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(REF UV30) The role of universities through research and strategic partnerships in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
September 30, 2021 @ 8:00 am - 9:30 am PDT
The role of universities through research and strategic partnerships in achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)
In an era where global concerns about sustainability issues are at a peak as shown by the current agenda of the international community, international universities have a crucial role to play. The UN Gs) provide a platform for country-level commitments towards transforming our world and different national governments have been aligning and trying to comply with these. Internationally, however, the success of a sustainability framework has been dependent on cohesion and a strong working relationship between the public and the private sector through in many parts of the world; this remains a challenge. With the private sector contributing overwhelmingly towards national economic output, while at the same time in part responsible for devastating environmental degradation, what is the role of universities navigating and influencing government, private sector and local communities towards achieving the UN SDGs?
As Africa witnesses an increase in private sector investment, technological development and industrialization across a wide range of sectors and with the recent and ongoing pressures from the global pandemic, there is a need for a national policy level consideration of sustainable models that promotes eco-innovation for a green economy and solution-driven research is at the heart of this, addressing the UN SDGs.
Eco-innovation has the capacity to deliver the tools needed for Green Growth and sustainable development. Those tools will be commercially successful products, services and technologies that reduce the impacts of human activities on the environment, achieve more efficient/responsible uses of natural resources and enhance societal, economic, and technological resilience to environmental pressures. These are key objectives of the UN SDGs. However, it must be clear that eco-innovation cannot be achieved without quantitative and qualitative research, resource mobilization and strategic partnerships. The focus must be given to sustainable solution-oriented research models that bridge the gaps between academia and industry.
For universities to fulfil their role in achieving or supporting the UN SDGs, there must be a high-level management buy-in and strategy to integrate sustainable principles in every aspect of its operations. Whether it be in research, training/teaching and learning of students, engagement with communities, infrastructural development or administration.
Experiences at different sustainable development projects, including the Lancaster University 7 million pound Circular Water Economy RECIRCULATE project and the 700,000 pounds ACTUATE waste to energy demonstration project in West Africa, show that universities are key drivers of effective eco-innovation for two reasons. First, they are ‘anchors’ in co-designing co-developing and co-delivering research-driven eco-innovation partnerships with the private sector, which ultimately deliver “environmental solutions”. Second, they play a key role in delivering the high level (graduate/post-graduate) skills that are essential to driving forward eco-innovative policies, products and services. However, exploiting the power of universities to drive sustainable development will require significant capacity building to bridge the current, very significant gap between academia and industry.