Universities can help humanity through glocal partnerships

International higher education institutions and corporations have had 22 years to commit to the United Nations development goals which combine the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) of 2000 to 2015 and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) of 2015 to 2030.

Sharing his optimism and passion for the goals, former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon stated in 2015 that “the 17 Sustainable Development Goals are our shared vision of humanity and a social contract between the world’s leaders and the people ... They are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success.”

International higher education institutions and corporations now have less than 10 years to meet the 2030 SDGs through establishing a higher education social responsibility strategy and adopting the UN SDGs via mutually negotiated goal-setting to advance the sustainable socioeconomic-political aspirations of glocal communities.

Glocal development underpins a humanitarian mandate in connecting higher education and corporations with glocal (local and global) community partners to collectively benefit humanity.

Reimagining the equitable distribution of resources in the age of COVID-19 might be a stretch. However, COVID-19 has done to world order what no human has been able to imagine to date.

The pandemic has turned the world on its head, upsetting the dichotomised top-down hegemonic world order of developed ‘first world’ affluent communities over poverty-stricken developing ‘third world’ communities because it has shown the need for a global response to the virus.

Higher education institutions and their stakeholder groups have the infrastructure, talent, skills and responsibility to promote the 2030 SDGs and a commitment to enhancing the quality of human potential at reasonable speed.

Development from below

Higher education leadership should strive to embrace a ‘development from below’ glocal development approach in which higher education institutions establish respectful partnerships with developing world communities to enhance their quality of life through Sustainable Development Goals which are identified by developing world communities as critical to their survival and growth as sovereign nations.

Glocal development strives to eradicate hidden and visible colonial and imperialist regimes and to liberate developing world communities from poverty, hunger and strife.

Further, glocal development necessitates the equitable distribution of resources among glocal communities. Glocal development focuses on the quality of life of both local and global (glocal) communities as a partnership from their combined perspectives as one humanity.

Visionary leadership with a commitment to integrity and humanity is an imperative in international higher education and corporations. Visionary leaders boldly uphold integrity and embrace ‘development from below’ within an expansive glocal development paradigm which responds to the dire needs of multiple communities.

Higher education is a catalyst for change in leading innovative practices that will impact glocal development.

The upset of power differentials among nation states translates into a growing need to redistribute resources and establish partnerships which humanise higher education and corporate entrepreneurship.

This means that the might of the developed world community must also be redistributed to align with a partnership model in which the developing world leads ‘development from below’.

In the proposed partnership model, developed world nations and developing world nations are expected to implement the principles of glocal engagement to cultivate new shared meaning, find common ground and negotiate sustainable, long-term mutually agreeable relationships to work together to achieve agreed SDGs.

Innovative partnerships

An example of innovative partnerships between universities and communities to enhance their quality of life is the Nobel Prize-winning accomplishment of an innovative entrepreneurial partnership led by Professor Muhammad Yunus, an economist from Chittagong University in Bangladesh.

‘How can one promote a form of entrepreneurship that benefits humanity?’ one might ask.

Professor Yunus, one of the world’s most humanity-driven entrepreneurship leaders and founder of the Grameen Bank (Bank for the Poor) established in 1983, has demonstrated exceptional commitment to just that.

The Grameen Bank is a microfinance organisation and a community development bank founded in Bangladesh. It makes small loans (known as microcredit and grameencredit) to the impoverished without requiring collateral.

Yunus has demonstrated exceptional leadership as a visionary with high standards of ethics and compassion to improve the quality of life in developing and developed world nations.

Grameen Bank’s ingenuity has spread rapidly, with Grameen methods applied in projects in 58 countries, including the United States, Canada, France, the Netherlands and Norway.

Yunus was awarded the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize (shared between Yunus and the Grameen Bank) “for efforts to create economic and social development from below”. The Nobel Peace Prize community acknowledges that “development from below also serves to advance democracy and human rights”.

