The Division for Social Impact recently hosted an orientation session for new staff members. The session provided an overview of Stellenbosch University's Social Impact strategy and support structures and featured presentations from Social Impact champions.
Dr Antoinette Smith-Tolken, Director of Social impact highlighted that the current focus on Social Impact, includes Community Interaction, but is broader and deeper. Social Impact now focuses not only civil society, but on government and industry and business as well, on society as a whole. "Social Impact is a cross cutting strategic priority which happens through Learning and Teaching, Research and Active Citizenship. We are moving beyond outcomes, we are moving to sustainable practices and impact now," she said.
Rhoda Malgas, lecturer and researcher in the Department of Conservation Ecology raised issues of whose knowledge counts in society and spoke about how one values knowledge. She shared that in their research practice, they focus on farmer-driven research rather than what is in the literature. They also acknowledge the networks, assets, information and communication networks that exist in communities. "Community members give feedback on the observations about trials and students give feedback continuously to the community and incorporate the feedback of the community into their findings," she said. Ms Malgas further highlighted the importance of engaging with students about the political landscape so that they can make informed decisions one day as conservation entomology practitioners to ensure food security for the future. "Students look forward to taking Social Impact practices forward in their jobs as they graduate," she said.
Faika Haroum a staff member at the Language Centre, became involved in Social Impact as an active citizen through the Amazing Reading Race Mandela Day initiative at the university in 2016. She felt that there is a focus on maths and science, but one needs to develop learners' reading ability first. "That's how we came up with the amazing reading race. The race is an academic race, highlighting the importance of reading," she said. As a follow up to the reading race, they are conducting reading placement tests at a few schools and the next step is to go back to the schools with the assessments and to workshop reading strategies with the educators. The plan is to monitor the impact on learners over a three-year period. What started as a Mandela day initiative, has become a fully-fledged Social Impact project.
Nadine Bowers-du Toit, senior lecturer in Practical Theology said that churches impact society in terms of poverty, inequality and justice. "Engaged scholarship is about being a public intellectual in the knowledge economy. Social impact has influenced the way I teach by questioning how it impacts real life issues," she said. She further recommended the Service-Learning course the Division for Social Impact offers as it taught her to think strategically about how to structure her course. She further advised other staff to share their research in the classroom, in order for students to learn from the experience and mistakes of their lecturers. She also advised on the importance of cultivating networks.