Launched in 2018 by the Faculty of Economic and Management Sciences, the Diploma in Sustainable Development programme recently saw 17 students from its first cohort graduate.
The three-year Diploma in Sustainable Development, offered by the School of Public Leadership in partnership with the Sustainability Institute, aims to ground students in principles of sustainability and entrepreneurship for future social impact and ecological restoration.
The programme provides students with theoretical knowledge and practical experience in areas such as sustainable technologies, complexity and ecology, social entrepreneurship, leadership development, social activation, small business management skills, creativity and storytelling.
Dr Ruenda Loots, lecturer and programme coordinator, explained: “Although there is a focus on entrepreneurship in this programme, it is not purely business-orientated. It is really a values-based programme. The world right now is demanding a change in the way we do things. The Diploma focuses on doing business differently, and developing an understanding that the wellbeing of communities and the environment are interconnected."
She added: “A university qualification no longer guarantees employment and the high youth unemployment rate in South Africa is really worrying. That is why we focus on developing entrepreneurial thinking. This programme allows students to develop skills and ideas to start their own social enterprise so that they can be in a position to not only create work for themselves and others."
The programme also requires students to complete an internship during their third year.
“We want to make sure that our students graduate with work experience and that they are employable. We want them to be intrapreneurs too, in other words they must also be able to affect change and be innovative within an organisation," said Loots.
She said what makes the programme unique is the way they blend theory and content with practical experience.
“For example, in the Mentorship and Facilitation module, our third-year students gain practical experience by facilitating sessions for their peers and mentoring junior students. In the Sustainable Design Technologies module, where we learn about biomimicry and permaculture, we spend time in the permaculture garden in the Lynedoch Eco-Village. So we do not just discuss the principles of permaculture, we actually learn by being in nature."
The academic staff is incredibly proud of their first cohort of graduates.
“They have shown so much tenacity over the past three years and were incredibly brave to sign up for a new programme. They gave so much of themselves and actively participated in shaping the programme as it is today. They have left a beautiful legacy for students who follow in their footsteps," said Loots.
Hannah Hopper is currently working for the company she interned with during her studies. She is responsible for two volunteer eco clubs for children and teenagers. She will also be representing South Africa in the G20 Youth Summit taking place in Italy later this year. She will be discussing the topic: Sustainability, Climate Change and the Environment.
“The diploma gave me the practical skills of public speaking and inner confidence to do these things, along with the theoretical knowledge," she said.
Carrie Noble, who works as a project intern at the Sustainability Institute, said the practical experience gained during her studies prepared her for the demands of her current position.
“We did a lot of group work which made it a bit easier for me to work with different people and to handle difficult situations among colleagues in the workplace. There was also a big focus on presentations and pitching ideas, and that experience gave me confidence to do presentations at work. I am also better equipped to handle feedback, whether negative or positive, seeing it as a learning experience or opportunity for improvement instead of taking offence."
Khensani Nkatingi said she was attracted to the course because of the entrepreneurial nature of it and the way they were taught.
“The way of learning goes beyond the boundaries of traditional learning. The course has definitely influenced my way of thinking and made me aware of the opportunities that are available out there."
She is currently studying part-time towards a postgraduate diploma in sustainable development at Stellenbosch.
- On the photo are the graduates of 2020 on a field trip to the Helderberg Nature Reserve near Somerset West. The trip was part of the module Ecoliteracy in the 21st century.