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Compassionate Universities Hold Out Hope (Times of India, Sep. 23, 2019)

Extreme weather has been bringing destruction to different parts of the world in recent years. If climate change continues to progress at this rate, the impacts will be even more devastating. In addition to responses on the national level, it is crucial to strengthen actions by the industrial sector and local communities.

Voluntary efforts being made in this regard by universities around the globe are worthy of note. In July, as intense heat waves swept through Europe, networks representing more than 7,000 institutions of higher education jointly declared a Climate Emergency, announcing their commitment to address the crisis.

Amid the continued escalation of global challenges, our world urgently requires the kind of transformative energy that universities could offer through education and research. I believe the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the UN in 2015 can play a pivotal role as a framework for their collective efforts. The SDGs are 17 goals including abolishing poverty and to undertake climate action that are essential for building a brighter future for humanity.

The UN Academic Impact (UNAI), launched in 2010, currently links more than 1,300 institutions of higher education in approximately 140 countries. In October 2018, UNAI announced that it had designated 17 universities as SDG Hubs modeling innovative engagement related to each of the 17 SDGs. For example, the University of Zurich was selected for SDG 13, Climate Action, and Kristu Jayanti College in Bengaluru for SDG 1, No Poverty. I urge that this momentum toward making the world’s universities hubs for the realization of the SDGs be strengthened.

Universities around the world could select the SDGs that are the particular focus of their efforts and actively work for their achievement, collaborating with the 17 SDG Hubs. I believe that universities can serve as havens of hope and security in society and make crucial contributions to the well-being of humanity as a whole. That is why, in my capacity as founder of Soka University, i have worked to promote academic exchange and have held dialogues on the social mission of universities with the heads of academic institutions around the world.

In connection with the SDGs, another important aspect of the social mission of universities is the promotion of education for global citizenship. In June 2018, Nobel Peace Laureate Adolfo Pérez Esquivel and I issued a joint appeal to youth, in which we stressed the importance of the empowerment of young people through education for global citizenship and proposed the following three focus areas for such efforts:

  1. Promoting a common awareness of a universal sense of history in order to prevent the repetition of tragedies.

  2. Promoting the understanding that Earth is our common home, where no one is to be excluded on the basis of difference.

  3. Promoting the humane orientation of politics and economics, cultivating the wisdom needed to achieve a sustainable future.

Universities are called to fulfill their mission as the optimal venues for this educational endeavor.

It has always been my conviction that universities not only illuminate the future of their countries but also serve as a cradle for pooling the wisdom needed to create solutions and find new approaches to the daunting challenges facing our world.

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