Meet Your Board: An Interview with Incoming Board Member Cyril Obi

The ASA Board of Directors have terms of three years. Cyril Obi, Program Director at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC), was elected in May 2016 to serve as a member of the Board of Directors, beginning in December 2016. Below you can find an interview with Cyril Obi. You can find more information about the Social Science Research Council here.

How and why did you initially become involved in the ASA?

I got to know of the ASA in the late 1990s as a young scholar, then based in Nigeria. This knowledge came from three sources: reading the African Studies Review, the flagship journal of the ASA, information about the association contained in the newsletter of the now defunct African Association of Political Science (AAPS), and my interactions with colleagues abroad who were ASA members.

Why did you choose to become involved in the board?

I chose to become a member of the board because of my demonstrable experience researching Africa and desire to contribute towards a better appreciation of the continent, build strong connections with centers of excellence and funders of African research, as well as my passion for engaging with colleagues, and mentoring younger generations of scholars and activists.

Tell us a little more about SSRC – what aspects of SSRC’s mission and work are most relevant to ASA members?

The SSRC is one of the oldest independent, non-profit organizations dedicated to innovative and inter-disciplinary social science research in the United States. It has a track-record in mobilizing evidence-based knowledge on important public issues. Since 1923 it has broadened the scope of its work in nurturing generations of social scientists not only in the US, but also regions across the world, ranging from South America, the Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The aspects of the SSRC’s work that are most relevant to the ASA members include: the activities of its Africa-related programs; information gathering and dissemination, training, research fellowship and grant opportunities, networking with scholars and practitioners, and opportunities for scholarly exchanges and publications.  

You have a background in academia – how and why did you transition to SSRC?

I have a background in academia spanning two decades after completing a PhD in political science from the University of Lagos, Nigeria. I transitioned from being a senior researcher and research cluster leader at the Nigerian Institute of International Affairs, and the Nordic Africa Institute (NAI), after which I was appointed the founding director of the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) program at the Social Science Research Council (SSRC) in 2012.

How do you engage with the academic community in your role at SSRC?

I engage with the academic community at several levels: as a scholar, as a leader of an Africa program collaborating/partnering with Africanist and African scholars and institutions on a set of joint initiatives, including training, networking, research, dialogic forums and publication activities.

How do you see the ASA and its members fitting in the landscape of other associations and non-profits in Africa and African Studies?

The ASA and its members can fit into the landscape of other associations and non-profits in Africa and African studies, by knowing who does what, when and how, and exploring areas of common interests and opportunities for collaboration on specific project with identifiable outcomes/impact/outputs.

Do you have any new initiatives or programs at SSRC you are excited about?

I am excited about the three Africa-related programs of the SSRC whose activities should be of great interest to Africanists and Africans. These are the African Peacebuilding Network (APN) program that offers opportunities for joint seminars/policy dialogues, training, mentoring, networking and publishing; the Next Generation Social Science Research in Africa program offering opportunities for strengthening tertiary education on the continent, including support for doctoral training; and the Africa component of the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum that works with policy makers and practitioners in the fields of conflict prevention, conflict management and peace.

How can ASA members become more involved with SSRC?

ASA members can become more involved with the SSRC by learning more about its activities and the opportunities it represents for collaboration and networking. They can also follow the activities of the SSRC and its programs on social media, exchange information with, and participate in the activities of the organization.

What do you wish people knew about SSRC?

As an organization open to collaboration and committed to connecting high quality evidence-based knowledge to public policy and practice, and a great partner.

When you started your career, where did you think it would lead you?

A fulfilling career based on producing good quality, socially-relevant research and mentoring younger colleagues.

What would you do for a career if you weren’t doing this?

I have not given this much thought, but now you ask, writing.

What is your fondest memory associated with the ASA?

Attending my first ASA meeting and listening to many great colleagues.

What are you looking forward to most at your first ASA Annual Meeting as a Board Member?

Learning more about the challenges facing the ASA at this time and what it takes to manage such a large organization, meeting colleagues on the board and picking up tips on how to serve the organization optimally.

If you could give one piece of advice to a new member of the ASA or a first time attendee of the Annual Meeting, what would it be?

Listen, learn and keep an open mind. See it as a great opportunity to grow.

What is the best book you’ve read in your professional capacity? Why?

There are several, it will be difficult to single out a single one. However, I like books that combine scientific, conceptual and analytical rigor with clear accessible language.

What is your non-work favorite book?

The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah

Tell us something that might surprise us about you. 

I write poetry.