SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT, global engagement and empowerment—these are terms that may seem unfamiliar and inaccessible to many students. Yet, they are also “the pathway to the future we want for all” that offer “a framework to generate economic growth, achieve social justice, exercise environmental stewardship and strengthen governance,” as stated by Ban Ki-moon, former Secretary-General of the United Nations (UN), during the G20 Working Dinner in 2013. Understanding the importance of sustainable growth, Yonsei University is working in harmony with its professors and student body to make sustainability an integral part of its culture. To shed light on this innovative pursuit across campus, The Yonsei Annals decided to explore Yonsei’s various institutions and programs on sustainable development, including the Institution of Global Engagement and Empowerment (IGEE), Sustainable Development Cooperation (SDC) major and the Sustainable Development Program (SDP).
IGEE and its background
From 2012 to 2015, the UN enforced the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a forward-thinking program that redefines development goals of the world’s future. This agenda elucidates a new framework for development that aims to replace the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs)* with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Devised by the UN Development Program, the 17 SDGs address issues of social and economic development, including poverty, hunger, gender equality, social justice and the like.
Many countries are endeavoring to follow the 17 SDGs, and South Korea is no exception. “South Korea used to be an aid recipient but now it is an aid donor,” said Professor Yoon Se-mee (Prof., UIC, Sustainable Development & Coop., Yonsei Univ.) in an interview with the Annals. Professor Yoon also added that “it is crucial that we have younger generations who are experts of development,” as the youth are at the crux of the movement to achieve the 2030 Agenda. Hence, it has become a necessity to raise awareness of issues pertaining to development among college students.
Acknowledging the importance of introducing matters of sustainable development to college students, the IGEE was established in Yonsei University in 2017. At the lead of the institution is Ban Ki-moon, serving as the Honorary Chairman. “I will support [the IGEE] so that the university’s academic abilities and human and intellectual resources can effectively communicate for humanity’s sustainable development,” stated the Chairman at the opening ceremony of the IGEE. The program strives to raise awareness and find innovative solutions for matters of sustainable development with its ability to utilize many of the university’s resources.
IGEE in action
The work of the IGEE can be found in all corners of the campus. Notably, the institution runs the Global Engagement and Empowerment Forum on Sustainable Development (GEEF-SD) which serves as a platform for a fruitful discussion concerning the betterment of the international society. “Through GEEF-SD, we aim to solidify our position as an international forum and plan to establish it as an annual event, discussing various global problems and searching for solutions,” said the IGEE Administration Team in an interview with the Annals.
Professor Yoon underscored the importance of the GEEF-SD, in light of the fact that “Asian countries have difficulty participating in discussions [that target sustainable development] because these talks are usually held in Western countries…[there exists] a kind of tension in regard to inviting Asians.” The Professor hopes that through the GEEF-SD Forum, a balanced discussion on the topic of sustainable development could be executed in a larger, global context, and not only limited to the West.
The IGEE also assists in cultivating lecture programs and academic subjects related to the 17 SDGs. For instance, in April 2018, Ban embarked on a new course, titled “Sustainable Development in the 21st century with Ban Ki-moon,” on the online learning platform Coursera. With this course, Yonsei university and the IGEE offer students worldwide with a free access to high-quality education on the SDGs. The organization also financially supports professors who teach on sustainable development, and aims to implement more SDG-related courses in Biology and Energy Engineering departments.
Aside from academic efforts, the IGEE also collaborates with Yonsei’s Severance Hospital to make medicine and healthcare more widely accessible. One of its most prominent medical projects is “Global Severance, Global Charity.” It is an enterprise in which the Severance Hospital invites international patients who are in dire need of treatment, but fail to receive it due to financial problems or the underdeveloped medical state of their homeland. According to the Severance Hospital’s official website, 107 patients from 18 different countries were cured in the last five years as part of this project.
