Exhibition Video - Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & The Global South

By Prof Nicol Keith, Institute of Cancer Sciences

The Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & The Global South project is a joint venture with the Innovation School at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) and the UofG Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) Network.

This has been led and coordinated by Mia Perry at UofG along with Kirsty Ross at GSA. It’s a final year honours project for the Design students at GSA.

This project asks the students to consider what happens in this global landscape ten years from now where Sustainable Development has evolved to the extent that new forms of work and communities of practice transform how people engage, learn and interact with each other, with stakeholders and with the global community around them.

Topics addressed are health, energy, mobility, economies, societal structures and the environment.

The project takes a human-centered approach, rather than simply a user-centered perspective, to exploring the topic in partnership between the GSA & SFA. This brief offers the opportunity to explore the underlying complexities regarding sustainable futures, the post-colonial dynamic between ‘norths’ and ‘souths’, post-capitalism and human agency, to envision a future world context, develop it as an experiential exhibit, and produce the designed products, services and experiences for the people who might live and work within it.

The project is collaborative in nature, requiring the students to work, learn and interact with experts from for academia, civic and government organisations and NGOs from across the SFA community.

This project is still ongoing but this short video captures the essence of the project and the work-in-progress exhibition.  The exhibition also features a second future-focused project from the final year Master of European Design (MEDes) students. The Collaborative Futures project partnered Glasgow School of Art with Glasgow City Council to explore how data could shape the experiences of Glasgow’s citizens in 2030 and envisage what a well governed city might look like moving forwards.

Together, the two projects span the local to the global; exploring themes ranging from sustainable citizenship, to community participation and the value of collaborative creativity in defining how people might live and work together in the near future.


Lockdown - week 8

By Dr Brian Barrett, Scottish Hub Director

We are in the thick of it now. With almost a third of the global population under some form of lockdown, our behaviours and lives have unexpectedly been forced to change. A return to the pre Covid-19 conditions, which many of us expected or possibly hoped for in the early stages of inconvenience, appears more fanciful by the day.

While the pandemic has brought about a heightened sense of unity and the reassurance that ‘we are all in this together’, this doesn’t represent the reality for everyone. Covid-19 does not discriminate based on class or nationality, but it does disproportionately affect older demographics and black and ethnic minority (BAME) groups. As the most developed and richest nations with the most sophisticated healthcare and welfare systems in the world are struggling to cope, how poorer nations will fare is almost unthinkable. It is those that are less well-off and the least developed nations that will likely suffer the most from the virus. The gendered impacts of virus interventions are demonstrating that they could actually be more harmful to women than the virus, with countries around the world reporting sharp increases in the number of women suffering from physical and mental abuse in the home by their aggressors.

All of us are anxious for the future, for the health of our loved ones, our environment, and our livelihoods. We are at a critical juncture, and with our collective expertise and experiences in the SFA Network, from local to regional, we are in a privileged position to lead and shape where we go from here. We have been afforded time to reflect and confront the inconvenient realities of our current pathways and indeed the behaviours that led us here. Our health is intimately linked to the health of our environment, our wildlife and our livestock. Collectively, we can push for a sustainable recovery where we treat one another and the planet in the way that we know we should, to secure a symbiotic socio-ecological functioning now and for the future. Encouragingly, the green shoots of an equitable and sustainable recovery are emerging across nations. Past behavioural norms are being disrupted and need to be made irreparable.


COVID-19 and being Nimble

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director

I have just concluded an hour-long “Zoom” call with colleagues from the University of Glasgow. It was one of several digital meetings we have had these past weeks with members from the Sustainable Futures in Africa (SFA) network. The network has members from UK, Nigeria, Uganda, Malawi and Botswana. The majority of the meetings have been to discuss the way forward, after our symposium (which was to be held in Malawi in mid-March) was postponed due to COVID-19. Today’s call touched upon exploring possibilities of holding digital conferences in the future. We would miss the face to face connection, but there are advantages to digital conferences including the opportunity to open up participation to a larger group and eliminate carbon emissions from the flights needed to hold physical meetings. We realized that some countries may have bandwidth challenges, and poor connectivity issues, while some members may not have good digital devices if they are at home without access to work computers. One thing was clear: as a network, we have to change and change quickly in this transforming situation.

