In many fields there are ‘leading lights’, that guide us in our journeys in figuring out sustainable futures. One of these in the world today is SEKEM, north of Cairo, in Egypt. For thirty five years, it is an extraordinary story of vision, entrepreneurship, reclamation of desert through biodynamic farming, connection with a spiritual source of inspiration that guides all action and commitment – SEKEM is the Ancient Egyptian hieroglyph meaning ‘vitality’.
Articles in Category: Academic News
Humanity currently faces one of its greatest challenges in history - the ever increasingly complex task of dealing with unsustainable social, economic and technocratic development in a globalized world. The last decades of dialogue pertaining to the concept of sustainable development have amounted to mere surface attempts at changing global political and economic systems that are clearly unjust, unstable and unsustainable. More than ever the responsibility rests upon thought leadership institutions, such as the International Sustainable Development Research Society, to rise to the challenge of informing policy and decision makers and social practitioners on how to deal with the core issues of unsustainability. A fundamental understanding of the barriers and mechanisms for rapid transitions to a more just, resilient and sustainable world is the urgent task.
An Account by Berry Wessels
finding jobs for people who understand sustainability
Elize Hattingh is a graduate from the BPhil programme and is doing her Mphil thesis on career paths for people with qualifications in the sustainability field (supervised by Mark Swilling). She is conducting research on where graduates from the Master's Programme in Sustainable Development have landed up. She has set up a business called Green Talent.
Presentation by doctoral candidate, Sumetee Pahwa
Phd student Sumetee Pahwa presented a paper at the the 2nd International conference on Sustainability Transitions. IST 2011 was held at Lund University in Lund, Sweden from 13-15 June. The conference was organised by Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), the Centre for Innovation, Research and Competence in the Learning Economy (CIRCLE) at Lund University and the Sustainability Transitions Research Network (STRN).
The 2008 intake into the Masters Programme in Sustainable Development Planning and Management was the largest since the programme began in 2003. A total of 87 participants have registered and commenced with their academic work. This is broken down into 63 participants in the BPhil programme (the course work component of the Masters Programme) and 24 participants in the MPhil (the thesis component). Of the total of 87, 44 were women and 43 were men, while 43 were black and 44 were white. It is worth noting that not everyone who was accepted actually turned up for registration. In particular, the majority that were originally selected for admission into the programme during the admissions process in 2007 were from historically disadvantaged backgrounds, but due to various financial and work related reasons almost all those who did not take up their acceptance offers were from these backgrounds. The detailed breakdown is as follows:
Total Number of Students: 63 (46 registered for the first time in 2008)
Black 36 (Male 18 ; Female 18)
White 27 (Male 18 ; Female 9)
Total Number of Students: 24 (15 registered for Mphil for the first time in 2008)
Black 7 (Male 1 ; Female 6)
White 17 (Male 7 ; Female 10)
Eve Annecke and Mark Swilling attended the S-DEV05 Conference in Geneva during the week 11-13 October. Sponsored by various Swiss agencies, the conference brought together over 2000 delegates to discuss 26 city case studies where major sustainability innovations have taken place or are being planned for on a large scale.
Mark Swilling, John Van Breda and Fanie Cloete (from the School of Public Management and Planning) attended the Second World Congress on Transdisciplinarity from 6th - 12th September. Renowned Paris-based physicist Professor Basarab Nicolescu who acted as Convenor of the Congress, invited Mark, John, Fanie and University of Stellenbosch Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Chris Brink to attend the conference to share the work being done by the Sustainability Institute and the University of Stellenbosch in general. In particular, talks were delivered on three topics: the practical linkages between transdisciplinarity and sustainability that have been demonstrated in the development of the Lynedoch EcoVillage; a proposed D.Phil in Transdisciplinarity that Professor Brink believes could, in his words, be a "flagship project" for the University; and a keynote address on the epistemological, ontological and methodological relationships between transdisciplinarity and sustainability from a Southern African perspective. The keynote address that was delivered by Mark Swilling recieved a standing ovation.
The conference was attended by 350 intellectuals and academics from many different countries, including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina, Canada, USA, France, Rumania, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Colombia, etc. They came from all disciplines, although most were from the natural sciences. Talks ranged from the highly complex abstract theoretical discourses, to numerous stories of a vast number of local level projects and initiatives that have been inspired by transdisciplinarity. Many of these projects were from numerous Brazilian cities.