Fostering changemakers: Sustainable Development and Cooperation (SDC)
The IGEE is not the only means by which Yonsei University is promoting sustainable development. Yonsei University’s Underwood International College (UIC) founded an innovative major, Sustainable Development and Cooperation (SDC), in 2014 under its Humanities and Social Sciences (HASS) division. In the course description available on its official website, UIC informs that “The major aims to equip students to pursue a future in international development, which encompasses a broad range of development issues such as poverty reduction, inequality, human right, health, education, economic growth and environmental preservation.” This UIC major program actively seeks to educate students on the 17 SDGs, and foster them as the future changemakers of our society.
In the interview, Professor Yoon clarified that the major was created because “just learning theories of social sciences is not enough.” “We wanted to make sure that students get exposure to how these theories can be applied in real life,” she further added. In such a way, students can effectively participate in future development projects, learning about and deeply understanding the issues inhibiting progress. Most importantly, the SDC major envisions a future in which not all graduates pursue careers at big-name companies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs). Instead, it aims to nurture students to think critically from different perspectives. Ideally, SDC trains students to analyze society “from the public’s perspective and from the private sector’s perspective, or from a developed country’s perspective and developing country’s perspective.” The ultimate aim is to educate students to become “liaisons of sustainable development in the real world.” Whichever career students decide to pursue, the major and its professors motivate the students to possess a holistic view on life.
When asked about her decision to study in SDC, Jang Ye-na (Sr., UIC, Sustainable Development & Coop.) commented “Growing up in Africa, I became interested in Less Economically Developed Countries (LEDCs) and dreamed of developing a career working in international organizations. SDC assists my knowledge not only in understanding the international society but also in familiarizing myself with fields such as politics, environment and population issues. Also, some professors are still working in the field, so the possibility of learning practical knowledge appealed to me.”
Student efforts: Sustainable Development Program (SDP)
Some students are stepping up their games to escape from the repetitive and passive learning style, and instead pursue a more novel and progressive route. At Yonsei, a group of students took the initiative to establish an independent, student-run program devoted to researching and promoting sustainable development. This program, called the Sustainable Development Program (SDP), was founded on Feb. 20, 2018, by Cho Seok-je (Sr., Dept. of Industrial & Info. Engin.).
Cho worked as a student researcher in the “Global Automotive and Assembly Practice” project at McKinsey & Co. He also contributed to the write-up of The Future is Asian (2019), an upcoming book by Dr. Parag Khanna (Senior Researcher, National Univ. of Singapore) who is a leading global strategist and best-selling author. Passionate and dedicated, Cho successfully established the program with a number of other students in a relatively short period of time. To gain an in-depth understanding of the SDP, the Annals conducted an interview with Cheong Ha-eun (Jr., UIC, Economics), another founding member of the program.
“SDP’s first webinar** was held earlier this May, and I happened to bump across the session with a few of my friends who held the same interests as me,” said Cheong, sharing her first impression of the SDP. “At first, I was genuinely impressed by its drive and competency to establish an academic network among foreign universities that actually seemed to be functional, which was something that I thought few students would be capable of achieving at an undergraduate level,” she explained. Cheong was attracted to the prospect of meeting and learning from people in the same field of interest, which prompted her to join the program.
According to Cheong, SDP focuses on project-based and extra-curricular forms of education and mentorship. It operates with the slogan “Think, Share, and Engage,” seeking to cultivate leadership that can contribute to the alleviation of climate change and other development issues at the global level. Such issues, according to Cheong and the SDP, “are not met with sufficient interest and organization in South Korea.”
The slogan of the SDP condenses the agenda of the group into three words. “We think by following the coursework of the core curriculum during weekly sessions and by designing projects that aim to resolve issues that are most important to us. We share the knowledge we acquire not only among ourselves but also with the public by producing articles, individual papers and statistical data that are openly accessible. We engage socially by holding open seminars that invite prominent individuals from businesses, international organizations, NGOs and academia to share their knowledge and provide networking opportunities to people outside our program with similar areas of interest. The public lectures are similar to TED talks, but with a larger academic and professional emphasis, especially on that of the SDGs.”
