Adel Daoud charts poverty in Africa

Can it be true: a researcher specialising in poverty elected to the Young Academy of Sweden? What about a social scientist who is also an expert in computer science, straddling the boundary between scientific disciplines? Well – why not? Meet Adel Daoud, the sociologist who is using AI to study poverty in Africa.

Adel Daoud. “I believe that the utilisation of researchresults is important. Sometimes I get frustrated that there it takes so manysteps to get from research to implementation,” says Adel Daoud. Photo credit: Erik Thor/ YAS

Divides his time

Map of Africa.It is possible to use the map to search för different countries and periods, showing how poverty changes in Africa.

Initially, he’s difficult to get hold of, Adel Daoud, associate professor in sociology in the Institute for Analytical Sociology (IAS), and newly elected to an association of leading young researchers in Sweden. It takes us three weeks to find a window of 45 minutes where we can hold a Zoom interview, with Adel in his office at home in Uddevalla. He divides his time between IAS in Norrköping, Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg (where he is an affiliated researcher), working remotely, and in-service travel.

When only a couple of minutes remain of the scheduled interview period, two completely new people join the Zoom call.

“Hello guys! Can you just hold on a minute. We’re nearly finished,” says Adel Daoud, and then explains:

“Sorry. They’re my next meeting – some students who are interested in doing an undergraduate project with us. I’ve got meetings scheduled all day, and forgot to create a digital waiting room.”

Excellence

This researcher working at LiU and Chalmers was elected this spring to the Young Academy of Sweden, a prestigious position for young researchers from different scientific disciplines. The Academy provides a platform for researchers to meet, exchange experience and work together in outreach to influence developments in various areas.

The selection of members is based on excellence in their field of research, and a commitment to uniting research and society.

“It’s a great honour. It’s an amazing opportunity to get involved and influence research policy and international issues,” says Adel Daoud.

He describes his current work as a mixture of computer science, research into poverty, and more general social science. With a doctoral degree in sociology from 2011, he is today leader of the The AI and Global Development Lab, an interdisciplinary research group that is using artificial intelligence and satellite images to measure poverty in Africa.

Digital maps

Adel Daoud.Adel Daoud at a meeting of the Young Academy of Sweden.

The research group has drawn up digital maps in which developments in several African countries can be studied and analysed with respect to both time and position. The maps can be used to evaluate and compare the effects of poverty interventions, such as different forms of development aid.

“Why is poverty so widespread, even though our planet has the capacity to produce a surplus of many resources? For me, this is a fundamental question,” says Adel Daoud, who points out that we don’t have any satisfactory answers at the moment, despite extensive research into poverty in several scientific fields.

Could it be that the use of many scientific disciplines is itself one of the problems? Economists study poverty from their perspective, those working with international development from another, health researchers from a third, and so on. Adel Daoud brings up Dr. Hans Rosling, and makes it clear that he has huge respect for the man, but doesn’t share his optimism.

Rosling believed that things were going in the right direction, despite many reverses and challenges.

“And while it’s true that humanity has historically achieved an amazing economic development, I don’t believe that this has been unequivocal. If we are honest, we can’t actually say that we’ll still be here tomorrow. The climate is under threat, narcisists som Putin are starting wars – there are many factors that threaten a positive development.”

“This is why we must nurture what we have achieved, and unceasingly strive for improvement where this is needed.”

Various perspectives

In his research, Adel Daoud tries to collect various perspectives on poverty and use knowledge and methods from different disciplines. As a researcher, he wants to occupy the borderland between different fields, which he finds both rewarding and challenging. Rewarding, since he can increase knowledge and explore new territory, but challenging in that few people have been here before and experience is limited.

Adel Daoud has a particular mission at IAS and LiU – to advance sociology research with the aid of computer science. Before taking up his present post in 2021, he was employed as researcher at the leading American university Harvard. He finds his international experience very positive – Swedish universities have much to learn from American ones. And vice versa.

“You can achieve much with a big ego, but it’s important that you can also collaborate. What is an ingrained Swedish tradition – to be envious of success – may in some situations spur you to greater efforts. I believe it's a matter of creating an environment in which we researchers can both compete and collaborate with each other, just as in sport.”

  • To find out more about Adel Daoud and his work, you can tune into his podcast The Journeys of Scholars, available on YouTube and soon on Spotify. There, he interviews scientists about their pathway to success as a researcher. 

Brief facts

Adel Daoud

Position: Associate professor in analytical sociology at IAS, affiliated researcher at Chalmers University of Technology, leader of the AI and Global Development Lab
In the news: Selected this spring as member of the Young Academy of Sweden

Family: Married with two children

Lives: In Uddevalla

Interests: My family takes up a lot of my time, and I enjoy walking. I love trying out new food, and enjoy cooking. I play board games, and watch avidly both classic and new science fiction films.

Other info: Keen on football, and played at an elite level when young. Now, however, he doesn’t watch football so often, after an injury put an end to his playing career. “Football’s like science – doing it is much more fun than watching it.”

The Young Academy of Sweden (SUA)

SUA is an interdisciplinary academy where several of the most prominent young researchers in Sweden from all disciplines are members. New members are elected every year and sit for a period of 5 years. The Academy has 35–40 members.

The Academy is an independent foundation and brings young researchers together to create a platform where they can meet and make a difference. Founded in 2011, SUA has established itself as an active player in the Swedish system for research and higher education.

Activities in the Academy are spread across four areas: research policy, internationalisation, cross-disciplinarity, and outreach (often with a focus on children and young people). The Academy also has several international exchanges, and collaborates regularly with similar organisations abroad.

Independent, leading researchers in Sweden whose doctoral degree was awarded 2-10 years ago are eligible for selection as members.

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