The word that stayed in my mind from the meeting was “nimble”. A nimble person is quick, light, agile in movement or action, clever, and adaptable. In today’s situation, individuals, organizations and countries have to be nimble and here I share some examples. Around the world, companies including information technology companies immediately made “work from home” the norm. Speed and agility were demonstrated by Unilever, which launched initiatives in the US, India, China, UK, Netherlands, Italy and other countries around the world, with teams manufacturing and distributing millions of bars of free soap. Companies active across West Africa are sharing information and coordinating their responses through the West Africa Private Sector Coronavirus Platform (WAPSCON19) which is focusing on the livelihoods and health of the wider community as well as keeping employees healthy and safe and businesses running. Singapore received a lot of praise at how nimble they were in their response to COVID-19 with quick action through testing, quarantining, information sharing, and the sanitization of public spaces.  They adopted financial measures such as bringing forth a supplementary solidarity budget to safeguard jobs during the social distancing period.  Similarly, China’s neighbour Vietnam, also received praise for responding to the outbreak early with a risk assessment in January and the proactive National Steering Committee for COVID-19 response and preparedness. There are some examples of how being nimble is proving to be an asset in these times to avoid massive losses.

While the world is mostly focusing (rightly so) on the health-care aspects and how to revive the economy, we, at SFA feel that there is need to give attention to the social impacts too. These may include getting appropriate and culturally relevant messages across to rural communities whose livelihoods depend on stepping out of their homes every day; documenting stories of how people are coping and discussing mental health issues; promoting small scale home based mask making and soap making to help with income generation while safe distancing etc. As a network, we are trying to respond to this pandemic in meaningful ways using our strengths. We issued a survey to understand what has worked with COVID-19 responses in our country hubs and beyond. We are exploring making digital conferencing a norm, and we are trying to use the opportunity of going digital to open up the network and allow greater participation. We are rethinking “normal”, abandoning rigidness and wholeheartedly, if on wobbly legs, embracing being “nimble”.


Pluriversal Literacies: Affect and Relationality in Vulnerable Times

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Dr Mia Perry, SFA Co-Director, has just published (April 6th) a brilliant paper* entitled: “Pluriversal Literacies: Affect and Relationality in Vulnerable Times” in International Literacy Association – Reading Research Quarterly. This is a timely publication amid the current COVID19 crisis worldwide.

Abstract

Through a consideration of literacies in theory and international policy, this article pushes at the edges of existing frameworks of functional and sociocultural literacies. In critique of existing policy directives, the author explores an approach to literacy that engages in the affective and posthuman relationality of human and environment and in the plurality of literacies globally that are overshadowed in prevailing models of literacy education. The author was motivated by a commitment to literacy education responsive to a world that is unsustainable in its current practices, to a world that faces increasing fragmentation and vulnerability (socially and ecologically) while certain types of expertise, technologies, and global infrastructures continue to proliferate. As a mainstay of education and a tool of social change, literacies are inseparable from policy and practices of sustainability, equity, and development. Pluriversality is a concept emerging from decolonial theory that provides a counternarrative to contemporary Northern assumptions of the universal. Building on a history of ideas around pluriversality gives sociopolitical and ecological momentum to affect and relationality in literacy studies. The author challenges normative constructions of literacy education as Eurocentric and neocolonial, effectively supporting a pedagogy that normalizes certain practices and people and, by extension, sustains inequity and environmental degradation. Through interwoven research projects, the author highlights the contentious aspects of functional and sociocultural approaches to literacy and the possibilities of moving beyond them. In doing so, the author describes and demonstrates the practical and political implications of affect theory and relationality in literacies education in a plural anthropocenic world.

” It is a paper that I have been working on for over a year and our very own Dr Alex Okot is quoted, EcoAction is featured and the Sustainable Future in Africa Network acknowledged throughout for the immense influence this network has had on my work in literacies “ – Dr Mia Perry

 

* Mia Perry. 2020. Pluriversal Literacies: Affect and Relationality in Vulnerable Times. International Literacy Association – Reading Research Quarterly. 0(0). pp 1-17 | doi:10.1002/rrq.312


COVID-19 and Rethinking the Unsustainable “Normal”

By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Co-Director, Sustainable Futures in Africa

Reconsidering Development Pathways: What is the “New Normal”?

“Sustainable Development”, that often overused term in development work, calls us to action to end poverty, protect the environment and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity. However, our development pathways have been far from that ideal. With rising inequality, increasing carbon emissions, pollution, wildlife crime, and the exploitation of natural resources and environmental degradation, we have continued our immoral growth beyond the carrying capacity of our earth. COVID-19 may be a wake-up call to humanity to stop this self-destruction of our home planet, lest our actions eliminate us as a species.

Reflecting on the status of the world

With the majority of us under lockdown in our homes, this is a good time to pause and look at our lives, our countries’ priorities, global development and the meaning of sustainability. While we have advanced our knowledge about green economic models, good practices for reducing extreme poverty and the use of technologies to promote wellbeing, we still have 700 million people living on less than $1.90 a day. Our consumerism and continued emissions are compromising our chances of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, and our global health care inequalities have come to haunt us.

Should we go back to “normal”?

