2021 Partnership Award Winner: Rashid Sumaila

Video: Rashid Sumaila - Partnership Award - 2021 Impact Awards


Rashid Sumaila:

Essentially, the work my research seeks to answer is how can we people manage our ocean and fishery resources sustainably through time so that it can give us what I call “infinity benefits,” that is, benefits through time for us and our grandchildren and their children and grandchildren, too. What does it mean to me to win a SSHRC Impact [Award]? I mean, number one, it is SSHRC. I mean, that is our main social sciences and humanities—that is our main authority when it comes to grant[s] and when it comes to research. So an endorsement by SSHRC is huge. So that’s it. The second reason is that it is an “Impact” Award. So this is not just about publishing your stuff and leaving it in a journal. It's how we as a group, Ocean Canada—which is the Partnership Grant for which I won this— how we took our research into the public, to the policy-makers, through our commitment to media, social media, going out and giving talks. So, impact and SSHRC together makes this amazing. And that means I'm going to get my colleagues, we're going to get really good students… and training is important for future scholars. So, there's a lot to be happy and proud of about this award.

Most academics dedicate their entire careers to developing specialized knowledge within their chosen fields, whether economics, social inequality, oceanography or climate change. At only mid-life, Rashid Sumaila has already advanced global understanding in all of these disciplines.

It’s a reflection of his insatiable appetite for learning, and of his determination to, as he explains, “make the world a more just and sustainable place.”

Sumaila has realized the need to nurture nature since his youth growing up in Africa. There, his grandfather taught him to take care of the earth by walking on it as if it feels pain. Later, Sumaila’s years in Norway pursuing a PhD in economics narrowed his focus to protecting fish stocks and the world’s oceans while there is still time.

His interests drew him to The University of British Columbia (UBC) to study under his mentor, professor emeritus Gordon Munro. Munro was the first person to apply game theory to managing transboundary fisheries. Sumaila now holds dual appointments as director of the Fisheries Economics Research Unit at UBC’s Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries and of the university’s School of Public Policy and Global Affairs. He specializes in bioeconomics; marine ecosystem valuation; and analysis of global issues such as fisheries subsidies, illegal fishing, climate change and oil spills.

Given time is of the essence to preserve fish stocks and habitats, Sumaila has mobilized a cross-section of connected sectors to take urgent, collective action to achieve it.

“No single discipline alone can address this massive challenge,” says Sumaila. “We need to bring our diverse skills, knowledge and commitment to the cause, and work together to develop solutions. Because we are really just one, global ocean and one, enormous human family.”

Sumaila is driven by his vision of “Infinity Fish, also the title of his latest book, “to pass on a healthy ocean to our children and grandchildren so they, too, have the option to do the same.” As a result, he created the OceanCanada Partnership (OCP). The seven-year research initiative, funded by SSHRC, is composed of 22 formal research partners, including Canadian universities, community organizations, First Nations, and Fisheries and Oceans Canada. The partners bring expertise in economics, law, geography, ethics, sociology, anthropology, fisheries, and oceanography.

Sumaila has prioritized making OCP knowledge accessible to policy-makers and lay people, to help ensure the research is applied. The partnership has so far generated over 500 publications; more than 500 presentations; 16 books and volumes; and over 50 films, documentaries and videos. OCP recommendations have had a direct impact on realigning federal government science policies with ocean science. OCP’s research has also informed the work of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the International Panel for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, the World Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the UN itself.

Sumaila himself has become one of the world’s most highly cited natural resource economists, and a sought-after speaker. While raising public awareness of his partnership’s important work, he has been invited by His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales to St. James’s Palace to discuss ocean research, and asked to appear alongside President Barack Obama and actor Leonardo DiCaprio at the 2016 Our Ocean Conference.

Sumaila’s research contributions have earned him a fellowship with the Royal Society of Canada, and appointment as the Canada Research Chair in Interdisciplinary Ocean and Fisheries Economics. He won the 2017 Volvo Environment Prize, often called the “environmental Nobel prize,” and the 2017 Peter Benchley Ocean Award, and was named a 2021 University Killam Professor.

But, what matters most to Sumaila is cultivating the next generation of researchers who will continue to make waves in ocean research. He has so far trained 63 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of them women. Most have gone on to positions of influence in academia, government, non-governmental organizations or the private sector.

About the award

The annual Impact Awards recognize the highest achievements in SSHRC-funded research, knowledge mobilization and scholarship, as well as the highest achievements resulting from a SSHRC fellowship awarded.

The Partnership Award recognizes a SSHRC-funded formal partnership for its outstanding achievement in advancing research, research training or knowledge mobilization, or developing a new partnership approach to research and/or related activities.

Date modified: