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AC21 Legacy Symposium paving the way for future learning collaborations on sustainable development goals
Author: Petro Mostert
Published: 26/03/2024

​​​AC21 Legacy Symposium paving the way for future learning collaborations on sustainable development goals.​

At its inception, the Academic Consortium21 (AC21) was established with the objective of unifying universities and facilitating meaningful dialogue about their impact on society. This year, the AC21 will conclude at the end of March. However, its legacy will continue, especially after the valuable seeds planted at the recent Legacy AC21 Symposium jointly hosted by Stellenbosch University and the Universities of Strasbourg in France and Freiburg in Germany from 10-12 March 2024.

Exploring international education and research collaborations on the United Nation's Sustainability Development Goals (SDG) 3 Good Health and Well-Being, 7 Affordable and Clean Energy, and 9 Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure, delegates learned from leaders in the field in discussions on topics ranging from e-waste reusing solutions in the Congolese market, using bio-wastes of the cassava plant for production of high-performance bio-concrete, using jackfruit for biogas, to riverine hydrokinetic turbines, sustainable aquafarming, understanding energy poverty and developing ceramic water filters for people with no access to clean drinking water.

Since the United Nations adopted the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development in September 2015, people around the globe have formed partnerships and collaborations to collectively tackle some of the most pressing challenges facing the world today.

In her welcome address, Prof Hester Klopper (Deputy-Vice Chancellor: Strategy, Global and Corporate Affairs) said that Stellenbosch University's membership in AC21 has provided an invaluable platform for collaboration and exchange. "Through this partnership, we have fostered meaningful engagement with universities across the Asia-Pacific region, nurturing bilateral relationships with esteemed institutions like Freiburg and Strasbourg, as well as NC State Raleigh in the USA, and Adelaide University in Australia."

"We are also delighted to witness high interest from universities within our African networks, fostering a legacy of collaboration across the continent. Institutions such as Makerere University (Uganda), Luanda University (Angola), University of Lagos (Nigeria), Universities of Cape Coast and Ghana (Ghana), Maasai Mara University (Kenia), and the University of Buea in Cameroon represent the wealth of academic excellence within Africa."

Attendees remarked on the symposium's attention-grabbing format: a 20-minute keynote address introducing each track, followed by 10-minute impactful presentations on various topics.

After an introduction to Strasbourg University and its impact in its region by Prof Tsamadou-Jacoberger (Vice-President for International Relations), Prof Bertrand Rose, representing the University's Industrial Engineering Department at its Faculty of Physics and Engineering, opened the symposium's first track on SDG 9 (Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure), taking the audience back to Henry Ford's production line in explaining the journey from lean to green, and then from green to safe.

The next track was introduced by Prof Melanie Arndt (incoming DVC from the University of Freiburg, following Prof Anke Weidlich, the Chair for Control and Integration of Grids from the Department of Sustainable Systems Engineering (INATEC), opened the second track of the symposium with her take on Pathways to Net Zero Energy Systems under the banner of SDG 7 (Affordable and Clean energy).

Stellenbosch University covered the final track of the symposium with Prof Bob Mash, the Executive and Divisional Head of the Department of Family Emergency Medicine, from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Science on Tygerberg covering the final track, SDG3, with discussions around good Health and wellbeing. His talk led a panel discussion on Health, climate change, and primary health care.

It was refreshing to see how universities on the African continent embrace innovation around sustainable development goals and are in touch with the surrounding communities. Together, they find sustainable solutions for the challenges they face daily: hunger, poverty, energy, clean water, and more.

Dr. Kolawole Adisa Olonade, from the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Lagos in Nigeria, painted the future of Africa along the theme of the rapid pace of urbanization in Africa – highlighting the constant need for housing, buildings, and infrastructure. Although urbanization is a worldwide phenomenon, they didn't look for a solution further than their front porch. In their search for potential biomaterials in their environment, they used the waste of their staple food — Cassava — to develop ash that could replace cement while enabling a possible 15 percent carbon emission saving.

They constructed a solid concrete structure from Cassava ash cement on their campus to prove their theory. But it didn't end there: They went back to the communities where primarily women harvest Cassava and were taught how to produce the ash, which they can now sell for additional income to the community. They closed the circle.

Dr Olonade's presentation was one of many that showcased the culture of innovation and collaboration that exists between universities and their communities. They use what they have readily available to innovate and give back to the community to prosper.

Delegates left the conference with valuable information and motivated to find solutions to help this world reach the 2050 net zero future goal.

The Symposium was hosted by Robert Kotze and his team at SU International and the programme coordinated by Corina du Toit at the SDG/2063 Impact Hub at the Centre for Collaboration in Africa (at SU International). Keep an eye on SU International website and social media for more information on this legacy event. The event was a runner-up to the release of the latest Sustainable Development Annual Report 2022/2023 produced by the Hub that was released in the same week.