Following a plethora of information, conversations, inspiring dialogues, and lasting impressions what the set the stage for my first day at the Talloires conference was the opening statement by Frederico Mayor Zaragoza, former Director General of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization. “More then 7000 people die everyday of hunger”…with all the knowledge in universities today, how is this possible? More knowledge is being created every year than ever before, yet still the world faces more political unrest, social inequality and economic crisis then ever before. Seriously, how can this be happening? We need a radical reform of how knowledge is distributed, owned and valued, and we need it…yesterday!
Knowledge, states Mr. Zaragoza, makes the economy. “We must be main actors in the transition to an economy of global sustainability”. There is no reason, in today’s world of technology, innovation and entrepreneurship, that individuals and communities across the globe do not have equal access to information, knowledge, and the opportunity to improve their lives and meet their full potential. We are clearly living in a pinnacle time – an opportunity to embrace the diversity of community economies around the world that are spearheading social, ecological and political justice from the ground up. It is the role of higher education to support and adapt their skills and knowledge to the needs of local and global communities. How can we expect citizenship if communities aren’t equal partners in decisions that are affecting their lives, their future? Community-university partnerships need to combine the “on-the-ground” role and knowledge of community practitioners and their organizations with the resources and capacity of higher education institutions to create and mobilize knowledge in both specific sectors and across disciplines.
How can we preach democracy, equal opportunity and real engagement from the bell tower? True, there has been an inspiring move towards ‘breaking down the ivory tower’, given the growing global civic engagement networks around the world seen here today at the Talloires conference, with over 200 universities participating in this commitment!!! There is still however, a long way to go until this becomes status quo! “The challenge is to turn good practice into standard practice”. The second session appropriately focused on creating supportive policy environments for community- university engagement and I think this is the essential ingredient. There is an urgent need to strengthen arrangements through appropriate, participatory policies by funders and partners on community engagement and mechanisms for knowledge exchange and collaboration.
“We are actors in the possibility of a world where no one dies of hunger, no one lives below the poverty lie and the university has an important role to play in this transition”. Thank you Mr. Zaragoza for your thoughtful and inspiring insights on creating a world I want to live in!!!