One special aspect of the SDP is that all the programs are conceived and accomplished through student efforts. Though the projects are under the guidance of the program advisors, Dr. Parag Khanna, Professor Yoon Se-mee and Professor Park Ji-sung (Prof., Dept. of Public Policy & Environmental Health Sciences, Univ. of California, Los Angeles), it is still remarkable to witness student determination in pursuing issues as global as sustainable development.
The SDP currently has two ongoing projects: The Student Online Journal (SOJ) and Our Asia in Data (OAD). The journal aims to become a platform through which high-quality papers can be published and recognized at the undergraduate level, which embodies the “share” part of SDP’s slogan. Cheong added, “OAD is [SDP’s] most recent project. We are trying to build an Asian-centered database that will accumulate indicators of the UN post-Paris SDGs.”
Within these structured programs, SDP and its members actively participate to make a difference in the field of sustainable development. Students have begun to take on the responsibility of addressing social and environmental issues with the aid of school-funded programs such as the IGEE. Cheong, Cho and the SDP provide concrete proof that sustainable development is gradually becoming the culture of Yonsei University.
Sustainable development in other universities
The culture of sustainable development is not limited to Yonsei but is a phenomenon permeating other university campuses as well. In 2012, Seoul National University (SNU) established its own center to promote sustainable development: Seoul National University’s Institute for Global Social Responsibility (SNU SR). SNU SR participates in global engagement and empowerment in unique ways, utilizing the resources of the school.
One of its projects, “Share Box”, is an example that demonstrates how students’ ideas can serve as a valuable inspiration for sustainable development. “Share Box” is an offline trading platform and a shared space located in the Gwan-ak district. It aims to find abandoned land and use it as a venue that fulfills the needs of the local community. Unsurprisingly, this idea was coined by students who took SNU SR’s course for social contribution, which demonstrates the potential success that universities can accomplish when providing students with opportunities to contribute.
Incheon National University also hosts the biannual Social Contribution Conference. In this conference, guests discuss the university’s role in social contribution and honor those who have actively worked for the advancement of the society. The university also has also have a global community service group, INU (I and You), which focuses on aiding impoverished regions around the globe. Increasing awareness certainly appears to be a national reality, and is gradually being incorporated into the higher education of South Korea.
Limitations of sustainable development on campus
Though the growing awareness is promising, it still remains a formidable task to achieve a stable level of sustainability not only in college campuses, but also across South Korea. Though Yonsei University has been doing its part in promoting sustainable development—through launching the IGEE, the SDC major and fostering student-led programs such as the SDP— Professor Yoon expressed that it has been difficult to get the ball rolling elsewhere. “The current Moon administration has been focusing on other issues such as North Korean relations, real estate stability and youth unemployment. Although it is aware that sustainable development needs to be prioritized, the administration hasn’t really been able to push it. Since the government is not pushing it, universities can’t really get the motion going.”
Furthermore, limitations lie intrinsically within the South Korean culture. A key aspect of sustainable development is cooperation, yet in South Korea, students are often nurtured to be the opposite of cooperative: highly competitive. Professor Yoon emphasized that it takes time to change the students’ mentality and improve the whole education system. In fact, following the announcement by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), which set 2005-2014 as a decade for education in sustainable development, the South Korean government has been giving teachers the freedom to incorporate sustainability in their syllabus. However, it is yet to lead to a groundbreaking change, as UNESCO reports in “Global Education Monitoring Report of 2016” that “only 29% of Korean teachers incorporated sustainability in their courses.”
“It is not obligatory, it is not something that we can really force,” Professor Yoon commented, sharing her concern in the relative inactivity among the Korean public. The level of improvement within Yonsei University, and to some extent South Korea, has been apparent. Yet, as the issues of climate change, human rights, food scarcity and so much more grow pressing every day, there still remain questions to be answered to see the ideal, sustainable future.
*MDGs: Eight international development goals established in 2000 with the aim of being achieved by 2015
**Webinar: Short for Web-based seminar; A webinar is a presentation, lecture, workshop or seminar that is transmitted over the Web using video conferencing software.