Universities: Central Hubs for Promoting the SDGs

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Section nine of nine of SGI President Daisaku Ikeda’s 2019 peace proposal, “Toward a New Era of Peace and Disarmament: A People-Centered Approach.”

People gather for a youth convention in Rome, Italy, on June 6, 2018, following the launch of a joint appeal to youth by Daisaku Ikeda and Dr. Pérez Esquivel [© Seikyo Shimbun]

My fifth and final proposal is to strengthen momentum toward making the world’s universities hubs for the realization of the SDGs. Launched in 2010, the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI), an initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the UN in supporting and contributing to the realization of its global agenda, currently links more than 1,300 institutions in approximately 140 countries. In October last year, UNAI announced that it had designated seventeen universities as SDG Hubs modeling innovative engagement related to each of the seventeen SDGs.

One of them, the University of Pretoria in South Africa, has been chosen as the hub for Goal 2: Zero hunger. Within the university, there are research centers dedicated to tackling the food crisis and improving nutrition. It also collaborates with institutions across the continent and around the globe and for several years has sponsored conferences on international food security. It has also prioritized the integration of the SDGs into its curricula across all programs.

The Ahfad University for Women in Sudan has been chosen as the hub for Goal 5: Gender equality. Aiming to equip women with the skills needed to actively contribute to their communities and countries, the university offers four master’s programs specializing in gender-related fields including gender and development and gender and peace studies.

De Montfort University in the UK has been designated as the hub for Goal 16: Peace, justice and strong institutions. As a leader in the UN campaign to promote the well-being of refugees and migrants, facilitating their coexistence with local populations, it is committed to providing educational opportunities for refugee youth. Advocating for the dignity of migrants and refugees, the university is also promoting an oral history project to archive refugee stories to be shared with the public.

related article Strengthening UN Initiatives on Water Resources Management Strengthening UN Initiatives on Water Resources Management Ikeda makes several proposals in support of the UN’s Water Action Decade and water-related SDGs, noting that access to clean water is an issue of human dignity. Among Japanese universities, the Nagaoka University of Technology has been chosen as the hub for Goal 9: Industry, innovation and infrastructure. During their three-year term as SDG Hubs, the seventeen universities will take the lead in propelling efforts toward the realization of the SDGs in their respective commitment areas.

In the words of Ramu Damodaran, chief of UNAI, “Scholarship does good. Students deliver goods. Nowhere has this combination worked more effectively, indeed dramatically, than in university engagement with the SDGs.” I could not agree more—the potential residing within universities is truly limitless. Universities can serve as havens of hope and security in society and can make crucial contributions to the well-being of humanity as a whole. Based on this belief, I would like to call for the expansion of the network of universities committed to supporting the SDGs, building on the work of these seventeen hub universities.

One vehicle for realizing this might be for universities around the world, starting with the members of UNAI, to select the SDGs that are the particular focus of their efforts and actively work for their achievement. Aiming to promote cooperation among institutions that are working on the same goals and to broaden solidarity among students across the globe, I would like to propose the holding of a world conference of universities in support of the SDGs sometime next year, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the founding of the UN.

The UN’s Youth2030 strategy calls on UN entities to amplify and reinforce the voices of young people at major summits such as the seventy-fifth anniversary events and to establish regular engagement between young people and the Secretary-General. In this context, a world conference of universities in support of the SDGs would bring together educators and students from around the globe, accelerating momentum toward their achievement. It could also provide the opportunity for a dialogue forum with the Secretary-General.

In my capacity as founder of Soka University, I have worked to promote academic exchanges and have conducted dialogues on the social mission of universities with the heads of academic institutions around the world.

The process of dialogue and the cultivation of mutual understanding never fail to generate fresh energy and a more ideal path toward a better future for the world.

Soka University has a long history of ties with the University of Buenos Aires, one the seventeen SDG Hubs. During my conversations with the university’s long-serving rector, Oscar J. Shuberoff (1944–2010), I shared my belief that exchanges between universities would undoubtedly give birth to the creation of new wisdom and value. The process of dialogue and the cultivation of mutual understanding never fail to generate fresh energy and a more ideal path toward a better future for the world. He agreed and commented that the world’s universities face common challenges and need to work together to find solutions. I was moved by his conviction that it is the duty of educators to reach out to those in greatest need.

