CatChain 2020

Catching–up along the Global Value Chain for the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The earth from space

The EU-funded 'CatChain' project aims to build a solid scientific knowledge base for learning, catching-up, and taking part in Global Value Chains for goods and services in the so-called 'Fourth Industrial Revolution'. It plans to achieve this through staff exchanges between participating institutions -- including UNU-MERIT.

A mix of young PhD fellows and seasoned researchers are now travelling and exchanging knowledge between several European institutions and their counterparts in Brazil, Costa Rica, India, Malaysia, South Africa, and South Korea. Read on for a selection of their first impressions, based on research visits lasting from one month to a year.

Dr. Michal Natorski, UNU-MERIT, the Netherlands

My research is on the role of public policies in the diffusion of wind power technology in Latin America. Costa Rica, a renewable energy global pioneer and ‘UN Champion of the Earth’ -- a title earned for its pioneering role in fighting climate change -- is an excellent case study against which to benchmark other regional leaders such as Brazil, Mexico, and Chile. The CatChain project has a partner institute in Costa Rica, and this provided me with an invaluable opportunity to spend two months at the Centro Internacional de Política Económica para el Desarrollo Sostenible (CINPE) at the Universidad Nacional de Costa Rica in Heredia. I conducted extensive field work collecting primary data through interviews with different stakeholders in the energy system – representatives of ministries, system operators, the regulatory agency, energy companies and civil society actors. Each conversation provided a clue to better understand the factors shaping the receptiveness of novel renewable energy technologies in Costa Rica. My interviews embedded raw statistical and institutional data in a broader context of strong local awareness of the need to balance social, environmental, and economic aspects of energy. Moreover, everyday observations and informal chats with colleagues and people I met in Costa Rica created additional opportunities to grasp the nature of environmental concerns in the society. I am happy that the CatChain project provided me with the opportunity to do my fieldwork and have this rich – ‘Pura vida!’ – experience.  


Dr. VGR Chandran Govindaraju, University of Malaya, Malaysia

As a visiting scholar at UNU-MERIT, my 8-month stay was stimulating and scholarly.  I was involved in seminars that covered a wide range of topics, with invited scholars presenting their research findings. I was fortunate that I had the opportunity to present my two papers – one in the seminar series organised and the other paper in the internal conference. What makes this special is the feedback I obtained, which greatly widened and improved my insights. My stay was filled with thought-provoking and intellectual encounters when I had the opportunity to interact with other scholars. Indeed, I was able to establish a collaborative project with the staff members of UNU-MERIT. The vast network of scholars that the CatChain project brings is truly a great opportunity for anyone who participates in it, as it embraces a new economic thinking through the sharing of different experiences among the partner institutions and with other external parties. It was also not all about work but observing and exploring a new culture and environment which was a valuable experience indeed.


Dr. Michal Natorski (right)

Dr. Michal Natorski (right)

Dr. VGR Chandran Govindaraju

Dr. VGR Chandran Govindaraju

Dr. Mao Zhuqing (left)

Dr. Mao Zhuqing (left)

Godsway Tetteh (centre)

Godsway Tetteh (centre)

Dr. Danilo Sartorello Spinola (left)

Dr. Danilo Sartorello Spinola (left)

Dr. Mao Zhuqing, Center for Economic Catch-up, Seoul National University, South Korea

I visited UNU-MERIT in 2019 on secondment through the CatChain project. The experience helped me to build a valuable network with researchers in Maastricht, with whom I was able to exchange many ideas. This has had a positive effect on my research, given the fact that I am a young scholar. Thanks to the project visit, I learned new methods on how to do my quantitative research and got very useful comments and feedback on my current research.


Godsway Korku Tetteh, UNU-MERIT, the Netherlands

I have the privilege to visit Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa, as an Early Stage Researcher on the CatChain project. I must admit that my visit has been successful and beneficial. The secondment has given me the opportunity to share my research findings with a community of scholars. I have also been exposed to the ongoing research at the University.  Most importantly, the project has enabled me to connect with a network of researchers in Africa and I look forward to future research collaborations on the continent.  


Dr. Danilo Sartorello Spinola, UNU-MERIT, the Netherlands

In 2019, I had the opportunity to be a visiting scholar in a foreign institution via the CatChain project. I spent eight months abroad – with the opportunity to choose among various countries including Brazil, Costa Rica, Malaysia and South Korea, in order to work with the local staff. This opportunity was very important for me to expand my academic network and move forward with my PhD thesis. In fact, I managed to finish my PhD manuscript while abroad.


Caio Torres Mazzi (right)

Caio Torres Mazzi (right)

Caio Torres Mazzi, UNU-MERIT, the Netherlands

I flew into Pretoria, South Africa, in March 2020 – just when COVID-19 was becoming a fully-fledged international crisis.

Working under the umbrella of the CatChain project, I aimed to access and use the confidential firm-level dataset managed by the National Treasury of South Africa (NT). This is a relatively new dataset and, in partnership with our sister institute UNU-WIDER, the NT has welcomed researchers from all around the world to do research using these South African data.

My PhD project is about the impact of Global Value Chains (GVCs) on firms in developing countries, and this was a great opportunity to partner with Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and work with local GVC researchers.

Sadly, though, my stay in South Africa was extremely short. I arrived on 13 March 2020 and went straight to the NT datalab to start working on the data. I was able to do that for just five full days. By the second week, tensions were running very high in South Africa and the NT decided to revoke my access because I had just arrived from the Netherlands – which at the time was still a pandemic hotspot. Despite that, I was able to obtain initial results, which have already proven very useful. Moreover, I made important connections with local researchers, who enriched my knowledge about the NT dataset and the South African economy.

Another highlight of this short period was meeting and working with researchers at the TUT and its local network. But that too was sadly cut short by COVID-19. Around that time, the EU was starting to block the entry of non-residents in Europe and, during the week of 23 March 2020, the South African government declared a very strict national lockdown. These conditions finally made my stay in South Africa impossible and I had to leave the country that very same Monday, 23 March. This was not without problems: my flight was twice cancelled and I was very nearly stranded in Pretoria without a short-term perspective of return.

Nevertheless, I was able to have fruitful discussions with the team at TUT led by Prof Mammo Muchie (pictured left above, with me on the right). We first exchanged impressions about GVCs in our countries of expertise – South Africa, Ethiopia and several other African countries in his case, Brazil in mine. We then created a network, which connected me directly with the community studying GVCs in Africa and kept me up-to-date on all related events and publications. They also provided me with great support and information to navigate the growing uncertainty caused by COVID-19 in South Africa so, against all odds, I was able to have a productive stay in the country.

After returning to Maastricht, my work continued as I analysed the data extracted from the local dataset. It was interesting to already observe many similarities and some surprising differences between the results for South African and Brazilian firms. Nevertheless, there is still work to be done and I hope to return as soon as possible to conclude my research and reconnect with the local CatChain network that has helped me so much.

Media credits: Flickr / Nasa Goddard; P. Bence; R. Leonard; P. Damsten