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Professor Helen Yanacopulos

Helen Yanacopulos

Profile summary

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Professional biography

Helen received her BA in International Relations from the University of British Columbia. She worked in finance in the corporate and the not-for-profit sectors before returning to complete an MA in Development Studies at the University of East Anglia. Since completing a PhD in Social and Political Sciences at the University of Cambridge in 2000, she has been at the Open University. She has been a consultant for various international organisations, and has acted as Academic Consultant on the BBC productions African School, Syrian School, Comic Relief, the Reith Lectures, as well as the critically acclaimed series ‘Why Poverty?’ and the new 2018 series 'Why Slavery?'.  

Research interests

Helen’s research interests bridge the fields of International Politics and International Development and are focused on explanations of how non-state actors influence poverty and inequality.  Specifically, she examines social justice focused and digitally enabled networks of NGOs, social movements and civil society involved in:  political mobilisation and political action; global justice networks; transnational governance; and the construction and representation of International Development.  Her most recent book (2016) is International NGO Engagement, Advocacy, Activism.  The Faces and Spaces of Change .

Teaching interests

Helen received the ‘Open University’s Teaching Excellence Award’ in 2003.  
She was the Environment, Development and International Studies Programme Director between 2010-2012 and was the Qualification Director for the MSc in Development Management between 2004-2009.  Helen has worked on the following modules:


U208  Third World Development

U213  International Development: challenges for a world in transition

DU301  A World of Whose Making? 

TD223  International Development: Making sense of a changing world

DD213 Environment and Society



T879     Conflict and Development

T878   Capacities for Managing Development

TU871  Development Context and Practice

TU872  Institutional Development: Conflicts, Values and Meanings

TU874  Development Management Project

TU875  War, Intervention and Development

W822   Business, Human Rights and Corporate Social Responsibility

PhD Supervision

Digital activism
International NGOs and social change
Social media and development
Solidarity based action and social movements
Transnational Advocacy Networks
Conflict and Development


Impact and engagement

‘Why Slavery?’ a series of 6 one hour documentaries and 30 online short film to be broadcast in September 2018 simultaneously in an estimated 72 countries. (2017-2018). 

‘Why Poverty?’ a series of 8 one hour documentaries and 30 online short films which were broadcast in November/December 2012 simultaneously in 70 countries. All films are available online at  The films were watched by an estimated 500 million people globally, and have won numerous awards, including the Peabody Award (2010-2012).

‘Syrian School’, 5 one hour documentary series which was broadcast on BBC4 and BBC world. The series won the ‘Japan Prize’ (2010).

‘Chinese School’, 5 one hour documentary series which was broadcast on BBC4 and BBC World. Nominated for a 2008 Broadcast Award in the Best Documentary Series category (2008).

Reith Lectures, Radio 4.  Commented on Jeffrey Sachs’ lectures and organised a public online discussion (2007).

‘Indian School’, 10 half hour documentary series which was broadcast on BBC4 and BBC World (2007).

‘Africa School’, 10 half hour documentary series which was broadcast on BBC4, BBC2, and BBC World.  The series won two ‘One World awards’ (2005).

Comic Relief Big Celebrity Nose Job’, was broadcast on BBC1 and was viewed by 5 million people (2004).

External collaborations

Member of the Governing Council of the Development Studies Association (DSA) - the DSA is the UK’s learned society and professional body for academic teaching and research, policy and practice in the field of International Development.  The Governing Council determines the strategy of the Association (2016-present).  

Executive Board member, Academics Stand Against Poverty (ASAP) – Member of the Executive Board and Director of Finance and Fundraising.  ASAP is an organisation with a membership of 2,000 academics in 17 country chapters in the Global North and South.  The mission of the organization is to mobilise the influence of academics in order to enhance their positive impact on severe poverty (2014-present). 

Research groups

NameTypeParent Unit
Development Policy and Practice Research GroupGroupFaculty of Mathematics, Computing and Technology


Externally funded projects

TRANSFER IN: Evidence and the Politics of Participation in Academic-INGO Research Partnerships for International Development
RoleStart dateEnd dateFunding source
Co-investigator01 Jan 201531 Aug 2017ESRC Economic and Social Research Council

This seminar series arises responsively from concern expressed by both practitioners and academics to improve research partnerships between Higher Education Institutions (HEIs) and international NGOs in the field of international development. While a recent drive towards research collaboration has fuelled many new initiatives to broker partnerships, a wave of studies have suggested that the effectiveness of partnerships is often limited by constraints to participation (e.g. Aniekwe et al 2012; ELRHA 2012; Hanley and Vogel 2012). These studies have been largely descriptive, focusing on the instrumental nature of partnerships but with little analytical attention to the mechanics of participation or to the implications for the kind of evidence that is valued in and produced through partnerships. In response, this series brings together interrelated strands of research on 'participation in knowledge production' and the 'politics of evidence'. The seminars will explore the intersection between these two strands by drawing together research from different disciplines and sectors on how participation and notions of evidence are negotiated in research partnerships. First, context-setting workshop will frame the core seminars by providing a series of analytical frameworks for understanding partnerships. Second, a core series of four seminars structured around case studies of research partnerships (each co-presented by an academic and practitioner) will be used to create a safe space to facilitate trust and enable critical reflection of experiences in partnerships. Third, the outcomes of the core seminars will be presented at a high-level conference which will also incorporate insights and perspectives from a range of UK-based and international contributors. By drawing together as co-researchers practitioners, academics and research students (who often occupy both roles simultaneously) the seminar series aims to democratise the status of both academics and practitioners as co-researchers. The series will result in the development of publications and resources to inform a new research agenda and improve practice in research partnerships.


