14 December 2017

Ethiopia: University Scaling Up Social Responsibilities

As organizations do not operate in vacuum, their activities will impact their surroundings which include their stakeholders, local communities and others beyond. Therefore, companies now are not only expected to be responsible to their shareholders but also to the society in general.

According to senior researchers on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), universities, as centers of knowledge generation and sharing, play a very important role in solving problems by ensuring a sustainable tomorrow.

Many of them may even be considered as "small towns" as a result of their large size, movement of people and vehicles, high consumption of materials, and strong development of complex activities.

Hawassa University (HU) is found in Hawassa, the capital of South Nation, Nationalities and Peoples State. The University was established in April 2000 by the unions of different colleges, including Awassa College of Agriculture, Wondogenet College of Forestry and Dilla College of Teachers Education and Health Sciences.

Among these, Awassa College of Agriculture, established in 1976, is known to lay the foundation for the establishment of Hawassa University. The University is fulfilling its responsibilities through the new Research Development and Technology Transfer Office, a separate administration office which is organized at the office of the Vice President.

According to the new office organization, Hawassa University has three directorates through which it communicates with the environment it is operating in: Community Service, Research Program as well as University-Industry Linkage and Technology Transfer Directorates.

Yohannes Yona, a Community Services Directorate Director believes community services to be channels through which the University is informed about the problems of the society and convey its knowledge based solutions to the society.

The process is generally guided by two important questions; first what problems do surrounding [local] communities face? Second what does the University has in hand? The point at which the two questions correspond is where the University will emphasize to work.

Agriculture fulfils these criteria as the communities face several agricultural problems while the University has several qualified experts who specialize in the agriculture sector. Consequently, the University's services for the community mainly revolve around agriculture.

According to Dr. Alemayehu Ragassa, Research Programs Directorate Director, in terms of agriculture, the University usually works to come up with disease resistant, soil and climate friendly and more productive crop varieties. In addition, it also works in breeding cattle which has favorable characteristics such as high fertility. In the regard, Alemayehu mentioned the new varieties of barely, wheat, malt and bean that are now widely used by farmers in Sidama Zone.

Ato Yohannes also added that modification of the new varieties is not the only jobs. He said: "Chickpea is a case in point. We did not only modify or come up with a new variety but introduced it to the farmers. Chickpea, though highly consumed in Sidama, was not produced here. But now the Zone is growing to be one of the leading producers of chickpea" Yohannes added.

The Research Programs Director also remembers that the University, in the process of introducing new varieties or adopting others, works closely with the farmers from the time of sowing to harvesting. Accordingly, the University has 'Farmers' Training Centers' where new varieties are tried. It is only after the serious investigation of the new seeds that they are distributed to the farmers.

In the education sector, the University has identified quality to be the main problem in the Sidama Zone Administration, according to Yohannes. Accordingly, the University called for several researches and the findings are discussed with stakeholders in different workshops. As another way of contribution to solve the education quality problems, the University also trains selected high school teachers from 16 Woredas. Last year only, about 1010 teachers have taken different trainings to build their capacities in the profession.

The effort also includes capacity building of high school students from these Woredas. "By selecting brilliant students each summer to stay in our campus for 25 days, we believe that they will have a greater exposure in terms of ICT and science laboratories which they would not be able to access in their respective schools. Leaving the campus, we hope that they feel the burden that they have to carry on to realize the future advanced and prosperous Ethiopia" Yohannes noted.

The Hawassa University Community Service also donated reading and laboratory materials, whose value is around 450,000 Birr, to HAYOLE, a high school in Hawassa established with a purpose to filter out and help those students with the interest of science and technology.

Dr. Alemayehu also noted that there exists strong cooperation between the University and different government offices both in the regional and zone level. "It was after having serious discussions with the offices that we identified 11 thematic area, 52 sub-thematic area and 205 research areas. Currently, we are working with the Ministry of Federal and Pastoral Affairs, on the good lessons others could learn from Hawassa's accommodation of diversity.

The Herald has learnt that the university's students and teachers are serving as health professionals to treat referred case that nowhere else in the zone could be treated. The Social Science School also gives Sidamic language as one field of study, which is developing the language and culture of Sidama People.

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