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Source: Massey University

Professor Mohan Dutta, Dean’s Chair in Communication at the Massey Business School and director of the Center for Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation.

Professor Mohan Dutta comes to Massey University with a big reputation and a unique approach to communication research. He uses a culture-centred approach to support communities to develop their own health-focused communication interventions and policies.

His global research hub, CARE (Center for Culture-Centred Approach to Research and Evaluation), is also relocating to Massey and will continue to support its many community-based projects on indigeneity, labour rights and poverty from New Zealand. 

“A culture-centred approach argues that communities at the margins have been systematically disenfranchised because they have no way of effectively demanding their rights or articulating their needs, and these are the anchors to health and wellbeing,” Professor Dutta says.

“CARE works to build the communication infrastructures needed to give these communities a voice – and that can be through building cultural resources or supporting media campaigns and writing white papers and policy briefs. We believe solutions to health and wellbeing are most effective when they are driven by communities – CARE just helps them to be heard, so the work of communication becomes one of advocacy.”

He says this approach challenges the idea that academic research should divorce itself from advocacy. He believes CARE offers a framework for “action research” and he is looking for local communities, activists, academics and students keen to collaborate on culture-centred research methods. The aim, he says, is to generate knowledge that helps communities at the margins to achieve social justice and better health and wellbeing.

The centre’s current projects include finding grassroots solutions to indigenous health issues in India; creating communication resources in responding to food insecurity in West Bengal, Telengana and Maharashtra in India; supporting low-wage migrant workers in Singapore to speak out about their living and working conditions; supporting communities living in poverty in Singapore, Malaysia, India and the United States to voice their everyday struggles; and developing community-based interventions for HIV prevention among sex workers and transgender communities. The centre has approximately 25 projects running at any given time and its move to New Zealand will likely see local projects developed.

CARE has worked on a campaign to fortify the food of migrant workers in Singapore.

Local partnerships and projects in the pipeline

Professor Dutta says his main focus in establishing CARE in New Zealand is to build community partnerships and networks that connect movements for social justice across the Asia-Pacific.

“I am doing a lot of listening right now to see what the focal areas might be. I’m conscious of all the tremendous work that has already been done in New Zealand in terms of Māori health and knowledge and Māori activism and research, and I want to see how CARE’s work intersects with what is already happening here.

“I think we also have a role to play in connecting Māori movements with indigenous movements across the Asia-Pacific. Māori approaches could be of real value to others, so we need to create space for that dialogue and learning.”

CARE’s culture-centred approach to research and advocacy seeks to build methods for developing solutions of democratic participation and community ownership that translate into socially just outcomes locally.

“CARE has worked a lot in the areas of poverty and health inequalities, including food insecurity and the chronic diseases associated with poverty like diabetes and cardio-vascular disease and I look forward to exploring the ways in which the lessons of the culture-centered approach translate to New Zealand,” Professor Dutta says.

“I can already see these issues of poverty, inequality, and chronic disease are key challenges for New Zealand too, along with creating affordable housing and decent work. I believe there will be opportunities for CARE to be of value in finding community-driven solutions to these issues.”

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