The Reach Alliance’s reach just got a little longer.  

The University of Toronto research initiative – which brings together undergraduate and graduate students with faculty mentors to investigate how organizations are delivering services to vulnerable and hard-to-reach populations around the globe –  is expanding to three leading universities: University of Oxford, University College London and Tecnológico de Monterrey.

Joseph Wong, U of T’s vice-president, international

Joseph Wong, U of T’s vice-president, international, and Reach Alliance founder, announced the three international partners Friday at the closing of the 2021 Reach Symposium, an annual gathering of leaders from the academic, private and civil society sectors to share insights on how to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

“We have much to learn from our colleagues at the University of Oxford, Tecnológico de Monterrey and University College London,” Wong said. “This appetite for collaboration will guide us as we continue to scale the Reach Alliance around the world.”

Based at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs & Public Policy, the Reach Alliance began as the Reach Project in 2015. To date, it has produced 23 case studies in 16 countries, publishing findings in prestigious journals including The Lancet, the WHO Bulletin, and BMJ Global Health.

Reach teams work together for 12 to 18 months to conduct research, meet with stakeholders, produce case studies and share insights for policy change. Since 2015, U of T students have crossed the globe investigating successful interventions including polio eradication in India, vaccine delivery in Mozambique, women’s economic empowerment in Mexicomobile money apps in Kenya and self-directed home-care service delivery in Ontario.

Gustavo Merino, a professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tecnológico de Monterrey, is enthusiastic about the Reach approach.

“By working on the challenge of reaching the hardest to reach, increasing awareness of this challenge and promoting collaboration on these issues with universities from several countries, this initiative can go a long way in improving developmental outcomes in many countries,” he said.

Two of the three partners have begun work on their case studies. Tecnológico de Monterrey’s first case study examines the barriers faced by migrant Indigenous people in the university’s home city of Monterrey, Mexico. In the first phase of the project, student researchers will examine why Indigenous Peoples are blocked from accessing basic services, and how this perpetuates cycles of poverty.

Gustavo Merino, a professor at the School of Government and Public Transformation at Tecnológico de Monterrey, and Marin MacLeod, executive director of the Reach Alliance, at last year’s Reach Symposium (photo by Nick Iwanyshyn)

The partnership with the University of Oxford includes the university’s Saïd Business School and the Blavatnik School of Government. For its first case study, researchers are examining an intervention in the Indian State of Madhya Pradesh that aims to improve women’s experiences in seeking assistance from police, with a focus on gender-based violence.

“Crossing the last mile of service delivery is a global challenge facing governments, businesses and civic organizations,” said Akshay Mangla, associate professor in international business at Oxford’s Saïd Business School. “The Reach Alliance partnership offers a valuable opportunity for academic institutions to collaborate on complex questions and produce impactful research. I hope it will lead to deeper insights on how to make frontline services work for citizens across the world.”

For Marin MacLeod, executive director of the Reach Alliance and an alumna of the program who studied biometric cash transfers to Syrian refugees in Jordan, the initiative is about sharing insights that will lead to innovation and policy change.

“As a global cross-university network of leading student researchers and faculty, the Reach Alliance shows the academy’s commitment to accelerate the impact of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.”

Reach’s expansion is made possible through the support of the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growthits principal funder. As the program grows, U of T will serve as the global headquarters for the Reach Alliance, while continuing to run its own research programs.

The academic network is set to expand to six universities by 2022.

(This article originally appeared at

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