Many of us can’t wait to get back to the same “normal” that got us into this predicament. COVID-19 has revealed that this pathway of unsustainable consumption, growth, ecological degradation and inequality simply cannot continue. In an increasingly interconnected world, the pandemic has taught us that none of us is safe unless all of us are safe. Business-as-usual may not be the “normal” we want to return to.

Economic slowdown may not be all that bad

This is also a good time to reflect on what life looks like when we slow down economic growth. With air travel grinding to a halt and a large number of people working from home, we are seeing the prevalence of digital conferences and meetings taking off, making us wonder why working remotely and meeting locally wasn’t already a norm? With the lockdown, the burning of fossil fuels has dropped, causing air quality to improve significantly, triggering social media posts of beautiful clear skies and views of mountains kilometres away. With humans locked in, animals and birds are courageously stepping out and enjoying their newfound freedom. The earth is healing.

We can work together

All sectors are working hand in hand to tackle this pandemic: funds are flowing from various sources; the private sector which hitherto cared mostly about profits is stepping in and helping the health sector. Governments are realising that spending on key sectors such as health and education is more important. Scientists and doctors are collaborating for the greater good, development partners are giving NGOs flexibility to divert their funding to COVID response, and each of us is checking in on our friends and family. It took this pandemic to ignite our sense of community, to get us to make sacrifices, recognise our priorities, work for a common purpose and cherish solidarity. We now realise that we’re all in this together and we can work together.

Three lessons learnt

Three things have become clear since the emergence of COVID-19. First, we are an interconnected world and only if all of us are safe, will each once of us become safe. In that regard, the virus is an equaliser because it does not discriminate. Second, although the virus has impacted every country, regardless of wealth or power, it has also made us realise how unequal our society is. There will be many who will not be able to recover at all or recover as fast as some others. Our global interconnectivity should wake us up to our responsibility for ensuring that each and every country recovers from this shock (not just our own country). We can no longer afford to be selfish, we have to broaden our minds and assume a global identity.

Finally, the unsustainable “normal” that has caused so many challenges to the world is a social construction; that means, we can change it. We, as a society, have been able to come together and make drastic changes to our lives and economy to respond to COVID-19. This proves that it is possible to take action to create a changed future for the better. After the pandemic ends, we must not slip back to the old normal, but consciously strive towards a “new normal” that is more sustainable, climate-proof, equitable, compassionate and humane.

What is your idea of the “new normal”?

How would you envision this “new normal”? Drop your answers/comments below.


A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

A Critical Resource for Ethical International Partnerships

When we start a new project with partners in a different context, it is never truly a “new start.” Historically it has been experts from the Global North who have studied and interpreted the South. This means that international research partnerships are inevitably imbued with power relations and possibly the assumption that it is northern knowledge that will lead transformations of in the South. Without a clear recognition of that context, it is inevitable that existing inequities, injustices, and imbalances of knowledge and power, will continue to pervade our work.

We designed this resource to help make explicit the practices and dynamics that underpin partnerships, to support the development of more equitable working relations.

DOI 10.17605/OSF.IO/DJTN4

Download the resource >

A Cry from the Wetlands of Africa

By Anthony Kadoma, PhD Student and SFA member

Wetlands oh wetlands! Here we are, the wetlands of Africa, hear us on our World Wetland Day - https://www.worldwetlandsday.org

God created us to serve the needs of humans and their surroundings. We meet almost all their needs: Fresh drinking water we give, food we give, clean air to breathe we give. This enables them not only to live healthy, but happily as well.

We have given that and more forever, diligently and without complaining. But humans seem not to value and appreciate the goods and services derived from us.

‘Why, why?’ we ask ourselves.

Humans started by encroaching on us because they wanted to expand grazing land for the domestic animals, and we accepted. We supported seasonal vegetables such as cabbages and rice which do well in our fertile soil and conserved water, now we have been over-harvested over the years. We have endured the shame of being stripped naked until it’s too much for us to bear. That was not enough to satisfy the needs of human beings: Oh, who will ever satisfy human needs?

Because of your need to expand housing and factories, we have become the first victim and now we are being denied our original role and reason for existence; you are filling and dumping  in us soil and other debris as if there are no other places left for that. You don’t show any care or respect to us!

With your increased greed you have now decided to eliminate us! Completely ignoring the rights of the other peaceful and harmless organisms that live in us by directing your industrial wastes to us which chokes us badly. Oh, what did we do to you to deserve this?

Because of the pressure and burden you have placed on us, we have had to let go of some of our functions such as controlling floods, and now humans are crying that we no longer care. Harmful weeds and pests have occupied us because we can’t fight them as our capacity has reduced to fight for ourselves. However, we are blamed for that as well and some even suggest to completely do away with us in order to protect humans from vectors that cause disease, especially malaria.

