By Professor Dato’ Dr Ahmad Ibrahim, Fellow Academy of Sciences Malaysia, Professor@UCSI University
We now live in trying times. There are many threats to the world. We hear of conflicts almost on a daily basis. These range from disagreements on trade deals to conflicts arising from injustices meted out to rival groups within a nation or external to a nation. I am talking about recent outbursts by some countries to renegotiate trade agreements already just agreed and conflicts in some countries on account of ethno-religious differences. Such skirmishes never seem to end. They keep cropping up after each one is resolved. The United Nations, UN, which was established decades ago to help deal with such conflicts, appears to be helpless and almost dysfunctional.
There is no denying that creating harmony among groups must account among the world’s most difficult challenge. The sad part of it all is that it is next to impossible to achieve prosperity without some level of harmony. Yet all countries and all people yearn for prosperity to enjoy a better quality of living. Here at home, harmony is also a major concern. Despite the many years of extensive efforts by the government to build harmony among groups in the country, we still hear of groups continuing to voice dissatisfaction with what have been achieved so far. Fortunately, at least so far, the prosperity of the nation has not been badly bruised. We still attract a lot of migrant workers hoping for a share of the nation’s prosperous achievements. Notwithstanding, we should not be complacent. This is the reason why the government is constantly looking for new ideas to better the nation’s harmony agenda.
There is now a new thinking that universities may be able to offer help. This idea came up recently at the UCSI University. As a result of the urgings from the University’s Council, a new initiative to make the UN-SDGs an important aspect of the university’s strategic agenda was started. The initiative was centred around programmes to create better awareness among staff and students as well as undertake practices at the group level which reflect the seventeen SDGs. Thus far two awareness talks have been organised. The first talk by a UCSI Council Member, Professor Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Omar Abdul Rahman, spoke about how the SDGs can be harnessed as an instrument to promote harmony and prosperity. He proposed a framework linking the different SDGs to building harmony and prosperity for the nation.
The seventeen SDGs were consequently grouped into those catering to basic needs, wealth creation and quality of life. The proposed action plan has incorporated all the elements which essentially stipulate what the universities of the new era should be. These include, apart from the traditional university role as an academic institution, industry linkage, community outreach, building international stature, policy advisory and governance. He proposed the framework to be the essence of a “Transformational University”. In fact, any ranking exercise of the universities is best undertaken using that framework of a Transformatioanal University rather than those that universities now subscribe to. UCSI University has since adopted the framework to develop faculty specific action plans of the SDGs which support the university’s Strategic Plan. Admittedly, the active involvement of students is a key success factor of such plan.
Few would disagree that harmony is a key prerequisite of prosperity. It would difficult to achieve prosperity in a nation that is mired in disharmony and discontent where conflicts prevail. And harmony is best nurtured through common goals. Many a time we have witnessed how sports have galvanised the togetherness of Malaysians. The SDGs can be that same goals which would bring people together with a common mission. It would also also fall in line with the national and global agenda of sustainable development. It is clear there is much that universities can do to further strengthen the nation’s pursuit of harmony. As articulted in the concept of Transformational University proposed by Tan Sri Omar, SDGs can be turned into a powerful instrument to invigorate harmony and prosperity among industry, community, academics and government. UCSI University has taken the bold decision to experiment with this concept through its SDGs initiative.