From 18 to 24 July 2022, the Venice International University (VIU) hosted a summer programme on science diplomacy. Among the participants from across the globe were Simohn Engelbrecht and Thami Mohlobo, both from Stellenbosch University (SU) International.
Science diplomacy is a new form of diplomacy that refers to the use of international scientific collaborations to address common global problems and build constructive partnerships. In the field of international relations and global policymaking, it is used as an umbrella term for any number of formal or informal technical, research-based, academic and engineering exchanges.
“Themes covered included the fundamentals of science diplomacy, the challenges of public perception about natural technical solutions, solid waste management solutions, food security, global public health and risk management," says Simohn, project coordinator of the AUDA-NEPAD Centre of Excellence in Science, Technology and Innovation, which is located in SU International. “We also deliberated on how prepared we are as a globe for pandemics. We concluded that creating resilient and sustainable global and national systems requires the presence of government, science, civil society as well as the private sector."
Thami, coordinator of International Support, adds: “In discussing questions around Covid-19 and how the approach to the pandemic was communicated in our respective countries, scientists' duty to present empirical information to the public was emphasised."
The programme included a field trip to MOSE, an experimental project intended to protect the city of Venice and the Venetian lagoon from flooding. The integrated system consists of rows of mobile gates that are able to isolate the Venetian lagoon temporarily from the Adriatic Sea during high tides. “The trip to MOSE raised our awareness about how governments often need to rely on technical solutions to address environmental problems," Thami says.
Outside the formal programme, delegates explored the nooks and crannies of the 'Floating City' and delight in quintessential Venetian cuisine. “The time in between formal sessions allowed me to traverse culturally rich Venice and establish lifelong friendships, all of us united to improve livelihoods and take care of our beautiful yet delicate world," says Simohn. “It was inspiring and magical."
The visit exceeded Thami's expectations too: “I found it enriching not only in my professional capacity working in internationalisation, but also as a PhD student in Political Science with a particular interest in public diplomacy and international exchange programmes. I am happy that I was able to draw similarities between science diplomacy and public diplomacy. I hope this experience will strengthen my PhD research and my ability to expand mobility partnerships at SU International."
Ironically, they spent one night in darkness due to a blackout. “This made me reflect on the current loadshedding situation in South Africa," Thami adds smilingly.
* VIU is a consortium of 20 universities from across the world with an autonomous campus on the Venetian island of San Servolo. It seeks to develop joint academic, research and capacity-building programmes across disciplines, continents, languages and cultures. SU has been a VIU member since 2019.