Today marks four years since the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were signed by 193 supporting member countries of the United Nations. To mark this 4th anniversary, Vice-Chancellor Professor Paul Wellings CBE has signed a university-wide commitment to meet and address the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals, recognising the vital role universities play in addressing some of the world’s greatest challenges.
The SDGs, provide a shared global framework of development priorities including alleviating poverty, protecting the environment and ensuring a peaceful and prosperous world to live in. With the target of 2030 steadily approaching, achieving these goals requires action to be taken on a number of levels.
While the University of Wollongong has already been working toward the SDGs through its research priorities and operations, which was recognised in the University's Times Higher Education Rankings results, signing a commitment to the 17 goals, solidifies UOW’s commitment to support, advocate for and continue to work toward this important global agenda.
From equipping future leaders and innovators with the knowledge to initiate change, to executing research that works with industry and community to provide holistic solutions, to ensuring the campus is environmentally sustainable and inclusive, universities have an enormous potential to help ensure the goals are achieved by the target of 2030.
The commitment is an initiative of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) for the UN, which encourages senior university leaders to engage with the SDGs, establish collaboration and provide practical solutions to some of the world’s greatest challenges.
Global Goals at a Local Level
#ACT4SDGs week is not just about making a commitment but acting on our commitment, as an organisation, community and as individuals.
Eradicating poverty and ending hunger may seem like immense goals, but for UOW’s Dr. Belinda Gibbons, the solution in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) could lie with young minds, beginning at a local level.
As a faculty and Australia/New Zealand chapter coordinator for the Principles of Responsible Management Education (PRME) and a senior business lecturer at UOW, Dr. Belinda Gibbons has led the SDG agenda at the University of Wollongong. She has seen first-hand the importance of interdisciplinary learning, of thinking through a different lens and tackling global goals at a local level.
Dr. Gibbons is looking at the SDGs and how these can be implemented and thought about in education, government, commerce, NGOs, community and youth groups.
The UOW Global Challenges supported project ‘Global Goals, Local Level’ is a cross-sector approach, something she sees as an exciting step forward in dealing with pivotal global issues.
“For me, this is the first time we’ve had a common language or framework through which to see these global challenges through, nothing else really exists like that around the world,” she says.
“It’s rare to have 193 countries talking about poverty in quite a similar way.”
The SDGs have ambitious targets, and with the deadline of 2030, Dr. Gibbons believes the most promising way to achieve them is tackling the goals at a local level, including introducing them into the schooling and higher education systems.
“Our students are already living in a world where they’re experiencing climate change, food scarcity and gender inequality,” she says.
“To start thinking differently about these challenges we need these young minds to have no constraints in this risk-free space that is university and schools.
“We want them to think really differently and come up with some big ideas, maybe even solutions, to some of the world’s greatest problems.”
Dr. Gibbons’ PhD and research areas were around systematic thinking and a holistic approach to responsible education. As she began to implement the SDGs into the business faculty’s curriculum, she quickly realised these global challenges were not going to be solved by one school of thought.
“For me, being in teaching and learning, it’s incredibly important that our students get an interdisciplinary learning experience and come together with new people to challenge their way of thinking.”
In the lead up to Global #ACT4SDGs Week which celebrates this, Dr. Gibbons approached each UOW faculty, putting the idea forward for an interdisciplinary competition amongst the Dean’s Scholars students.
In groups of four to seven, students were assigned global challenges that were provided by local industries and matched to specific SDGs.
They then had the task of coming up with a solution and pitching this to a judging panel.
The winning pitch from ‘Team Full employment’ looking at SDG eight, Decent Work and Economic Growth was announced on Monday night and chosen based on a criteria of teamwork, how the solution was reached, how it matched the SDG, if it was realistic, and the future of the idea, looking forward. The team's challenge area was based around employment, with a particular focus on youth and refugee employment in the Illawarra. Watch the live stream.
SDG six, Clean Water and Sanitation, was addressed with the challenge “Day Zero”, which is reflective of Cape Town’s water crisis, and what this meant for the Illawarra and Shoalhaven areas.
Challenge two focuses on SDG 12, Responsible Consumption and Production. This area encouraged the students to consider “No land for landfill,” addressing where waste goes, and if there is no space for waste, what the implications would be.
The final challenge, “Protecting our Escarpment,” met SDG 15, Life on Land. It was provided by local Aboriginal knowledge holders and centred around recognising the significance of Mt Keira and the escarpment, detailing how these areas could be protected.
Dr. Gibbons believes that coming up with a collective, realistic solution to these areas requires multiple ways of thinking.
“If you look at something like water, a business student will look at that differently than a law student does, and an engineering student does,” she explains.
Dr. Gibbons says the potential for the students’ solutions to have real world impact was an exciting concept of the challenge.
“By asking them to ideate and think extremely differently and very big, we wanted them to use their imagination. Thinking with no budget, no boundaries, thinking what is possible.”
“Ideally we hope that someone in the audience or from one of the councils heard these ideas and thought, ‘this could possibly go ahead, let’s talk about this further’, and we could help put the students’ ideas into action.”
The competition was organised by Dr Belinda Gibbons from the Faculty of Business in collaboration with iAccelerate with support from the UOW Global Challenges Program, Wollongong Academy of Tertiary Teaching and Learning (WATTLE), Wollongong City Council and UOWx; who provided extra-curricular credit for the students and the Global Challenges Program.
Image: Dr Tamantha Stutchbury from UOW Global Challenges and Dr Belinda Gibbons with the #ACT4SDGS Deans Scholar competition participants