As a UNAI member, Soka University is engaged in activities with a particular focus on five of the initiative’s ten basic principles: encouraging global citizenship; advancing peace and conflict resolution; addressing issues of poverty; promoting sustainability; and promoting intercultural dialogue and understanding, and the “unlearning” of intolerance.

Soka University joined UNHCR’s Refugee Higher Education Program when the SDGs were launched in 2016 and has accepted asylum seekers as students under this agreement. It also has ongoing exchange agreements with the UN Development Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization. In terms of its curriculum, Soka University launched courses on education for global citizenship last year focusing on such SDG-related fields as peace, the environment, development and human rights. In addition, it is actively taking part in a number of research initiatives relating to the SDGs, including that of building societies based on regenerative sustainability.

Soka University of America (SUA) has also committed resources to programs focusing on global challenges. Part of the unique curriculum it offers is a Learning Cluster, an intensive research seminar where students form teams and explore specific themes of their own choosing, always with a field learning component. The university provides students with specific learning opportunities, including UN Study Tours. Since 2014, SUA has also been organizing an annual conference on building a culture of peace and nonviolence in observance of the International Day of Non-Violence.

related article Soka Gakkai in America: Focused on Servant Leadership and Dialogic Teaching Soka Gakkai in America: Focused on Servant Leadership and Dialogic Teaching by  William Aiken,  director of public affairs, SGI-USA Reflecting upon the SGI-USA community, William Aiken provides a Buddhist perspective on the future trends for religion in the US. In my 2006 proposal on UN reform, I called on the world’s universities and institutions of higher learning to actively support the work of the UN as an integral part of their social mission. I described a future scenario in which individual students and universities connect with one another to form a web of networks supporting the UN that would eventually crisscross the entire globe. Indeed, just such a network has developed through the 1,300 universities participating in UNAI. The recent launch of the SDG Hubs provides a perfect opportunity to invite more universities into this network, allowing participants to share experiences and accumulated learning while coordinating their activities to build a global society in which no one is left behind.

The SGI will continue promoting the achievement of the SDGs through education for global citizenship, one of our core initiatives in support of the UN. We have organized exhibitions addressing various global issues, many of which have been hosted by universities around the world, including the University of Bergen in Norway, a UNAI SDG Hub. It has always been my conviction that universities are optimal venues for bringing together the wisdom to create solutions and find new approaches to problems. Young people, students in particular, are the primary agents who can unleash the kind of transformative energy our world requires.

Last June, when the joint appeal to youth which I wrote with Dr. Pérez Esquivel was launched at a press conference in Rome, the text was presented to two student representatives. A gathering to discuss the appeal was held the following day in the city’s student quarter. The appeal stresses the importance of the empowerment of young people through education for global citizenship and proposes the following three focus areas for such efforts:

  1. Promoting a common awareness of a universal sense of history in order to prevent the repetition of tragedies.

  2. Promoting the understanding that Earth is our common home, where no one is to be excluded on the basis of difference.

  3. Promoting the humane orientation of politics and economics, cultivating the wisdom needed to achieve a sustainable future.

Based on these three commitments, the SGI is determined to strengthen our collaboration with academic institutions around the world and consistently advance education for global citizenship through activities such as the holding of exhibitions to raise awareness about the SDGs.

The gathering of students in Rome happened to fall on June 6, the birth anniversary of the Soka Gakkai’s founding president, Tsunesaburo Makiguchi. His educational philosophy provides the inspiration for the activities of the Soka Gakkai and the SGI. A central aspect of his thinking is expressed in the following statement:

“Educational efforts built on a clear understanding and with a defined sense of purpose have the power to overcome the contradictions and doubts that plague humankind, and to bring about an enduring victory for humanity.”

Based on this unwavering confidence in the limitless potential of education and through our commitment to the empowerment of youth, the SGI will strive to build a sustainable and peaceful global society where all can manifest their inherent dignity.

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