As a visionary ahead of his time, it was as early as 1983 that Yunus embraced the UN MDGs established in 2000, and the UN SDGs established in September 2015.

In particular, Yunus’ Grameen Bank initiative was aimed at eradicating poverty (MDG 1 and SDG 1), empowering women, (MDG 3 and SDG 5), enhancing sustainability (MDG 7 and SDG 11) and promoting global partnerships (MDG 8 and SDG 17).

These initiatives have obviously impacted economic, social and political life and working conditions (quality of life) for world communities who have been encouraged by Yunus’ Grameen Bank endeavours to uphold humanity as the ultimate goal.

Empowering communities

As a renowned economist, Yunus has empowered women and communities, positively impacting their socio-economic status. He realised that economic growth and political democracy cannot achieve their full potential unless the female half of humanity participates on an equal footing with the male.

Furthermore, the Grameen Bank initiative demonstrated that “of the borrowers, 97% are women and over 97% of the loans are paid back, a recovery rate higher than any other banking system”.

Other exemplars of community empowerment include the recycling project led by Isatou Ceesay’s non-government organisation in the Gambia, which creates jobs, resources and financial independence for women and their families.

In the Gambia Ceesay has been empowering women to recycle plastic waste, the country’s biggest pollutant, for 17 years and through her leadership communities are educated on the necessity to reclaim waste and turn it into revenue.

Another activist for social change in glocal development contexts is food sovereignty advocate Vandana Shiva.

Shiva, a physicist from the University of Punjab who is the founder of the Navdanya Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in India, defines food sovereignty as “sovereignty over your life, livelihood and health”, asserting that it “includes knowledge sovereignty, economic sovereignty and political sovereignty”.

Higher education institutions have an opportunity to establish partnerships with organisations like Ceesay’s non-governmental organisation to adopt SDG 5 (on gender equality), SDG 8 (on decent work and economic growth), SDG 9 (on industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 11 (on sustainable cities and communities) and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals).

They also have a chance to establish partnerships with Shiva’s environmental projects which embrace SDG 2 (zero hunger), SDG 3 (on good health and well-being), SDG 9 (on industry, innovation and infrastructure), SDG 12 (on responsible consumption and production), SDG 15 (on life on land) and SDG 17 (partnerships for the goals).

Time to act

Universities in Malaysia and the Asia Pacific Region have championed UN sustainable development agendas and partnerships to develop a sustainable quality of education (SDG 4).

These innovative initiatives have demonstrated through the Malaysia Education Blueprint, its CEO @ Faculty Programme and various other community engagement programmes, including the Asia-Pacific University-Community Engagement Network (APUCEN), that learning can be glocalised.

An independent quality assurance project initiative in Australia – the Peer Review Portal – encourages community partnership and international higher education institutional engagement in relation to SDG 4 (on quality education).

The portal’s Annual Health Check Report 2021 highlights its support for quality assurance reviews in partnership with 202 institutions.

Furthermore, the report notes that the Peer Review Portal project has linked four development strategies for the Incheon Declaration 2016 and adopted three calls to action aligned to SDG 4. It is time now for higher education institutions to act.

Dr Fay Patel is an academic, researcher and international higher education consultant in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United States, South Africa, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Fay was the former associate vice-president, teaching and student analytics, at the University of Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Fay also contributed to the UNESCO Forums (by invitation of UNESCO Bangkok) in Bangkok, Thailand and in Chengdu, China; as external peer reviewer in the World Bank quality assurance project Bangladesh; as senior case manager at the Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency in Melbourne, Australia; and as an independent reviewer in the Peer Review Portal project in Tasmania, Australia. Fay is the editor of the book (2021) Power Imbalance, Bullying and Harassment in Academia and the Glocal (Local and Global) Workplace. Fay also authored the paper ‘Learning Analytics: Framing the right question for the right data to impact teaching and learning effectiveness’.