SDGs in Capacity Building: making it realPIE Seminar
On the 13 June 2019 the Platform for International Education, PIE, organised a seminar, at the SDG house in Amsterdam, on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in higher education and capacity building. PIE aims to contribute to global and local sustainable development, both in countries and regions where partner institutes are based and in the Netherlands. In doing so PIE aligns with the SDGs targeted by the UN – particularly SDG 4 ‘Quality Education’ and SDG 17 ‘Partnerships for the goals’.
As higher education institutions working in international capacity building projects and partnerships strengthening education for inclusivity, equity and lifelong learning for all, the objectives of this seminar were to:
- discuss the challenges and dilemmas of operationalising the SDG principles in the face of complex contexts, inequalities and bureaucratic frames in which we work;
- share inspiring ideas and practical experiences on how to operationalise the SDG principles in our daily work.
The 2030 SDGs game.
The seminar was attended by 33 people, both PIE members and other interested people. The event started with an interactive poster and lunch session where PIE members shared developments, achievements and challenges related to the SDGs in their institutes with other participants.
In the morning MDF organized the 2030 SDGs game as a taster for the SDG discussions in the afternoon. During this game the players discovered why the SDGs are important for the world, what possibilities arise by looking at the world through the SDGs, how we can relate to the SDGs ourselves, but also challenges that arise between the different goals came to the table. The game linked to the players’ own reality, while raising awareness of the interdependencies and consequences of actions taken.
After lunch guests were welcomed by Dr. Henk van den Heuvel (Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam) who officially opened the seminar and introduced Mrs. Joyeeta Gupta (Professor of Environment and Development in the Global South Governance and Inclusive Development at the Universiteit Van Amsterdam). She challenged the audience in her keynote on SDGs in capacity building: putting the furthest behind first. In her speech she drew several conclusions:
- The irreconcilable conflict between efficiency and clumsiness. Increasingly aid agencies and private investors want efficiency and accountability, plans need to be approved upfront. But if you want local buy-in and allow for true stakeholder participation, this may lead to a completely different construction of the problem and the solution needed – it may be a clumsy process.
- The conflict between paternalism and accepting local perceptions. E.g. You see sanitation as a problem. Local people may not! Do you accept that, or do you ‘educate’ them to change their views? And where can one draw the line on ‘educating’? Ditto in gender equality.
- Are we ready to build capacity? Where did we get it right and where did we get it wrong? Was getting it wrong necessary to move to the next step? Can we help developing countries to leapfrog ahead?
This provocative session stimulated participants to actively participate in the World Café where in small groups discussions on capacity building related to each of the SDGs was facilitated. Challenges and dilemmas of operationalising the SDG principles in the face of complex contexts, inequalities and bureaucratic frames in which we work were discussed while participants shared inspiring ideas and practical experiences related to operationalising the SDG principles in their daily work.
Dr. John Kingsley Krugu (KIT) made observations of these interesting and challenging dialogues and this sparked a good discussion in the audience. Important remarks that came out if this discussion are:
1. Inclusivity and equity in education – Mundie Salm (ICRA)
- What kind of knowledge do we transfer to the rest of the world? E.g. does the focus on GDP growth address the questions of the poor? Who determines the curricula of what we teach?
- We need to be careful to develop inclusive curricula beyond being informed by patriarchal narratives, for example how does agriculture work for women? How do we change the curricula to allow women’s (and other marginalized groups’) perspectives to be included and not tokenism?
- How about technology and how it leads to invasion of privacy?
- How can we make sure that sensitive topics are discussed from the perspective of the vulnerable?
- Inclusivity also means having representative role models: different ethnic/religious groups, minority groups, less abled, women need to be at the table.
Breakout sessions on capacity building.
2. Cooperation with donors: money vs morals – Lindy van Vliet (KIT)
- Roles between the state and non-state actors were discussed.
- Responsibility for the poor of the state through tax justice.
- Dealing with donors (Passivity: donors say we do versus Activity: setting the agenda through teaching, lobbying & research).
- Changing context of donor money: less sustainable and largely dependent on private sector and politics.
- Complexity of internal processes: what are our tools and values and how do we deal when donor money comes with conditions.
3. Selection of partners, equitable partnerships – Henk van den Heuvel (VU)
- Dutch institutions continue to work with the “usual suspects” but a new way to select partners informed by the thinking around the SGDs is necessary.
- In OKP, there is scope to choose your partners to work with. The OKP should form the basis for engagement with other donors.
- SDG 1 says no poverty but in practice, it is difficult to reach the marginalized through project support. How do we address this?
- Partner institutions from the Global South should be given more space to make their own policies and determine the curricula: decolonize the curricula. Short-term project partnerships seem to be counterproductive.
- Partnership with dysfunctional states does not seem to work.
- Academic/institutional interests often prevail in the selection of (types) of partners over principles and values.
4. Attitudes and behaviour at individual and institutional level – Angeles Mendoza (IHE)
- Break institutional inertia: habits like flying around the world need to be questioned.
- Move from awareness to action: it is not enough to teach sustainability but institutions need to move on to modify own practices, e.g. efficient use of resources.
- Organizations and individuals need support to realize the needed changes.
- Break the discrepancy between personal values and institutional principles and practices.
5. Perceptions, expectations, feasibility in fragile states – William Sanchez (Saxion)
- Investing in knowing the partner is critical.
- Find effective ways to communicate; not just by words but by story-telling, pictures.
- View issues from the priorities and perspectives of institutions in fragile states.
- Equitable partnerships? How does partnership between unequals work?
- Inequality makes partnerships difficult; investments to make partnerships work remains crucial.
The seminar was closed with several challenging issues for the audience to consider in their work in higher international education and working with the global South.
- Transparency: what does it mean for a poor family living in rural Africa? Do we teach our students to question the limited access to services by the poor or to define practices such as “under the table payments” to access essential services as corruption in the name of enhancing transparency?
- Government versus governance: There is lack of money to address the needs of the poor. The private sector is ready to support but at what cost to the sustainability agenda?
- The popular narrative: start with government, become bureaucratic and privatize everything. What does this mean for the poor and the SDGs?
Prof Dr Joyeeta Gupta & Dr John Kingsley Krugu.
After closing the seminar participants continued the discussion with drinks. As a concluding remark we can say that the seminar stimulated discussion, provided opportunity to share ideas and experiences and created a space for networking and developing further collaboration. SDGs are part and parcel of the work we are doing but challenges remain and therefore continuous discussion is crucial. Proactively looking for opportunities to putting the furthest behind first is essential in our daily work in international education.