OPINIONAuthor: Professor José Frantz
Today, the world is drowning in deprivation, with a fog of helplessness growing heavier by the day. To those who have already surrendered to despair – I want to encourage them to stop! All is not lost; millions of people around the world are working tirelessly for a better future.
Most of them do not make headlines, and their work is not streamed to a global audience, but their voices are getting stronger. In 2015 they took up the United Nations’ call to follow a blueprint for peace and prosperity by adopting 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Among other things, this includes reducing inequality, ending poverty and improving health. And here I believe the University of the Western Cape (UWC) is among these unsung heroes – its staff, students and academics – all partnered with government to drive these SDGs.
Just recently, UNESCO released a paper that focused on the role of higher education in driving the SDGs. When reflecting on this document, I realised that UWC had been living SDGs for years. We might not have been intentional about it, but every bit of research, outreach and education is rooted in empowerment, improvement and growth in South Africa.
The first SDG, for example, is No Poverty, and the second is Zero Hunger. Since the inception of this university more than 60 years ago, the communities we engage with are the most vulnerable. We use research and resources to change their quality of life and ensure that these interventions are sustainable. Researchers and their students are deeply entrenched in these communities to ensure that they succeed. Another example is SDG 5 – Gender Equality. UWC was the first university in South Africa to establish a Gender Equity Unit in the 1990s.
In May, I attended the World Higher Education Conference in Barcelona, Spain, as an invited speaker by the University of Bergen. We were discussing the recently released UNESCO conference document. One of the things that it talks about is that to realise their full potential to achieve SDG targets, institutions require in-depth knowledge of a host of areas, including new trends and the critical assessment of disruptive events such as the pandemic. In other words, knowledge is vital. In my address to the audience, I expressed that UWC follows intentional leadership, which is key to transformation.
Our slogan is ingrained in our culture – “Hope to Action through Knowledge”. Knowledge about what? Knowledge about our society, the knowledge that we give our students, and improving our own knowledge as academics. I explained that the document that UNESCO released is perfectly aligned with the blueprint driving our actions at UWC. The platform was an opportunity for me to share what we are doing at UWC, as the voice from the South, and that we do not always have to find solutions by looking to the North. We have our own solutions that we can offer the universities in the North.
Collaboration is one of the key goals of all of the SDGs. As a university, we have become strategic about partnerships. Partnerships are about collaboration and not about competition. We have, for example, had a 30-year partnership with the University of Missouri in the United States. Sustaining a partnership like this speaks to our core value as a university. These partnerships are at the heart of realising the SDGs so that we can all strive for a more prosperous, sustainable and socially just world.
Now it is time to discuss our work as a university and engage with our beneficiaries and stakeholders to strengthen what we do. On June 6, in partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation, we will host an indaba at the Cape Town City Hall. We hope that this engagement will help lift the fog of helplessness and assist in building the Africa we all want, and the world we rightfully deserve.
Professor José Frantz is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Research and Innovation for the University of the Western Cape. The inaugural SDG Indaba, a multi-stakeholder dialogue, will be hosted by the University of the Western Cape at the Cape Town City Hall on 6 June 2022, in partnership with the Department of Science and Innovation. It is titled: ‘Agenda 2030: A Paradigm Shift to Agenda 2063.’