We still want to exist and serve you as we have done before – you and your generations to come. All we are asking is that you show some care for us, help us to regenerate and use us wisely. Do not over-harvest us and leave our surrounding environment bare as this makes us too weak to defend ourselves and to support you well. Help us to restore and we will forever be your obedient servant, offering you your essential goods and services. Hear our cry, oh humans of Africa.

 

Anthony Kadoma is a University of Glasgow PhD student focusing on Environmental Sustainability and a member of Sustainable Futures in Africa Network.


Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day 2)

By Vanessa Duclos, Research Manager of the SFA Network

Today (Nov 7th, 2019) was the second opportunity for the emerging designers to engage with the experts in Sustainable Development & the Global South. For more information about the project itself, please read this post.
The students presented the concept scenario they had developed as a team, as well as their individual direction which is a specific aspect of the future world they have created. These individual parts will lead to the design of distinct, imaginative and interrelated products, services and experiences. While designing, the students must keep in mind who they are designing for – future workers/future citizens – with consideration for how Sustainable Development work might evolve to enable/afford/alter the dynamics of people, process and practice in the Global South.

As most of them have never travelled to a destination in the Global South, they largely rely on the experts’ lived-experiences to grasp the reality of those living in developing countries. I was pleased to realise that as the emerging designers broaden their research and interact/interview the experts, they also start integrating what working across difference means, that there is more than often no “right” or “wrong”, “bad” or “good”, “them” and “us”, which are too easy and simplistic labels used to describe the disparity between the North and the South. I notice that they all felt more comfortable exploring the grey zone between both worlds where ideas and concepts can emerge, instead of stagnating in a criticism loop. While they learn from our experience, we also greatly learn from their creativity, flexibility, and open-mindedness which are skills that requires time and exposure to develop but which seem to be well built-in and natural for this group.


Reporting on: Future Experiences | Glasgow School of Art (Expert Day 1)

By Vanessa Duclos, lead Research Administrator of the SFA Network
David Gerow, SFA Intern and PhD student

This fall, the Sustainable Futures in Africa Network is collaborating with the Glasgow School of Art’s (GSA) Innovation School. Over the semester, the 4th year product design students will work on a project on the theme of “Future Experiences: Sustainable Development & the Global South”. During this 8-week project, the cohort will investigate future forms and functions of sustainable development work in relation to the Global South, ultimately developing a future scenario and designing the artefacts, services and experiences associated with it 10 years from now.

Today, contemporary product design is not only an industrial or production-focused occupation; rather, it is becoming an epistemological practice, which explores the future, generates new knowledge and formulates hypotheses about how people may live or work in the years to come. Whether they are designing an artefact, service or experience, it is fundamental for a designer to know how to understand what drives people, what their needs are and why.

Dr Mia Perry worked with Dr Kirsty Ross, lecturer at the GSA and final year coordinator, to build the structure of this project. Over the last couple of weeks, the students split into seven groups worked together to conduct research in the domains of Health, Energy, Mobility, Economies, Education, Societal Structures and Environment. Each of these domains was examined through various lenses: Social, Technological, Economic, Ethical, Educational, Values, Political, Legal and Ecological. Then, based on this research, the students mapped societal shifts and identified emerging themes or scenarios.

This morning, the students shared their initial future scenarios with “the experts”: academics and professionals working within the field of sustainable development in the Global South, and members of the SFA Network. By sharing their work, the students had the opportunity to validate certain aspects of their research, as well as the chance to ask technical questions and benefit from the experts’ real-world experiences to further shape their scenarios/designs. The team of experts will meet with the cohort of emerging designers throughout the duration of the project, which will culminate later this year in an exhibition of the designed future artefacts, services and experiences.

I was happy to be in the expert cohort, along with my University of Glasgow colleagues: Stewart Paul, Anthony Kadoma, Prof Jude Robinson, Dr Raihana Ferdous, Dr Neil Burnside, Prof James Conroy, and SFA Network partners Prof Sola Ajayi (First-Tech University, Ibadan), Andrew Vincent (Classrooms for Malawi and Nu Blvck), Diarmuid O’Neill (DFID), Prof Jo Sharp (University of St Andrews) and Dr Christian Micha Ehret (McGill University).

The initial research presented by the student groups was impressive both for its accuracy and for how it pin-pointed challenges related to sustainable development work. The students were genuinely interested in learning more about lived experiences and described how being exposed to this topic – and to the SFA Network by extension – had changed their perspectives on their roles as designers (progressing towards a more participatory approach with clients). I am certain that the expert team is also looking forward to the next experts input day, November 7th. It was a refreshing, inspiring, positive and thought-provoking experience for all, and a promising start to a successful collaboration.