A diverse group of 130 international students from Brazil, China, the United Kingdom and South Africa has made history by completing the Future17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Challenge short course – a first of its kind for Stellenbosch University (SU).
This course was hosted by the SDG/2063 Impact Hub at Stellenbosch University International (SUI). The Impact Hub aims to promote the United Nations' 2030 Agenda and its sustainable development goals (SDGs), alongside the African Union's Agenda 2063 for a prosperous Africa within the context of international higher education.
The 38 SU students who formed part of the cohort celebrated their achievement informally at an event hosted by SUI in Stellenbosch on 9 June. This special gathering of SU students preceded the official global celebration on 13 June. The other participants were from the University of Exeter (UK), the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the University of São Paulo (Brazil).
The SU group, comprising final year undergraduate as well as postgraduate students, were praised for the innovation, commitment, professionalism and outstanding ambassadorship for SU that they displayed since the launch of the course in March.
The prestigious three-month Future17 SDG Challenge Course is unique because it is driven by a consortium of universities from four countries, assisted by global challenge partners. The aim is to educate and equip students with the knowledge and skills to find innovative ways to turn sustainable development goals into reality, said Corina du Toit, Programme Manager: SDG/2063 Impact Hub, and academic lead for the course.
Among the guests at the SUI celebration was Dr Nico Elema, Director of the Centre for Collaboration in Africa at SUI. He shared his reflections on the programme and congratulated the students and mentors for overcoming the challenges of the new course, as well as streamlining the processes for the next cohorts. “You have walked the journey with us, we figured out things, and we all learnt many lessons. So, thank you for contributing positively and being ambassadors for the University. You made us proud."
Commenting on the effectiveness of the programme, Dr Munya Saruchera, senior lecturer and interim Director of SU's Africa Centre for HIV and AIDS Management in the World of Work, added: “I think the coming together of different universities reflected the microcosm level of how different countries can work together on this global agenda (SDGs). It was interesting how the mentors and students from different cultures and environments engaged effectively."
Educate and equip
These SDGs are at the heart of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development – the blueprint for partnerships, peace and prosperity for people and the planet – adopted by all United Nations (UN) member states. (For more information, visit the UN's Agenda 2030 and the SDGs.)
Aligned with the 2030 Agenda, the Future17 Course focuses on the UN's SDGs, adopted by 195 UN member nations in 2015, as a framework to help find solutions for the global and interdisciplinary challenges we face while building participants' key employability, critical thinking, hybrid and remote working, and presentation skills. Participants used collaborative and innovative ways to approach challenges, working with the partner universities and mentors assigned by the different institutions.
The SDG challenge partners comprise organisations like NGOs, institutions and companies that conceptualised challenges for the course. Challenges included creating a digital strategy to promote the SDGs to university students, doing market research for urban farms, or recycling soap from hotel chains to create jobs for communities, said Du Toit.
She praised the students for their performance with the assignments. “I sat in on many presentations and was very impressed by the professional standard and quality of work put forward by your groups. Considering that this was a pilot project, we were unsure what to expect – and you certainly helped set the bar very high for the next offerings."
At the SUI celebration event, students had the opportunity to share their course experience with the guests. Encapsulating all the students' experiences, Sharon Sambaza (LLM) said: “The Future17 short course was nothing short of a roller coaster, and it was quite an enjoyable ride! I chose to enrol in the course because of my keen interest in issues relating to sustainable development and engaging in a learning experience with students in various parts of the world. My experience during the course was both challenging and rewarding. We learned interdisciplinary concepts crucial in finding innovative solutions to problem-solving, such as design thinking and prototyping."
Jack Potter expressed his gratitude for being exposed to the course: “By doing this course, I was exposed to tasks and engagements that I otherwise would not have been. I could learn from and work with people from around the globe who all share a like-minded passion for sustainable development. In the coming years, I will apply this newly gained knowledge practically in conserving wilderness areas and protecting wildlife."
- Applications for the next round of the Future17 short course can be submitted until 25 July 2022. For more information about the course, click here.
Photographer: Stefan Els