Indigenous Knowledge Initiatives at the World Bank, the National Institutes of Health, and Pennsylvania State University

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The impacts of colonization and modernization have undermined and neglected local or indigenous knowledge - not only in current day developing countries but also for select communities in industrialized or developed countries. Over the last decade, however, there has been an increased international interest to revitalize and restore indigenous knowledge. Multilateral development organizations, local and global NGOs, policymakers, education institutions and the private sector, such as pharmaceutical industries, are among the institutions that have shown interest in indigenous knowledge.

For instance, indigenous knowledge has shown to be of great importance in health and development practices. In Southern Africa, the Commercial Products from the Wild (CPWild) project estimates the value of informal herbal remedies in the market to be between $75 million to $150 million per year. Over 1000 indigenous crops and medicinal plants are traded in this informal market system and more than 100,000 people are income earners in this industry.

The international interest shown by these institutions, however, has led to numerous challenges for indigenous knowledge at the global level and sparked many debates around the nature of indigenous knowledge, who the indigenous knowledge holders are, and whether indigenous knowledge is scientifically valid or applicable in conventional knowledge paradigms.

Therefore, this research study investigates the representation of indigenous knowledge in globally operating institutions in the United States. Using a qualitative research lens, the challenges and issues listed above are examined in three cases studies - the World Bank, the National Institutes of Health, and Pennsylvania State University - all of which house initiatives on indigenous knowledge. In each case study, the definition of "indigenous," nomenclature used to label indigenous knowledge, indigenous knowledge identification, and institutional processes were studied to understand how indigenous knowledge was represented alongside conventional knowledge.

The findings reinforce the challenges presented in the literature and previous research done in indigenous knowledge. Suggestions for each case study include changing the nomenclature used to label indigenous knowledge and changing the institutional processes involved in identifying and embedding indigenous knowledge into their respective institutional frameworks.