The janus faces of a middle power: South Africa's emergence in international development (2014)
Yanacopulos, Helen
Journal of Southern African Studies, 40(1) (pp. 203-216)

Global justice: From theory to development action (2009-08)
Papaioannou, Theo; Yanacopulos, Helen and Aksoy, Zuhre
Journal of International Development, 21(6) (pp. 805-818)

Governing and democratising technology for development: bridging theory and practice (2007-05)
Mohan, Giles and Yanacopulos, Helen
Science and Public Policy, 34(4) (pp. 233-238)

Knowing but not knowing: conflict, development and denial (2006-12)
Caddell, Martha and Yanacopulos, Helen
Conflict, Security and Development, 6(4) (pp. 557-579)

Learning from African School (2006)
Yanacopulos, Helen and Mohan, Giles
Development Education Journal, 12(2) (pp. 19-22)

Understanding governance and networks: EU–US interactions and the regulation of genetically modified organisms (2005-09)
Murphy, Joseph and Yanacopulos, Helen
Geoforum, 36(5) (pp. 593-606)

Patterns of Governance: the rise of transnationalcoalitions of NGOs (2005-07)
Yanacopulos, Helen
Global Society, 19(3) (pp. 247-266)

The strategies that bind: NGO coalitions and their influence (2005-01)
Yanacopulos, Helen
Global Networks, 5(1) (pp. 93-110)

Networks as transnational agents of development (2004-07)
Henry, Leroi; Mohan, Giles and Yanacopulos, Helen
Third World Quarterly, 25(5) (pp. 839-855)

The Public faces of Development: an introduction (2004-07)
Smith, Matt and Yanacopulos, Helen
Journal of International Development, 16(5) (pp. 657-664)

The Public Face of Debt (2004-07)
Yanacopulos, Helen
Journal of International Development, 16(5) (pp. 717-727)

International NGO Engagement, Advocacy, Activism: The Faces and Spaces of Change (2015-10-21)
Yanacopulos, Helen
Non-Governmental Public Action
ISBN : 9780230284562 | Publisher : Palgrave MacMillan | Published : Basingstoke

Genealogies of Slavery (2019-11-25)
Boukli, Avi; Yanacopulos, Helen and Papanicolaou, Georgios
In: Winterdyk, John and Jones, Jackie eds. The Palgrave International Handbook of Human Trafficking
ISBN : 9783319630595 | Publisher : Palgrave Macmillan

Transnational Solidarity and Anti-Austerity Campaigning for European Political Change (2017-09-13)
Yanacopulos, Helen
In: Papaiannou, Tao and Gupta, Suman eds. Media Representations of Anti-austerity Protests in the EU: Grievances, Identities and Agency. Routledge Research in Cultural and Media Studies
ISBN : 9781138685932 | Publisher : Routledge | Published : London

Nongovernmental Organizations (NGOs) (2016-11-03)
Yanacopulos, Helen
In: Quah, S. R. ed. The International Encyclopedia of Public Health (pp. 251-256)
ISBN : 9780128036785 | Publisher : Academic Press | Published : Oxford

Cutting the diamond: networking economic justice (2009)
Yanacopulos, Helen
In: Kahler, Miles ed. Networked Politics: Agency, Power, and Governance. Cornell Studies in Political Economy (pp. 67-78)
ISBN : 978-0-8014-7476-7 | Publisher : Cornell University Press | Published : Ithaca, New York

The ambivalent cosmopolitanism of international NGOs (2007)
Yanacopulos, Helen and Baillie Smith, Matt
In: Bebbington, Anthony J.; Hickey, Sam and Mitlin., Diana C. eds. The challenge of development alternatives: can NGOs make a difference? (pp. 298-315)
ISBN : 978 184277 893 7 | Publisher : Zed | Published : London

Researching Transnational Networks (2007)
Yanacopulos, Helen
In: Smith, Matt and Pole, Christopher eds. Negotiating Boundaries and Borders: Qualitative Research On, In and For Development. Studies in Qualitative Methodology (8)
ISBN : 9780762312832 | Publisher : Elsevier Publishers | Published : London

The Business of Human Rights: An Evolving Agenda for Corporate Responsibility (2011)
Voiculescu, Aurora and Yanacopulos, Helen eds.
ISBN : 978-1848138629 | Publisher : Zed Publishers | Published : London, England

Civil war, civil peace (2006-01)
Yanacopulos, Helen and Hanlon, Joseph eds.
ISBN : 852558953 | Publisher : James Currey Publishers | Published : Oxford, UK

Qualitative Data Analysis Challenges in Co-Designing Educational Technology Systems for Refugee Children (2018-07)
Alain, George; Coughlan, Tim; Adams, Anne and Yanacopulos, Helen
In : British HCI 2018, Workshop Title: Qualitative Data Research in HCI (3 Jul 2018, Belfast)

A Process for Co-Designing Educational Technology Systems for Refugee Children (2018)
Alain, George; Coughlan, Tim; Adams, Anne and Yanacopulos, Helen
In : British HCI 2018 (4-6 Jul 2018, Belfast, Northern Ireland, UK)

Integrating Second Life in humanitarian and development training (2008)
Peachey, Anna and Yanacopulos, Helen
In : SLEDcc 2008 Second Life Education Community Conference, part of the Official Second Life Community Convention 2008 (5-7 Sep 2008, Tampa, FL, USA)