Personal profile


Nicola started her research career in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where her research explored the nature of urban poverty and livelihoods dynamics across four informal settlements of the city. This highlighted the local political economy at the settlement-level that hinders individual and household opportunities for escaping poverty over time and her conceptual paper in Development and Change highlights the limitations to existing framings for understanding urban poverty from these findings.

Following on from her PhD Nicola moved to Kampala, Uganda, where she was Head of BRAC Uganda’s Research and Evaluation Unit, managing the NGO’s research activities across Uganda, Tanzania and South Sudan. In the context of Uganda’s increasingly young population, in which policy proclamations of the dynamism, entrepreneurial and energetic resource base this offers does not match up with the difficult social and economic landscape facing Uganda’s young people, she took a particular interest in young lives and programmes for youth development.  

Returning to the University of Manchester in 2012, Nicola aligned these two research interests – urban poverty and young lives – in her ESRC Future Research Leaders Fellowship that explored the social and economic consequences of living in urban poverty in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Her published work here joins a burgeoning literature highlighting the devastating environments in which young people in African cities grown up in and the ingenuity and creativity required to ‘get by’ in difficult circumstances.

She extends this youth literature conceptually in her Children’s Geographies paper by incorporating Developmental Psychology into our conceptualisation of young lives. Her work here recognises the centrality of the period of ‘youth’ on an individual’s psycho-social development and highlights the ways in which the city and its social, economic, and political processes have undermined these developmental processes, having devastating impact on young people’s psychosocial wellbeing, development and long-term futures.   

Across the past decade Nicola has increasingly focused her research on the role of NGOs and civil society organisations in global development. Her work with Professor David Hulme and Mike Edwards on the limitations NGOs face in generating transformative development outcomes has been widely cited and influential on global policies. Her research with Professior Dan Brockington mapping the UK’s development NGO sector has provided new insight into the scale and dynamics of the sector, highlighting the huge concentration of funds across a small number of the largest charities and the massive support the sector receives from the UK public (who provided an average of £2billion a year to development NGOs across our period of study).

With increasing recognition of the need for the localisation of development finance and greater processes of locally-led development to counteract the concentration of power and resources for global development in the hands of Northern actors, Nicola has played an active role in sectoral efforts to ‘reimagine’ the global aid system to support more equitable relationships between NGOs in the global North and South and to promote a fairer system of development cooperation.

As a researcher committed to impact, Nicola is proud to have built on her research to launch a new social enterprise, One World Together, that provides long-term, predictable and unrestricted funding to local and community organisations in the UK and around the world and engages in new ways with a new generation of committed supporters of global development. In 2023 she was awarded a £45,000 investment in One World Together as the winner of the Aspect Research Commercialisation (ARC) Accelerator programme, which supports Humanities researchers to transform their research-based ideas into successful enterprises.

Nicola loves working at the University of Manchester for its commitment to and investment in Social Responsibility that has enabled this success. She is also inspired by the passionate students and future development professionals she teaches each year and appreciates the opportunity to translate her research findings into her teaching.

Research interests

My research situates development as a long-term process of transformation and social justice

With a particular interest and expertise in urban poverty, my work reconciles issues of structure and agency in poverty reduction, looking both at the lived experiences of different groups of urban residents (urban poor communities, women, youth) and how layers of disadvantage along social, political and economic lines can impose significant constraints on these groups.

In policies and programmes for poverty reduction, this plays out in the tension between meeting the immediate needs of the urban poor and addressing the longer-term issue of pursuing social justice and rights to the city. The extent to which NGOs and other development actors are able to meet these goals is another of my research interests.

Visit my current research page for my work on youth, poverty and inequality in urban Tanzania.


Expertise related to UN Sustainable Development Goals

In 2015, UN member states agreed to 17 global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure prosperity for all. This person’s work contributes towards the following SDG(s):

  • SDG 1 - No Poverty
  • SDG 3 - Good Health and Well-being
  • SDG 5 - Gender Equality
  • SDG 8 - Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
  • SDG 11 - Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • SDG 13 - Climate Action

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Global inequalities
  • Global Development Institute
  • Manchester Urban Institute


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Collaborations and top research areas from the last five years

Recent external collaboration on country/territory level. Dive into details by clicking on the dots or