UCT Knowledge Co-Op inspires active citizenry

9 Jun 2016 - 14:15

On the 6th June 2016 the Development and Alumni Department in association with the UCT Knowledge Co-Op, held a business luncheon at the Protea Hotel in Mowbray.

The luncheon, hosted by the Vice-Chancellor Dr Max Price, and attended by representatives of both corporate- and civil society organizations, was an opportunity for businesses to gain exposure to the work of the Knowledge Co-Op, and learn how corporate South Africa can partner with UCT to ensure that this work continues to have an even greater impact, both on UCT researchers, and the communities and organisations that they partner with.

Dr Price began his remarks by explaining that the mission of the University of Cape Town is anchored in three core elements: research; teaching and learning; and social responsiveness.

He spoke about how the Knowledge Co-Op is the conduit through which research and social responsiveness intersect. The Knowledge Co-Op brokers relationships between community organisations with a "research question," and postgraduate UCT students conducting their academic work in related fields, helping reformulate the questions from civil society organisations/communities into potential academic research projects, many of which include a service-learning and experiential training component. These collaborations are conducted in the spirit of equal partnership.

Critically, the fact that the research agenda of the Knowledge Co-Op projects is set by external, non-academic constituencies, represents a transformative approach to traditional research practice in and of itself.

So while these partnerships give UCT a way to provide community organisations access to the knowledge, skills, resources and professional expertise found within the university ecosystem, they play an equally important role in exposing researchers and academics to real-world challenges requiring intervention.

Raisa Moola - a UCT student who elected to conduct her honors research in collaboration with a Knowledge Co-Op community partner - discussed the transformative impact of this collaboration on her own academic journey, noting that the Knowledge Co-Op offers a means for students to "go where they otherwise would not have had the opportunity to go" - both literally and in the figurative sense.

Keynote speaker Karl Gostner, General Manager for Primedia Cape Town and Lead SA representative reiterated this point, sharing a personal anecdote of his own journey "beyond the ivory tower" as a student, when a university mentor who he refers to as "his own Knowledge Co-Op" introduced him to social activism off campus at grassroots level. Relating the profound shift in perspective that that experience sparked in him, he reminded the audience (employing the use of a powerful audio excerpt from the Truth and Reconciliation Committee hearings) that it is as important now as ever for all sectors of South African society to remain rooted in an understanding of the social context in which we operate.

By facilitating equal partnerships between the academy and community organisations, the Knowledge Co-Op is one of the projects that directly addresses the University's goal to instil a sense of civic-mindedness in our students and graduates. In this sense, the project is strongly aligned to LeadSA's "active citizenry" philosophy, said Gostner.

In her remarks, Dianna Yach, Director of the Mauerberger Foundation Fund (which is a long-standing donor to the Knowledge Co-op), discussed how the project epitomises the concept of engaged scholarship, representing a model for the way in which universities can begin to achieve the critical goal of moving social justice issues "from the margins to the mainstream."

Russell Ally, Executive Director of UCT's Development and Alumni Department, closed the event by reminding the audience that the work of the Knowledge Co-Op is almost entirely funded through the generosity of individuals, corporates and foundations who support its mission through financial contributions, and that the importance of donor funding in enabling UCT to continue doing this work and making an impact on both the university and the communities it serves, cannot be overstated.