New Publication: Linking Universities to Communities

Linking CommunitiesHow do we encourage universities and their academics to extend their scholarship to the benefit of marginalised communities, in research and teaching networks focused on innovation for inclusive development?

The goal of harnessing science and technology to enhance the quality of life of all citizens by addressing poverty and inequality was initially framed in terms of a mission of Technology for Poverty Reduction, in the National Research and Development Strategy (DACST 2002). The assumption was that sustainable development requires that rural and urban communities should have access to innovations that provide more effective solutions to their problems, such as reducing poverty, health, education and agricultural challenges, and increasing energy access. The inclusion of women was identified as a priority, as was the use of indigenous knowledge. An OECD (2007) review of the national system of innovation found that in practice this mission had been neglected in favour of big science, high technology, a focus on firms, growth and the global competitiveness mandate. In this regard, akey focus was policy initiatives to incentivise and support interaction between universities and science councils as knowledge producers, and firms.

Following the OECD review, a new framework of ‘social innovation’ was defined, to refocus efforts in line with the ‘Grand Challenge’ of ‘Human and Social Dynamics of Innovation’. New initiatives introduced included an attempt to link rurally based universities to interact with impoverished communities to generate livelihoods, particularly by drawing on indigenous knowledge. An Innovation for Poverty Alleviation Programme (2010) focused on promoting sustainable livelihoods, ‘through small-scale science and technology-based agro-processing and aquaculture industries’ and on ‘enhancing human settlements through appropriate technologies for such things as access to clean water, information and communication technologies and renewable energy’ as well as support to SMMEs, by providing demonstration technology. Recently, a shift is emerging, to develop a national strategy to work strategically within a framework of Innovation for Inclusive Development, again influenced by OECD (2012a, b, c) and other global and national processes.

These policy developments raise a different set of issues for universities in their interaction with marginalised communities, which have traditionally been addressed through a paradigm of community service or community engagement, rather than the more recent paradigm of innovation and technology development. Download Linking Universities to communities here

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