Respect, humility, accountability, reciprocity and an acknowledgement of the knowledge and needs present in communities – these were some of the talking points at Stellenbosch University's annual Social Impact Symposium hosted at STIAS on Friday, 6 September.
SU views Social Impact as the evaluable change incurred through mutually beneficial associations, collaborations and partnerships between the university (staff, students and alumni), and external societal partners in government, industry and the various institutions of civil society.
The theme of the symposium was “Social Impact through learning and teaching and research: Enhancing ethical partnerships" and it had a dual purpose: To reflect on progress with the implementation of Social Impact (SI) as a strategic priority of SU through learning and teaching as well as research, and to better understand how SI initiatives are implemented through ethical and purposeful partnerships.
The symposium took place against the backdrop of country-wide protests against gender-based violence and a moment of silence was observed.
In his opening, Dr Jerome Slamat, Executive Manager: Rectorate, referred to “engaged scholarship", which assumes a knowledge ecology in which interaction with social partners leads to the co-production of knowledge.
“For SU, Social Impact is not an add-on – it is part of the essence of the university," said Prof Nico Koopman, Vice-rector: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel.
“We want to be an institution that is concerned with the wounds of society and aims to – in a humble way – make a difference through research and innovation, learning and teaching, co-curricular activities and our professional expertise."
Ms Ernestine Meyer-Adams, Director: Social Impact, expanded on this by saying that Social Impact should not only be ingrained in the culture of SU, but should BE the culture of SU, with societal wellbeing as a core goal and social justice as a core commitment.
SU follows a model of embedded SI, which refers to the integration of SI into all the academic and co-curricular practices of the university through the notion of engaged scholarship and engaged citizenship and Meyer-Adamas emphasised that embedded social impact requires equal partnerships that speak to the needs of communities.
“Yes, our communities are the beneficiaries, but so is the institution. We need to reposition ourselves as a university so that we also reposition our partners, and really value the partnerships."
Representatives of three SI initiatives shared their experiences with the audience.
Dr Burt Davis, senior lecturer at the Africa Centre for HIV/Aids Management at SU, who developed a photo storybook to address the problem of tik abuse, explained how important it is to treat all partners in a project as research equals. He also believes that research should have a direct benefit for the community, and not just an academic benefit for the researcher.
Ms Rhoda Malgas, a lecturer in the Faculty of AgriSciences, discussed the value of participatory research and acknowledging the knowledge available in the communities. She emphasised the need for reciprocity, knowledge dissemination and feedback to the communities where the research was done.
Dr Leanne Seeliger from the Stellenbosch University Water Institute – involved with the Kayamandi River Partnership Initiative – spoke about the core principles of collaborative problem-solving, voluntary engagement and appropriate evidence-based innovation that actually makes a difference.
Ms Caroline Peters, who represented the Cape Flats Women's Movement, felt that social impact should focus on community capacity enhancement. According to her, communities often feel used and exploited. She suggested that researchers engage the experts in the communities in which they do their research and requested that they return to the community to share their findings.
During a panel discussion to conclude the symposium, Prof John Volmink, chairperson of the Umalusi Council, said that the boundary around universities should be porous so that innovation can pour from the inside out and from the outside in.
“Sometimes we forget that there is knowledge in the institution AND knowledge in the community. Both should be celebrated, and both should be respected."
Photos: Anton Jordaan (SCPS)