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Social Impact Symposium sheds light on transformation at SU
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing
Published: 21/09/2023
​A thought-provoking Social Impact Symposium recently brought together approximately 80 participants from various faculties and divisions at Stellenbosch University (SU). The symposium, held at the University Museum at the beginning of September, aimed to foster discussions and insights on the vital topics of social impact and community engagement within the context of higher education transformation in South Africa.

The event commenced with a warm welcome from Prof Nico Koopman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel, who provided context for an engaging day of discussions.

Panel discussions and insights

A panel discussion and plenary session, skilfully moderated by Dr Jerome Slamat, featured prominent speakers who shared their expertise and insights. Drs Rhoda Malgas, Armand Bam and Leslie van Rooi tackled the complex distinction between social impact and community engagement, shedding light on the nuanced approaches needed to drive meaningful change.

Profs Andre Keet and Aslam Fataar further dissected critical topics in a session titled “Towards a Praxis of Transformation and Social Impact,” offering deep insights into the challenges and opportunities within the realm of social impact.

Fataar, who is currently coordinating SU’s Committee for the Institutional Response to the Commission's Recommendations (CIRCoRe), unpacked the role of social impact and transformation and how it could be integrated into competing versions of the University. Given SU’s history, we have a moral responsibility to the poor, to rural communities and to a diversity of individuals in our country, Fataar argued. 

Keet, who holds the Research Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation and is the Deputy Vice-Chancellor for Engagement and Transformation at Nelson Mandela University, dissected the concept of engagement as transformation and transformation as engagement in the context of universities. He argued that a radical re-conception of engagement can drive institutional transformation. 

Diverse parallel sessions

Following a satisfying lunch, parallel sessions delved into various aspects of social impact. These sessions included:

  • Engaged scholarship: Exploring the role of scholarship in driving social impact.

  • Engaged citizenship: Focusing on the active involvement of citizens in shaping their communities.

  • Democratic corporate citizenship: Probing the concept of democratic corporate citizenship and its role in serving the public interest.

  • Visual redress through restitution: Old Lückhoff School Case Study: Analyzing the transformative potential of restitution and visual representation.

  • Social impact knowledge platform: Highlighting an enabling tool for social impact initiatives.

Feedback from participants

The symposium received positive feedback from attendees, who appreciated the insights and discussions presented throughout the day. Here are some comments from participants:

Dr Wilhelm Verwoerd, Senior Researcher and Facilitator, Centre for the Study of the Afterlife of Violence and Reparative Justice:

“I found the discussions very helpful, especially Prof Keet’s location of the challenges we face at SU within the wider, fraught context of deep higher education transformation in South Africa. Prof Fataar’s reflections on the nuanced, complex process of authentic racial repair that is emerging from the CIRCoRe process was another highlight for me.”

Rudy Oosterwyk, Africa Centre for Inclusive Social Innovation:

“This year’s Social Impact Symposium proved to be one of those critical epoch-making moments in our transformational journey. The sessions provided a necessary disrobing of transformation in the higher education sector coupled with a more sober reflection on the authenticity, purpose and meaning of community engagement in the context of SU’s vision. We were reminded that very many competing ‘personalities’ and positions operate within the transformation architecture of the university. The panelists, in their different inputs and to varying degrees, framed a sort of transformation ‘riot act’ and challenged us to think beyond the institutional confines of transformation towards a broader conception of transformative social good, structural transformation and meaningful inclusion for the excluded.”

Mhlengi Khambule, Department of Genetics:

“The symposium was a successful and worthwhile event. I had initially not given much thought to the implication of the terms ‘community engagement’ and ‘social impact’ – thinking of them as synonymous for the most part – but the symposium shed a necessary light and perspective on this, particularly in terms of the higher education space. This gave me an opportunity to reflect on the approaches we’re using in a social impact initiative we are piloting this year. After the exceptional speakers and presentations, learning of the developments around a Social Impact Knowledge Platform was interesting and I’m looking forward to making use of the tool to collaborate, learn and showcase alongside the various other social impact initiatives.”

Magdel Pretorius, Deputy Director: Student Recruitment: 

“The event offered [us as] attendees the opportunity to reflect on our own understanding of both social impact and community engagement, and what role I can play both on a personal and professional level. The day was spent reimagining the future of our societal impact through community engagement and critical conversations to enable access to all that SU has to offer.”

Jerome Joorst, lecturer in the Department of Education Policy Studies in the Education Faculty: 

“There were good discussions with great contributions from all the panelists. They also had input from various stakeholders and communities and different stakeholders and from CIRCoRe specifically. Profs Fataar and Keet gave us a comprehensive overview of the shortcomings of the University in terms of social impact and then also a possible direction that social impact can take and the role it can play in the transformation process of the university.”

Dr Nomvo Dwadwa-Henda, Postdoctoral Fellow, Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences: 

“This is another good vehicle to drive transformation at the SU for it informs us about what the division is doing in steering the ship in the right direction. Inviting different scholars to share their views and ask questions on issues that are not clear, shows that the division wants to ensure that nobody is left out of the transformation process. However, I strongly believe that the voice of the poor is still missing from social impact for many black South Africans. Equality of opportunity and access to resources including education are still obstructed by the persisting legacy of apartheid, which needs positive dismantling without purging others.”