Emilie conducted a research trip to Malawi in 2018 focused on tackling the ‘white saviour’ syndrome that characterises some approaches to interactions between the Global North and the Global South. She received funding from Santander Universities, which allowed her to travel there to investigate the applicability of photo-elicitation techniques.


About you

Tell us a little about yourself.

My name is Emilie. I'm 24 years old and I'm from Norway. I have always been interested in sports and have played handball for several years back home, both as a hobby and professionally for a few years. There is something about the team spirit, supportive environment and energetic engagement in sports that fascinates me. I also love hiking in the mountains with my dogs. It makes me appreciate the beautiful surroundings we are so lucky to have, and I love to breathe in the fresh, clean air. Other than that, I have always been a creative person and love to craft interesting and unique projects. My time at QMU has encouraged me to develop my creative mindset through exciting projects and assessments.   

Why did you choose to study at QMU and what attracted you to the course?

I wanted to study abroad to develop my English skills, become more independent and grow as a person. I also wanted to study at a university that was connected with a vibrant and fascinating city. After I had done some research, I realised that QMU would be a perfect fit for me. I really liked the combination of courses on offer and was attracted by the fact that it's a small university. Every student gets the attention they deserve and the opportunity to get to know the lecturers.

Why did you choose to study in Edinburgh?

In my opinion, Edinburgh is the perfect city for students. It is a vibrant yet peaceful place that has, more or less, everything a student needs. I love the historic buildings, the castle, small shops, the people and the environment. There is always something fun going on, and it's gorgeous during the Christmas season. 

Your project

You recently returned from Malawi, where, through QMU, you were looking into the applicability of photo-elicitation techniques – could you tell us a bit about the project and how it came about?

My project, which formed part of my master’s studies, addresses the issue of the 'white saviour complex', which can be seen to dominate how some young people represent their trips to developing countries in the Global South. The project aimed to identify an alternative way for Scottish teenagers (aged 16+) who travel to Malawi on supervised school trips to communicate what they learn and see there in a way that develops solidarity with their Malawian peers. This method would also encourage their friends and followers to adapt their behaviour in support of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals.

I travelled to Malawi to collaborate with teenagers from STEKA (Step Kids Awareness), a family home for vulnerable young people located in the city of Blantyre, to identify and create this alternative approach. I named the new model “Project Modzi”.

Project Modzi is an initiative that aims to encourage, support and motivate Scottish pupils to take meaningful photographs of objects to demonstrate respect, unity, and solidarity while visiting another community and country. This is photo-elicitation.

 It is intended that the project will ultimately boost domestic support for international development and encourage citizens to reflect on the impact that their daily behaviours and decisions around environmental, economic and social choices may have on developing countries.

 I developed two types of project content, in the form of a webpage and a guidebook. These will, hopefully, be used to combat the white saviour complex and motivate teenagers to take meaningful pictures and write compelling narratives to campaign for change.

The project was a co-creation between me, STEKA, and Emma Wood, a PR lecturer at QMU who has strong links to STEKA. I'm incredibly grateful to Emma and her incredible commitment and enthusiasm towards teenagers, STEKA and Malawi. She gave me the idea of creating this project and contributed to it with invaluable guidance, support and ideas during the process.

What was the highlight of the project?

Getting the opportunity to travel to Malawi and meet the STEKA family is something I will never forget. Working with teenagers from STEKA and being invited into their home made me feel like a part of their family. I have never met so many welcoming, kind and resourceful people in my life. It was absolutely incredible and definitely the highlight of my project.

Through QMU, you received funding from Santander Universities for this project. What did the Santander Universities funding you received allow you to do?

The funding allowed me to travel to Malawi to gather the evidence and research necessary to complete my project.  I would never have been able to travel to Malawi without the funding, and I was reliant on going there myself to create this project. So, in other words, it would have been impossible to pursue the project without help from Santander Universities.


"Getting the opportunity to travel to Malawi and meet the STEKA family is something I will never forget. Working with teenagers from STEKA and being invited into their home made me feel like a part of their family. I have never met so many welcoming, kind and resourceful people in my life. It was absolutely incredible and definitely the highlight of my project."
Emilie Bakke, MSc Strategic Communications and Public Relations

What impact has receiving the funding had on your academic, personal and vocational goals?

The funding from Santander Universities has furthered my academic goals because it enabled me to produce a high-quality project as part of the MSc Strategic Communication and Public Relations course. This a large piece of work - the equivalent of a master’s level dissertation. As I produced content intended to be used to describe and promote a new, developed approach, it has, in turn, furthered my vocational goals by providing evidence of my professional and creative skills to future employers. 

I am committed to social justice and seeing a change in the world; this project has helped me achieve personal goals as it will (hopefully) be used to make an impact on the participation in dialogue groups in Malawi (created by Emma Wood). The project outputs will help Malawians to engage with young volunteers from the UK and other countries in the Global North with confidence, and share their experience and understanding of shared concerns such as employment, gender equality, sustainability and environmental protection. Developing

This new approach involving photo-elicitation has provided participants with a different and meaningful way to communicate through social media to bring about social change.

Who else will benefit from your project and research?

The potential impact and benefit of this project are significant. In light of the current debate about white saviour complex (e.g. Stacey Dooley and Comic Relief), the project has potential to have a substantial impact as it sheds light on the issue and offers an alternative approach.

This project will help young Scots to share stories and disseminate powerful messages about their interactions with their peers in the Global South. It teaches them how to make respectful decisions, communicate in a meaningful way, articulate powerful messages and take meaningful pictures. It will also make them confident to advocate for change. That is what the photo-elicitation is all about – allowing individuals to articulate powerful messages in a way that does not expose themselves or make others vulnerable.

The project will also impact on the school communities that are involved, on the participants’ personal social media network exposed to the messages, and on marginal groups in Malawi that can hopefully teach the approach to students.

Life after QMU

What are your plans for the future/after graduation?

I have moved back to Oslo, where I'm currently pursuing a career in PR and communications. I'm actively applying for jobs and hope that I will find a role that fulfils my creative and engaging side, and where I can use all the knowledge and experience that I have gathered during my time at QMU. Exciting times lie ahead! 

[Published October 2019]