In his opening address, Professor Nicolescu re-articulated the basic concepts of transdisciplinarity as presented in his previous works, and the works of many others (in particular Edgar Morin). The basic proposition is that transdisciplinarity differs from multi- and inter-disciplinarity work because it goes beyond disciplines in a way that makes the re-unification of knowledge a possibility which, in turn, is seen as a necessity for tackling the sustainabilility, the ultimate challenge of our times. Transdisciplinarity is presented as an approach that makes possible a "multi-referential epistemology" (i.e. knowledge that operates at different irreducible 'levels', from the quantum, through the macro-physical, to the ecological) and a "multi-dimensional ontology" (i.e. knowledge of levels of reality that are also irreducible). The three pilllars of transdisciplinarity being the notion of irreducible levels of reality, complexity and the included 'middle T' that has hitherto been excluded by the Aristotelian dualism.
A group of Professors from around the world were selected at the Congress to develop a new Doctoral Programme in Transdisciplinarity Studies for Sustainability. The first meeting will take place in South Africa at the Sustainability Institute in April 2006.
During the week starting 11 April 2005, the Sustainability Institute, the Stellenbosch Institute for Advanced Studies, the School of Public Management and Planning and the National Research Foundation co-hosted a seminar on transdisciplinarity and sustainability. The invited guests were Professor Manfred Max-Neef from Chile, and Professor Basarab Nicolescu from France.
The former is a development economist and the latter a quantum physicist, and both have written on the subject of transdisciplinarity. Professor Nicolescu, in particular, has authored the well known Manifesto of Transdisciplinarity and is a major mover on the world-wide stage of the new but rapidly growing movement that is sweeping across the natural and social sciences. Others that attended included senior professors and academics from most of South Africa's leading Universities. They included people from the natural and applied natural sciences, as well as from most of the key social science disciplines. The seminar was opened by the Rector of Stellenbosch University who is himself a well known academic in the transdisciplinary field having done his second Phd in Inter-Disciplinary Studies at what is now the University of Johannesburg. He gave an inspiring opening talk in response to his reading of Nicolescu's work which provided an intellectual framework for the transformation of Stellenbosch University in an era of global intellectual ferment. His critique of the 'golden mean' as the intellectual basis for compromise rather than progress via critical analysis and action was a theme that constantly reappeared throughout the seminar.
The seminar concluded that much was to be gained from a process that allowed people to explore without fear the limits of their knowledge in order to find ways of collaborating across disciplines to generate the knowledge that is needed to face the great sustainability challenges of the day. Further meetings are planned. A key product is that the Sustainability Institute and the School of Public Management and Planning plan to formulate a new D.Phil in Transdisciplinary Studies which will be the first of it's kind in the world. The key outlines of this new programme will be unveiled by the Rector at the Second World Congress on Transdisciplinarity in Brazil which will be attended by Eve Annecke from the Sustainability Institute, the Rector of the University, and Professors Mark Swilling and Fanie Cloete from the School of Public Management and Planning.
"Since returning to the States, I have finally settled down. It took 3 moves, finding a job and establishing myself, but I can now say I am in a stable position, and I can start taking action on my thesis (which has never left my mind).
This is what I am doing: I am working for the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing (PATH), a public-private partership that seeks to make America's housing more affordable, durable, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly. My position is the technical communicator (I'm the green-building specialist in the office), where on top of growing the program, I write articles on new buiding technologies/techniques and demonstration homes for various trade and consumer magazines from Professional Builder to Better Homes and Gardens. On the side, I am also giving discussions/presentations on sustainable development, green building, and complexity theory for groups both at work and outside."
Now that all 12 modules of the Masters Programme have been delivered for 2004, it is possible to sit back and reflect. In general, student feedback remains extremely positive. One of the significant aspects of 2004 is the number of international experts who taught on the various modules. Professor Manfred Max-Neef taught the Globalisation, Governance and Civil Society module this year. Due to the fact that he is based in Chile and his academic and development work has been based in Latin America, he introduced a perspective that was new to most participants. Dr. Tarak Kate from India came once again to teach the Biodiversity and Sustainable Agriculture module. He, together with Ian MacDonald, made this a significant module. Both were appointed by the University of Stellenbosch as Extra-Ordrinary Professors. In addition, Professor Malcolm MacIntosh from the UK came once again to co-teach the Corporate Citizenship Module - the other co-teacher was Johannesburg-based Dr. Ralph Hamman who recently completed his PhD on Anglo Platinum's sustainability agenda. Malcolm has also been appointed as an Extra-Ordinary Professor. The Ecological Design module was taught by Dr. Daniel Irurah who is a Kenyan architect employed by the University of the Witwatersrand. His module was probably one of the most successful of the year.
