Carine Umutoniwase - PhD in Education

Currently at the start of the second year of her PhD, based within the school of Counselling, Human services and Social Work, Carine Umutoniwase was recently crowned the winner of the Faculty of Education and Social Work’s heat of the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) 2023 competition.

Developed by the University of Queensland, 3MT is now held annually in over 900 universities across the globe. Participants take up the challenge to share the story of their research with a general audience in under three minutes, supported by nothing more than a single, static slide.

Carine’s research, Milky Way Citizens: Exploring an Afro-centric youth-led civic engagement, is incredibly close to her heart. The oldest of four, she was born in Rwanda, with her family moving to Kenya during the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

“I am a proud African. I live and die and bleed for my continent and I'm so glad that I can finally pursue something that I've been wanting to do for so long.”

The only downside is that it has taken her away from her work, which Carine is passionate about.

“I’ve been working for a youth-based community organisation, Footprints for Change, based in Nairobi, Kenya which I started in 2016. We celebrated seven years of service just before I came to New Zealand.

“I miss everybody, I miss the work. This is different, but I welcome the change and I'm hoping to build on my work during my study as well.”

It was after hearing a guest lecturer, a PhD student from Otago University, that Carine thought about coming to New Zealand.

“It just kind of stuck at the back of my mind, and at the time I was a research assistant for somebody who works with The Ministry of Health here in New Zealand, so when I thought about really getting this done, I knew I wanted to go somewhere different where you can grow, somewhere where you can breathe. My friend suggested I try the University of Auckland, so I applied, got in and here we are.”

Carine’s undergraduate degree, majoring in political science and economics set her on the path toward her work and current research - exploring Afro-centric, youth-led civic engagement.

I’ve always had a passion to help people, I think this is also tied with my background being Rwandan and the genocide and growing up marginalised in a foreign land. I have that social justice passion in my heart, always wanting to make things better and wanting to work in spaces where I can work with people to improve systems and inform change.

Carine Umutoniwase

“I ended up doing a Masters of Arts in Peace Studies and International Relations at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi, Kenya and I developed the organisation in Kenya around it being a change-making, peace-building organisation.”

Carine’s proposed doctoral research seeks to develop and document an Afro-centric understanding of youth civic engagement (YCE) to inform youth development policymaking and programme implementation in Africa. This will be achieved through three key exploratory qualitative studies.

“The average age in Africa is 18 years, but decision makers aren’t listening to this majority of young voices, instead they are marginalising them. That’s where the title The Milky Way Citizen comes from - understanding that young people back home are peripheral citizens whose voices are not considered even when they have fresh ideas and are advocating for change.

“A lot of research about Africa is Western-informed, and so one of my first studies is a systematic history review to really look at what's out there for youth civic engagement in the African context. Exploring an Afro-centric understanding of civic engagement from young people's perspective.”

Initial findings have uncovered the use of arts as one of the contemporary forms of YCE in Africa. Study two will thus employ a case study methodology to document arts-based expressions of youth-led civic engagement in Kenya and the subsequent impact of this form of YCE.

Lastly, to address the protracted issue of youth marginalisation and the urgent need to actualise meaningful engagement in policy and programme development in Africa, Carine will work with young people to conduct participatory action research on ways to promote YCE in Africa. The third study will bring together young people and decision-makers in strategic leadership positions through a traditional intergenerational conversation space to draft recommendations for meaningful youth engagement considerations for youth policies and programmes in Africa.

Carine admitted that her research has evolved since she started.

“For the first time, this research for me is like a political statement. I'm finally taking a political stance and demanding that young people’s agency and voices on the continent be recognised and heard. That’s really the centrepiece of my work.”

It was a poster for the 3MT competition she received while in Kenya, when she enrolled that caught Carine’s eye. Normally shying away from the oratory space, she decided to take on the challenge.

“I really liked the concept and I feel it's a good platform for me to start speaking up about these important issues and practice because I want to take my research to ministers. I want to take this to politicians, to policymakers.”

Carine said she’s both nervous and excited about the University of Auckland 3MT finals.

“It's quite an honour to be representing the Faculty of Education and Social Work, I'm passionate about social work, so I'll fly that flag all the way!”

The 3MT 2023 finals take place August 4, you can find more details here.