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SU recognises change-makers with Social Impact Awards
Author: Corporate Communications and Marketing
Published: 04/06/2024

Stellenbosch University (SU) recently celebrated the power of civic engagement with its inaugural Social Impact Awards, honouring the exceptional contributions of staff dedicated to societal betterment. The awards spotlighted the profound influence of both individual and team efforts, showcasing projects that extend SU's mission beyond academia and into the heart of communities. Held at Die Stal, the event also showed the University's commitment to fostering meaningful partnerships and driving positive change in diverse spheres of life.

The Social Impact Awards were split in two categories – individual awards recognising three outstanding team leaders, and six awards recognising different team initiatives. A total of 27 nominations were made for the respective awards.

The event was attended by senior SU staff, members of the Rectorate and Senate as well as Deans. Representatives from the education sector, local government and NGOs were also among the dignitaries. Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation, and Prof Nico Koopman, Deputy Vice-Chancellor: Social Impact, Transformation and Personnel, set the tone of the ceremony by emphasising the importance of the University's strategic priorities extending beyond the lecture room and laboratories.

Koopman said social impact is a collective endeavour of the University and societal partners in various spheres of life. "SU is dedicated to knowledge in the service of society," he emphasised. He noted that society not only benefits from the University's contributions but also enriches and guides the institution's research, teaching and innovation. “The University's impact is characterised by mutuality and reciprocity," Koopman concluded.

The three individual prize winners received their awards from Dr Zethu Mkhize, Director of the Transformation Office and Renee Hector-Kannemeyer, Deputy Director: Social Impact and Transformation.

Prof Eileen Africa from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences received recognition for KIDSMove, an initiative aimed at improving gross motor skills of foundation phase children. The programme focuses on developing children with a variety of challenges holistically through movement. Gross motor development and sport specific skills form the core components of the programme. Africa said the award was a huge surprise. “I feel honoured to receive it and I will continue to serve the communities in and around Stellenbosch." She thanked her team and students.

Merin Raju Jacob accepted the Social Impact Award for her work with the Stellenbosch Homelessness Forum (SHF), an advocacy group established last year. She highlighted their efforts to foster understanding and consensus on homelessness issues through data-driven initiatives. “I work alongside incredible people who care deeply and combine that care with the courage to grapple with reality," Jacob said. She explained the SHF plans to host workshops with various communities, partner with U-turn Homelessness Ministries to help people escape homelessness and collaborate with the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) on national homelessness policy development.

Janine Myburgh, senior administrative officer at the Department of Civil Engineering, was honoured in the individual category for her contributions to the Pniel Heritage and Cultural Trust. She said she is inspired by her passion and love for the Pniel community. “The vision of the Trust is to preserve the stories, the heritage and the history of the former mission station at Pniel and to build bridges among communities. We organise cultural events and festivals and we host a writing school and an art school. We do everything we can to involve the community while preserving the stories of our ancestors." Myburgh thanked SU for the institution's involvement in community projects.

The Social Impact Team Awards went to the following projects: 

  • SU Law Clinic, accepted by Prof Theo Broodryk

The Law Clinic forms part of the Faculty of Law and is a fully-fledged law firm where approximately 50 final-year law students have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience. They render legal advice and assistance to indigent clients with a specialised focus on farm evictions. The SU Law Clinic was the first university law clinic to launch a class action trial.

  • SU Chemistry Outreach Initiative (SUNCOI), accepted by Dr Ebrahiem Botha and Jabu Lukhele

The SUNCOI initiative, started by the late Dr Rehana Malgas-Enus, a former senior lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Polymer Science at SU, benefits learners from Grade 4 to Grade 12, especially those from previously disadvantaged schools that do not have access to laboratory facilities. The project enables learners to perform chemistry practical work. SUNCOI offers workshops to teachers to perform the prescribed experiments and to understand the theory behind the concepts they are teaching. Teachers are provided with chemistry kits so that they can perform experiments with learners in their classrooms.  

  • High School Career Guidance, accepted by Prof Aletta Odendaal, Prof Tony Naidoo and Dr Michelle Visser

This is a joint initiative between the Departments of Industrial Psychology (Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences) and Psychology (Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences) to provide resources for career exploration. The initiative originated from a need to provide support for Grade 9 learners when choosing their subjects for the Further Education and Training (Grade 10-12) phase of their schooling. A website linked to a YouTube channel, Self-Directed Career Guidance Project, offers videos to assist Grade 9 learners with self-exploration activities in a career guidance booklet.

  • Handlab, award accepted by Ayesha Ramjugernath on behalf of Vanessa Reyneke

For the past six years Handlab, in partnership with the Deaf community and education authorities, worked tirelessly to create curriculum material for Deaf learners for the school subject South African Sign Language as Home Language (Grades R to 12). Educational material consists of video texts of various genres, teaching resources for sign language classes, and theme-based and subject terminology. This initiative has led to a constructive relationship between SU and the Deaf community.

  • Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre (DTTC), award accepted by Dr Lario Viljoen on behalf of Prof Anneke Hesseling

Focused on paediatric tuberculosis and HIV prevention, the DTTC has taken on several key initiatives through an interdisciplinary approach to address health issues in communities. The Centre is recognised as a global leader in paediatric tuberculosis research and operates from the premise that grassroots research must never be underestimated; including working with communities and investigations into the everyday challenges of people infected and affected by TB and HIV. 

  • Young Entrepreneurship Programme (YEP), award accepted by Sabrina Vinette and Adolph Neethling

The YEP programme is a joint initiative of the Department of Business Management at SU and the Hogeskool Utrecjht, in the Netherlands. Recognising the unique challenges faced by learners in disadvantaged areas, the programme actively works to level the playing field to ensure that every aspiring entrepreneur has an opportunity to thrive. YEP offers a pathway to economic independence, innovation and community development. The initiative bridges the gap between aspiration and opportunity.

PHOTO: Stefan Els