Change the world


The SRU’s second Research Associates Symposium took place at the Nelson Mandela University George Campus on 16 May 2017. This year’s Symposium was attended by a congregation of enthusiastic undergraduate and postgraduate students, academics, civil society representatives and conservationists. 

Seven high quality papers focused on real-life sustainability issues such as regional sustainability challenges; opportunities for science to have societal impact; strengthening links between research and management; assessing the risks of deteriorating water quality; statistical models to inform the economic development of small towns; coastal sustainability; and governance of biodiversity and wildlife. These talks stimulated lively debates and discussions, with students chipping in and asking incisive questions about sustainability and natural connections.  

The symposium ended with a synthesis of sustainability challenges in transitional systems - systems that are ‘on the move’, typical of young democracies in many parts of the world. Problems are poorly understood; ideal solutions and common visions are seldom realised.  The realities are short time horizons, short term decision making, conflict and unsavoury trade-offs.

We concluded with a new insight: the sustainability dilemma in transitional systems is how to deal with uncertainty, how to overcome paralysis and how to incorporate multiple societal views and knowledge systems. The solutions are to conduct bold experiments, co-create hope and make the most of the chaos. Windows of opportunity can emerge from this disorder.  In systems in transition, our quest is for productive knowledge; knowledge that inspires, promotes collaboration, reduces inequality and lowers uncertainty by providing predictive models and detecting trends. Productive knowledge spreads like wildfire, stimulates innovation, is culturally appropriate and is readily taken up by society. Academics in transitional systems must be catalysts of ‘productive knowledge’ and provide inspiration and hope.

The event concluded with a social evening where new friends were made, stories were told and the world’s problems were miraculously solved. We left with hope, renewed enthusiasm and greater clarity about our roles in a messy, often confusing but never boring laboratory called Eden.

Paddy Gordon, Park Manager of Garden Route National Park, gave an entertaining account of his interactions as a manager with conservation scientists.

Professor Janine Adams, Director of the Institute for Coastal and Marine Research (ICMR), gave an overview of ICMR's activities and projects.

Dr Daan Toerien, an SRU research collaborator, provided new insights into the economic sustainability of small towns, based on theoretical ecology.

Contact information
Prof Christo Fabricius
Emeritus Professor
Tel: 27 44 801 5111