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Re-thinking the work of African National Research and Education Networks through the lenses of the UN SDGs

The AC3 Comms team moderating a breakout room during the workshop.

This article was originally published on the AfricaConnect3 website.

Around 40 representatives of African NRENs, research centres and higher education institutions came together in Gaborone, Botswana on Thursday 24 November, 2022, to discuss how their respective organisations are contributing to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

This workshop was part of a bigger initiative run by the AfricaConnect3 Communications team aimed at evidencing the concrete contributions that African NRENs are doing in support of the achievement of the Global Goals.

NRENs CEOs, and Presidents, Vice-Chancellors, and Professor of leading African universities took interest in highlighting the various activities run at their respective organisations and agreed on the importance of sharing with the rest of the world that the research and education networking community in Africa is making waves in the fields on quality education (SDG 4), gender equality (SDG 5), economic development and job growth (SDG 8), innovation and infrastructure (SGD 9) and global partnerships (SDG 17), just to name a few!

In fact, NRENs and their member institutions play a critical role in the achievement of most of the Global Goals, whether it is via a direct contribution (a direct service provision) or an indirect one (the so-called multiplier effect).

The meeting saw the participants splitting in two groups and cover a different set of SDGs each to ensure that the highest number of examples was collected. The round table discussions brought up interesting points and challenged the attendees to think critically and strategically about their work and activities through the SDGs lenses.

For example, when discussing SDG 5 “achieving gender equality for all women and girls”, the participants pointed out at the nuances of the Goal’s targets. SDG5 calls for the elimination of all discrimination and harmful practices against women and girls, and this might seem a bit distant from an NREN’s daily work. However, we need to ask ourselves how equal the access to education is for girls. Gender equality starts with giving the same education opportunities to all and here is where our community has an impact. NRENs make education more accessible through brokering more affordable and reliable connectivity and educational services to schools and higher education institutions. More educated girls will have better opportunities at finding a job and, in turn, become more active and engaged actors in their society.

The ramifications of making quality education more accessible to all (SDG 4), especially the vulnerable and women, are endless and multiply to touch upon so many other SDGs, such as SDG 5 as just discussed (gender equality), SDG 8 (increasing job opportunities and aiding the economic development of the community), SDG 3 (increasing the well-being of the end users, as women will be empowered), among others.

The community was all hands-on deck during the workshop in Gaborone and contributed to the discussion with endless examples of activities and initiatives that align to the Global Goals and it will be impossible to cover them all in one blog. For this reason, the AfricaConnect3 team will build a comprehensive and inclusive document which will be the main output of the discussions held during the workshops.

It was fascinating to see that, regardless of the field, geographical location and institutional level, every stakeholder in the community is working towards the same objective. Now it’s time to put on our SDGs hat and share with the world what we are doing as fully-fledged participants in the achievement of a more sustainable world.

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