School of Graduate Studies

School of Graduate Studies
School of Graduate Studies

Stories of perseverance – Meet Hannah Ascough

PhD candidate in Global Development Studies

by Phil Gaudreau, April 2020

Amy Cleaver

Humanitarian organizations need to walk a tightrope in order to do their work. They must portray the clients they serve in a way that maintains their dignity while also stressing the need for assistance. They need to communicate complex and deeply personal stories, often originating in unfamiliar contexts, to international audiences with the goal of building compassion and ultimately a case for support.

How these non-government organizations (NGOs) represent these stories to their donors, and what the beneficiaries think of this representation, forms the basis of Hannah Ascough’s research.

Hannah (MA’18) is a second-year PhD candidate in the Global Development Studies program. She is working with a charity in South Africa called WILDTRUST to examine how this NGO is impacting women’s lives, meeting their needs, and supporting alternative economies, such as barter systems, in an environmentally sustainable way–and how the story of the work they do is communicated to their donors.

“WILDTRUST is doing great work in terms of environmental sustainability, and part of my research looks at how we can learn from this NGO’s framework and bring it to Canada,” says Hannah. “This builds on my previous research into the connection between storytelling and classic narratives such as the hero’s journey in their advertisements.”

Hannah grew up in Kingston and, after completing her undergraduate studies, she returned to complete her masters at Queen’s and liked it so much she stayed on for her PhD. She chose Queen’s for her supervisor, Marc Epprecht, and for the familiar setting.

“Kingston is a small but nice place to learn, with just enough going on to be enjoyable but not distracting,” she says.

As part of the next steps for her research, she will be returning to South Africa to interview participants in WILDTRUST’s programming to seek their perceptions on sustainable businesses and the alternative economies their programs are enabling.

Before she can head out, however, she has a major project to complete for the Museum of Health Care at Kingston.

“As part of the annual PhD Community Initiative program, I am working with a team trying to help the museum with membership engagement,” she says. “It’s an interdisciplinary team of four and the subject is absolutely outside my realm of research, but it has been a great way to learn new skills and meet people. The museum is a treasure trove and we hope to bring that fact more into the light.”

As Hannah looks ahead to her next few years of study, she hopes to one day work for an NGO to help them develop their support frameworks, further their research, and enhance their advertising.

With three years of graduate studies behind her, she has some words of wisdom for those considering Queen’s for graduate studies.

“Look into which supervisors you might want to work with, so you know your research passions are something you can follow through with,” she says. “Your graduate degree is what you make of it. I’ve had a very positive experience, connected well with my department, and made lots of great friends.”

To learn more about graduate studies in global development, or other graduate programs, visit the School of Graduate Studies’ website.