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Lessons for Global Collaboration: South African and European Perspectives (Part 2)

Published Date: 14 November 2019
Photo by CoWomen on Unsplash

This is the transcript of a panel facilitated by Josiane Smith, our Partnerships and Growth Manager, during the final symposium of the Common Good First (CGF) project in October 2019 in South Africa. Common Good First was a three-year-long Erasmus+ funded project which brought together academics from twelve European and South African institutions to conceive a digital network which identifies, showcases and connects social impact projects, and supports community changemakers to develop e-skills and digital storytelling for engaged scholarship and social change.

This is the second part of a two-part series.

What did you find hard? How was your perspective and approach challenged?


Guadalupe / University of Alicante

As social scientists, we found it challenging to move from daily scientific practice to solving real-world problems… to make the leap into applied research and deeper engagement with the communities. We also found it hard to integrate the activities of the project within the structure of the university, as this kind of work needs a community and a place and often needs to battle against bureaucracy and hierarchical structures. We also had a language barrier, which made it hard to find people from the academic staff who didn’t all speak English. We had the people and knowledge in terms of internal communication and management, but getting this curriculum to take shape within and across the University was difficult. 


Nils-Petter / University of Norway

There was a cultural difference between us, but actually our similarities and differences cut across our cultural divides and landed on who we were as people. Other than as a consortium, the Erasmus+ project was a challenge at first when trying to “find the framework” - it’s a big system, there are a lot of administrative requirements, and there are a lot of magic words to learn how to use, e.g. “work package”.

Chris / University of Johannesburg

For me, I suppose it was the question around where does your contribution fit into the bigger picture? I joined about 8 months after the start and kept wanting to know how does this fit together? Why does this work that I’m doing matter? It’s only towards the end that I could see it take shape.


Leona / University of Western Cape

The individuals who formed part of the CGF were not the only people required to make the project work - it required the involvement of many more. So thinking from the start about who to work with and how to extend the network - that’s challenging because there’s no funding for that extra amount of involvement.

What are your lessons for global collaboration? What would you have done differently?


Guadalupe / Cristina / University of Alicante

We would have engaged academic staff from the beginning. We have academic staff who have strong expertise in digital storytelling and could have contributed to the content, not just the management of the project. We could have found new solutions for language barriers, too!


Chris / University of Johannesburg

It would have been better to involve our finance and administrative people in the process - they didn’t always understand why we were doing things a certain way. I also would have made a clearer emphasis that this project is co-funded, not fully funded, by the Erasmus+ project - the institutions are paying as well! Again, we should have reached a common understanding before going into this project. 


Marina / Reykjavik University

I would have liked to involve more people from my university. But practically, it would have been more costly to fly more people from Iceland to South Africa. We would have liked to have a bigger contingent - more people could have benefitted from being in this consortium.


Leona / University of Western Cape

What I would have done differently, I think, is to conceptually understand what the project is about, asking questions like what is going to be the end product? I only understood the sustainability requirements towards the end of the project, that we ought to be planning for continuation and legacy, which requires a different mindset and set of questions and choices from the start.


Nils-Petter / University of Norway

I would have learned the Erasmus+ language! We should take more into our work and teaching - especially the international perspectives - to make our students feel like they are part of a bigger reality than just a smaller nation in the North. We would like to use this network further on and also in other fields - we are going to be signing an MOU with other partners in the consortium… This network will be part of a broader international strategy for our university…


So watch this space!