It’s one thing to teach at a university; it’s entirely another to help establish one.

Yet this is the privilege and responsibility afforded Griffith University’s Manager of Research Development, Dr Graham Wise, who has embarked upon a senior role in a remarkable higher education project in Ecuador.

Universidad Regional Amazónica IKIAM (IKIAM The Amazon Region University) is an ambitious concept initiated by the Ecuadorian Government and based in the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Ikiam means “forest” in the language of the native Shuar people and its namesake project is described as “a university in the Amazon, for the Amazon”. The recent awarding of 90,000 hectares from the Ecuadorian Government to the University exemplifies this philosophy.

“Project leaders looked hard to find disused agricultural land next to forest for the footprint of the university campus. Now the work has begun and the potential is huge,”says Dr Wise.

Living laboratory

The Ecuadorian Amazon boasts a rich cultural history and a huge variety of flora, fauna and non-renewable natural resources. This “living laboratory” is also regarded as an ideal environment for training the next generation of international biodiversity professionals and researchers, and for engaging with local communities to foster biodiversity awareness, strategies and benefits.

Based on his expertise in research collaboration, global engagement and commercialisation, Dr Wise was recently awarded a Prometeo Fellowship by Ecuador’s national science agency, Senescyt.

During the next 14 months he will make three visits to Ecuador to perform a leadership role for IKIAM. He is especially passionate about establishing a cooperative business model for government, industry and philanthropy to support food security, biodiversity and biodiscovery in mega-diverse regions.

“This is an amazing opportunity to be part of something that may change the face of education not only in Ecuador, but perhaps in South America and beyond,” says Dr Wise.

“In addition to being an education hub, eventually IKIAM will become a super-field station for data collection and analysis, scientific services, research relationships with other universities and especially for enhancing knowledge and implementing programs on sustainability and biodiversity.”

Sustainable use of resources

Once operational, IKIAM will promote knowledge generation, technology and sustainable use of natural resources in the fields of Food Security, Traditional Medicine, Water Resources Management, Geology, Land Use Management and Ecology.

Dr Wise’s role will also explore the development of a network of nature banks which, drawing on Griffith University’s Eskitis Institute for Drug Discovery as a model, will help return to local communities the benefits of biodiscovery.

Despite the magnitude of the IKIAM vision, Dr Wise is confident it can become a reality.

“IKIAM aims to lead international scholarship in the areas of biodiversity and human settlements in mega-diverse regions,” he says.

“Of course, this presents a challenge for attracting high quality students, experienced lecturers and renowned researchers because the Amazon region does not have a large local student market or significant teaching or research expertise.

The Amazon advantage

“Despite this, IKIAM can gain strong international competitive advantage because of its location in the Amazon, right next to its mega-diverse cloud-forests.

“I propose to create a global engagement platform through which IKIAM can rapidly acquire world-leading expertise to drive an international reputation in teaching, research and commercial innovation in its fields of interest.

“This will attract the best students, lecturers and researchers from national and international markets.

“Meanwhile locally, IKIAM can deliver quality teaching programs to Ecuadorian students, establish a strong research environment for Ecuadorian researchers and deliver commercial benefit to Ecuador and its Amazonian communities.”