“Stellenbosch University's Vision 2040 clearly states the university's objective to become one of Africa's leading research universities and to be globally recognised as an excellent, inclusive, and innovative institution where knowledge is advanced in service of society. As such, Stellenbosch University is dedicated to preparing, training, and equipping students to become global citizens."
These are the sentiments expressed by Ms Renee Hector-Kannemeyer, Head of Matie Community Service (popularly referred to as MGD) and Deputy Director of the Division for Social Impact, as she discussed some of the student-driven engaged citizenship activities MGD has been focusing on in the first term of the academic year.
According to Hector-Kannemeyer, students are confronted by increasingly complex issues such as food security, energy security, global economic challenges, the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the Fourth Industrial Revolution and now a global pandemic.
“This rapidly changing landscape requires universities to be more agile in responding to these challenges while preparing students to make a positive impact on society," said Hector-Kannemeyer.
In March, MGD offered students at Stellenbosch University (SU) a valuable peer learning opportunity through a student-focused online Social Impact Colloquium which allowed them to engage with students and staff at other universities on the African continent and abroad. The colloquium, which focused on Engaging with Social Impact across the Globe: The role of the university in enabling student-driven social impact, replaced MGD's in-person Social Impact Community Morning.
The colloquium gave students the opportunity to deepen their knowledge on how to become change agents that bring about a positive impact on society, unpack what it means to be a socially responsive institution, and how that impacts on student volunteerism and the social impact initiatives students pursue.
“It provided us with an opportunity to deepen our understanding of the role of socially responsive universities within a global context, and to discuss what that means for Stellenbosch University based on its Vision 2040 and Strategic Framework 2019-2024, and for other universities who participated."
Panellists from SU, Ngee Ann Polytechnic in Singapore, Rhodes University, the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and the University of Zimbabwe participated in the event, where they also shared mini-documentary videos showcasing their universities' student-driven social impact initiatives. Two of the universities that participated in the event are 2020 recipients of awards made by the international Talloires Network of Engaged Universities. Read the full story here.
During the colloquium students were, amongst others, able to learn effective methodologies to create viable and relevant social impact projects by using design thinking, with a real-time exercise provided by Ms Lana Franks, Student Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme Lead at the Centre for Entrepreneurship and Innovation at UWC. Franks was one of the panellists on the day.
Design thinking is concerned with creatively solving problems through an iterative and human-centred innovation cycle. This involves empathising with clients or end-users to develop a deep understanding of the problem, asking them questions for clarity, and involving them in finding creative solutions to their problems.
Commenting on the discussion on design thinking, Prof Ronelle Carolissen, Chair of MGD's Board and Professor of Community Psychology in the Educational Psychology Department at SU, pointed out the important lessons students could learn from the concept of design thinking, such as listening, consulting and collaborating with people in designing sustainable and solution-driven social impact projects.
“Coming to university is not only about acquiring curricular knowledge. University life also
provides an ideal opportunity for co-curricular learning that is mutually beneficial to students and communities. Students can use these platforms to solidify values-based approaches to community engagement that enhance the social good," said Prof Carolissen.
MGD also recently launched its short course, the first of its kind, on Advancing Engaged Citizenship (AEC). The course aims to connect SU students to a variety of national volunteerism opportunities to acquire knowledge and skills to become engaged citizens while studying and upon entering the workplace.
The four-month AEC course started on 6 April 2021 with 108 Social Work students, 34 student leaders focused on social impact in residences and private student organisations at SU, and 16 community members joining the course via the Stellenbosch-based e'Bosch Heritage Project.
The course focuses on the following modules: Accessing and analysing information, Curiosity and Imagination, Agility and Adaptability, Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence, Effective Oral and Written Communication, Initiative and Entrepreneurship, and Critical Thinking and Problem Solving. It is presented by the Training and Placement Centre within MGD.
“The purpose of the centre is to enable students to gain civic engagement experience at a national level in order to produce cutting-edge thinkers who choose to make a meaningful contribution to real-life world challenges."
“Over the past year, MGD has been on a journey of redreaming, re-imagining, and repositioning itself. We have been on a mission to understand how we can formalise the volunteer work students do and how we can position ourself as a modern NGO that is forward looking and future thinking."
The modules of the AEC course are also recognised by SU's Co-curricular Office and will form part of student social impact leaders' academic transcript.
“Our new course allows us to continue to remain relevant to the critical issues and challenges facing South African societies and communities, and the world. Through our work we want to inspire students to be conscious actors in the world. This is about starting a new thought movement, fuelling new ways of responding to where we are as a nation and as a continent and re-igniting our imagination of what South Africa could be," she explained.
MGD also launched a Virtual Volunteering course thanks to its partnership with ForGood – a national virtual volunteerism portal connecting individuals with causes and campaigns across South Africa. The ForGood community currently consists of over 54 000 registered volunteers who have made a contribution through more than 35 000 social impact connections.
The volunteering course is aimed at second-year social work students to provide them with the opportunity to obtain practice-based volunteering experience while also applying their knowledge as they actively engage with a variety of communities online.
Students will complete 50 hours of volunteering, whereafter they will receive a certificate from SU in acknowledgement of the short -course they completed.
“With initiatives like this, MGD wants to ensure that we are responding to real-life challenges and encouraging active citizenship, that we enable virtual volunteerism opportunities for our graduates to gain experience within their fields, as well as enable our students to share cutting-edge academic knowledge with a range of national organisations," said Hector-Kannemeyer.
Dr Leslie van Rooi, Senior Director: Social Impact and Transformation, added: “MGD has over decades guided the SU community to better understand our role in advancing active citizenship through, amongst others, volunteering possibilities. This it has done within a framework of deep, reciprocal engagement that allows for social impact. Through the online colloquium and the virtual course MGD again guides the university community in redefining our role as an engaged university in ever changing times."
For more information about the AEC course, visit https://shortcourses.sun.ac.za/courses/c-5/2021-5557.html. You can also contact firstname.lastname@example.org or Michelle Pietersen at email@example.com. To watch a recording of the colloquium, please visit https://vimeo.com/520906408/6e197047d6.