The University of Pretoria (UP) has partnered with the United Nations International Children's Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to conceptualise and implement initiatives that will address challenges faced by young people in South Africa.
Professor Cheikh Mbow, Director of UP’s Future Africa institute and campus, has been tasked with formulating solutions to improve the state of social welfare and address developmental issues in South Africa, with a particular focus on young people. He will also be coordinating a team that will roll out the envisaged initiatives. This is in line with the mission of UNICEF, which is essentially to coordinate humanitarian efforts that seek to improve the livelihoods of children and youth around the world.
“The overarching goal of this partnership is to engage and collaborate with broader society to create an outcome-orientated process that will, in a holistic manner, empower youth and address the economic- and health-related challenges that have been brought about by COVID-19,” Prof Mbow explained.
He added that he and his team are ambitious in their goal-setting and that they intend to come up with solutions that can be implemented in the short term in light of how devastating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic have been, not only in South Africa, but the world over. He stressed that long-term solutions are in the pipeline too.
Prof Mbow highlighted four strategic priorities that the programme will address over the course of the next six months. The first is networking, to foster collaboration among different faculties and young scholars from various academic backgrounds in order to address the challenges that have been brought about by the pandemic. One of the outputs of this strategic priority will be a COVID-19 research and engagement platform called CORE-P. The collaborative nature of this programme gives rise to a holistic approach, which is the second priority, and the aim is to use a transdisciplinary approach to address the challenges that COVID-19 has brought to the fore, which cut across a myriad of sectors. Training and skills development is the third priority, and will equip young people with skills that will enable them to assist in the fight against the virus. Lastly, the programme will offer entrepreneurial support to young people who plan on starting or already have businesses. This support is intended to provide much-needed relief in areas where youth unemployment is increasing steadily.
In the initiation phase of the project, all activities will be coordinated and implemented from the Future Africa institute and campus. As the project gains traction, Prof Mbow intends to collaborate with more stakeholders, including some of the country’s historically black tertiary institutions and a few other African universities.
Muriel Mafico, UNICEF South Africa’s deputy representative who is responsible for the overall management and coordination of her organisation’s programme in the country, provided clarity on how institutions in other parts of Africa will be involved in the programme.
“Collaboration with five African universities and other global institutions will allow a truly Pan-African co-creation of scalable solutions for young people,” Mafico said. “This is an urgent priority, given the devastating impact of COVID-19 and the need to bring together transdisciplinary research teams at UP and from other African countries to address complex research questions that have been necessitated by the pandemic.”
As for why the organisation she represents decided to work with UP, Mafico said: “UP has been leading in many fields, with a strong focus on transdisciplinary approaches, which are critical for solving the complex development challenges we are facing today. UP has a well-established entrepreneurship development programme; well-established partnerships with South African partners in promoting Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM); and ongoing internship and job shadowing programmes that are supported by the private sector.”
Vice-Chancellor and Principal Professor Tawana Kupe stressed the importance of partnerships such as the one that has been forged with UNICEF and the UNDP.
“Our institutional collaboration on strategic innovation comes at an opportune time, in that we find ourselves having to strengthen efforts to support the transformation of universities and society at large,” he said.
“The global pandemic has brought about significant changes to how we work and relate to one another, both within our institutions and as individuals. Both our institutions have valuable experience and resources that enable us to strategically innovate and respond to challenges related to equity, diversity and inclusion.”