for teachers. 

The initiative involves collaboration between ecosystems in Sweden and African countries. Could you elaborate on your strategies for effective cross-cultural engagement and cooperation in this context?

The clearest example of cross-cultural work is our mobility activities. Every year, KTH students have the opportunity to participate in challenge-driven courses at our African partner universities and African students can participate in our courses here in Sweden. Doctoral students and teachers could also visit each other. In the future, we want to increase cultural cooperation even more by offering challenge-driven courses digitally. Then we can really create courses where students work together all over the world. 

One of the key objectives is to create a scalable model that inspires others. How do you envision achieving this goal, and what steps do you think are crucial in making the initiative replicable?

We believe that the success factors for this approach are that  

  1. the concept of challenge-driven education is flexible so that many people can adapt their teaching to this in their own way;

  2. at the same time, the concept rests on a clear foundation - where we work with the 17 sustainable development goals in a global perspective - which makes it easy to understand the benefits of the approach:  

  3. finally, we spend a lot of time thinking about which relevant parties can/should be involved in the network, which means that we create a valuable network for all actors. 

Relevance and Impact 

Lena Gumaelius portrait
Associate Professor Lena Gumaelius

Ensuring solutions are relevant and impactful is vital. How will you work to ensure that the solutions developed by the hub address the unique challenges faced in both Sweden and Africa?

Developing innovations that are utilised in society takes time. This means that our activities rarely lead to a direct "impact" where the innovation is taken all the way to utilisation. We therefore work together with university innovation hubs and companies that want to take their ideas further. Our idea is also that the hub's activities have an indirect 'impact', as students and external stakeholders try and test different solutions. Even if it does not lead to a finished innovation, brainstorming and thinking is important both from a learning perspective and an innovation perspective when dealing with difficult problems. 

I also want to tell you that we at KTH together with our partner universities are also researching how the activities in GDH work and what impact they make. By taking a research-based approach, we hope to be able to develop the activities we conduct in the best conceivable way. 

Collaboration with local communities and stakeholders is crucial. Can you outline your approach to engaging and building strong relationships with local partners in Africa?

This is something being worked on continuously. We at KTH are a little envious of how our partners in Tanzania have managed to engage several partners in a more comprehensive way, where they work directly with the students (and with the teachers) on various societal challenges. Something we must learn from.  

Marketing and communication play a significant role in spreading the word about the hub's work. How do you plan to communicate the achievements and impact of the Global Development Hub to a wider audience?

I must say that I was immensely proud when I attended a seminar at STINT a few weeks ago and they mentioned KTH's investment in the Global Development hub as an innovative and new concept! So, we are at least visible in some way! Otherwise, we are currently looking at how we can present our activities in figures and develop good examples that we can highlight on the website. A communication plan for how to reach internal and external stakeholders is underway. 

Inspiration for Others

As we conclude, can you share a message or piece of advice for individuals or organisations looking to embark on similar global development and innovation initiatives?

Do not hesitate to contact us at the Global Development Hub! All good forces are needed to achieve the necessary transformation of university education.

With Lena Gumaelius at the helm, this visionary project promises to lead the way in addressing the world's most pressing challenges through cooperation, innovation, and education. 

Reported by: Madeleine Tucker Smith