Thirty three wonderful people were admitted into the Mphil programme in January 2004. The first module was full of energy, plenty of debate, wonderful meals, great presentations by the groups on the last day, and the beginnings of many new friendships and relationships. There are participants who have come from far away, such as Colombia, the USA, France, Gambia, Kenya, Namibia and Mozambique, as well as from all over South Africa. They come from all disciplines, including the geosciences, social science, natural science, and the planning disciplines. Of the 33 that were admitted, 9 are from the private sector, 14 from the public sector, 5 from NGOs and 5 are full-time students. 13 are white, 20 are black, 14 are men and 19 are women. It was this rich diversity that made it possible for the learning process in this module to stretch wide and dig deep.
The following quotes come from Masters and Executive students who attended the various Modules:
“The course has started to broaden my understanding. It feels like peeping around a half-opened door. I still don’t fully understand the whole process and sometimes I find it overwhelming. However, I see this as the first step in a fascinating journey.” Angela O’Brien (2003), South Africa, Cape Town, social worker
“I found the format of the course excellent! And very intense. We were involved the entire time. There was not really an opportunity to slip back in a non-participative mask – which is typically the case with courses presented in the traditional way.” Manjo Krige (2003), Namibia, Manager in a Telecommunications Company
“I really enjoyed group work. It gave an opportunity to put my views across. Furthermore, I got an opportunity to learn from other group members. Community projects such as tree planting and removal of alien plants afforded me an opportunity to expand my acquired knowledge and skills.” Thobile Gqola (2003), South Africa, Khayelitsha, community development worker
“At an early stage in the course, I found myself being jolted by the fact that some of my favoured ideas may not have much currency in this course. … I found myself questioning my own spirituality.” Vaughan Holmes (2003), South Africa, East London, lawyer in the Office of the Public Protector
“The set and setting for the overall learning experience feels exciting, powerful and full of opportunity.” Paul Cohen (2003), South Africa, Johannesburg, ecologist
“The teaching method used has accorded students an opportunity to participate in discussions and interaction with each other through working in groups.” Fillipus Shilongo (2003), Namibia, regional economic planner in the Namibian Government
“This course taught me to be more patient and how to behave when working in a group since all of us are unique with different personalities.” Tutaleni Nampula (2003), Namibia, Windhoek, full-time student
“I was really amazed because seminars, as I know them from back in Germany, are quite different. I especially liked the layout of the classroom, with everyone facing each other, as this created a very open atmosphere.” Tobias Herbst (2003), Germany, full-time business administration student
“Even if practical work done in the Institute is a minor part of the day, it helps to show what it means to work in a group. It seems to me that the last endowment that must be defended against individualism is the gift of community life, i.e. living as a group. This is the kind of behaviour one learns when one is involved in working together, sharing ideas, and experiences.” Teclesghi Gebremariam (2003), Eritrea, economist in the Eritrean Government
“It has contributed much to my appreciation of nature and to appreciate the fact that I was brought up in a rural setting where I have to do field work. This really connected me back to my roots and I have found it exciting and much appealing to do something that is contributing to the well being of the planet.” Lahja Hipondoka (2003), Namibia, regional economist in the Namibian Government
“The course was intellectually stimulating in that it challenged my thinking. The idea of the interconnectedness of life came through strongly. Reading material relating to sustainable development is now such a pleasure. The set up of the Institute encouraged me in a major way.” Bongi Mpondo (2003), South Africa, transport planner, Centre for Scientific and Industrial Research
“I can't think of any better course combination and my wish is to do each and every module, if I could. In each and every module you get worried with the realisation of how the world carries on without the knowledge you come to pick up.” Lucky Malusa (2003), Zambia, Hotel Manager
“This program is a life long learning experience because of the group interaction and dynamic, sharing of experience and focus on reading and research.” Stephen Bullock (2003), Anglo Platinum
" I can see how signfiicantly the course has impacted positively on some of my ideas and on the work that I am doing." Lisa Seftel, Chief Director, Policy Development and Coordination, Office of the Premier, Gauteng Government
"The enchantment with evolution of nature has been a great discovery and experience. " - Thando Mapapu, Office of the Premier, Eastern Cape Provincial Government