Realising the sprawling complexity and the international interconnectedness of the SDGs requires multiple partnerships and types of partnerships. This is recognised in Goal 17, and universities have a critical role to play.
Universities – particularly those that are research-led – rely increasingly on global networks to achieve research that addresses the world’s grand challenges. However, it is critical that these partnerships are equal and that the voices of the Global South are not lost or dictated to by the better-resourced Global North.
UCT is part of several international networks that bring a powerful African voice to global debates. The university was an early partner of the Worldwide Universities Network, where it has had the opportunity to influence the work being done at other universities. UCT is a co-leader of the network’s Global Africa Group and co-edited its seminal book Africa and the Sustainable Development Goals.
As the only Global South member of the International Alliance of Research Universities, UCT benchmarks against some of the world’s leading research universities and shares its experience within a development context.
UCT recognised several years ago, though, that for Africa to take its place in the global knowledge project, we need to strengthen ties between universities on the continent. As such, the university was co-founder and first chair of the African Research Universities Alliance, whose 13 Centres of Excellence are closely aligned with the SDGs and Agenda 2063.
To contribute most meaningfully to SDG17, universities need to go well beyond these international networks of academia, partnering with government and civil society at all levels. For instance, at a local level, UCT researchers worked closely with the City of Cape Town on behavioural change during the city’s extreme drought, and subsequently shared the lessons learned with a global audience.
UCT also works closely with industry in many of its fields, and these partnerships are critical to delivering the SDGs. For instance, the Catalysis Institute has a longstanding collaboration with the energy and chemical company Sasol, and the partnership has made recent progress on catalysts that convert hydrogen and CO2 into green jet fuel.
A critical gap identified by Goal 17 is the lack of meaningful data on which to base policy decisions and monitor progress towards all SDGs. As the only internationally certified African repository, UCT’s DataFirst provides open access to data from South Africa and other African countries.