As a senior futurist, she has the farsightedness to look past today into the future, predicting possibilities and influencing decisions and policies to be made. Dr Njeri Mwagiru from the Institute for Futures Research (IFR) at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB) is presently applying her skills and knowledge specifically on research linked with the future of the African continent.
She tells us more about her work and how it helps the world of rapid change and uncertainty to have preparedness and resilience to adapt, to respond and to have leverage on the many opportunities for advancement.
Can you tell us more about your research?
At the IFR, we engage in several futures research projects that explore emerging trends and the impact these have, as well as imagine various possible futures for different industries, countries in Africa and terms of particular issue areas and themes of concern for South Africa, the continent and globally.
A key project we're currently working on within the African Futures portfolio is the Futures of African Governance 2063, imagining best, worst and surprise case scenarios for Africa, deriving from the African Union Agenda 2063 Vision. We're privileged to be collaborating with the African Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) and the African Governance Architecture (AGA) Platform on this project towards producing The African Governance Report 2021.
Why or how did you become interested in this specific area of research?
I have an academic and professional background in education and development, international relations and organisational leadership and transformation. My core focus is on issues of diversity and inclusivity, particularly applying a gender lens and taking a critical approach. I'm motivated by the imperative to promote equity and sustainability, to realise the full promise and potential of the continent and to build better African futures for all, with collective benefits.
In futures research, the importance of including diverse voices and perspectives is emphasised to ensure a full scope of analysis, covering a broad area of information, knowledge as well as interests and concerns. A trans and multi-disciplinary approach and a critical lens are applied to gain varied insights into events happening today, and the implications as well as subsequent decisions and actions required for achieving our goals and visions for tomorrow. Futures research, therefore, offers a unique platform for the confluence of different ideas, viewpoints and stakeholders, and presents an access point for multiple voices to strategically engage in futures studies, including those that are often peripheral and outlying.
My interest in African futures research is to explore and interrogate diverse and creative modes of thinking, learning and leading, as well as alternative models of organising and advancing as a region, at personal, organisational and national levels. At the IFR, we also take a normative approach as part of our research on African futures, driving towards futures that are values-based and inclusive of the diversity represented by the continent.
Why do you think this is such an important area of research for South African women?
As history has demonstrated, women in South Africa are pivotal in shaping the future of this country. They are an essential voice on the continent and in the international arena in various fields.
The campaign for transformation, equity and rights to protect the daily lives and secure the futures of women in South Africa, resonates throughout the continent and worldwide, where similar challenges are faced to various extents across contexts.
The IFR, as the only institute of its kind in Africa, has a growing community of female futurists working collaboratively in the futures field locally and internationally on an array of subject areas and topics.
In celebrating Women's Month 2020, the IFR is displaying the important work women in the futures field are accomplishing. Remarkable women share more about their interests and initiatives in futures research here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLtP90xm_xY5Lt9kYsipdoe5ta4UV00UZ3
What would you consider the greatest impact of your research on women in the country?
The purpose of futures research is to yield helpful insights to support effective decision and policymaking and to drive appropriate actions.
As such, including issues for women and marginalised groups in futures research targets enhancing strategic goals and objectives for equitably beneficial outcomes for all. Centring gender and discrimination concerns in futures research is vital for long-term initiatives to reflect the needs, support the growth and advance the wellbeing of women and everyone.
In futures research, we further underscore that while some events that happen to us, are outside of our control, we nevertheless can carefully anticipate, prepare and suitably respond to these forces. Simultaneously, we can shape and create our futures by taking the initiative and instigating change.
Futures studies and research broaden the opportunities and access points for women in South Africa and Africa to imagine, design and construct equity-based futures, where gender-based discrimination and abuse can be eliminated on all levels.
Do you have any message for the next generation of women researchers?
The future is ours to create! It's important for women to engage in futures thinking and research towards envisioning the range of possibilities in their lives, for their families and communities, in their industries, as well as at national, regional and global levels.
We are not bound to any pre-determined futures dictated by the status quo or current norms.
Despite the complex challenges confronting us, we can work together to build our capacities, enhance our skills and ensure our preparedness and resilience to adapt and respond in a world of rapid change and uncertainty, but also rich with opportunities for our advancement.