The best way to develop more responsible leaders is to engage students in contributing solutions to real world challenges throughout their degree programmes. A project started by a small group of students who wanted to make a difference in their community at Universum University College has turned into an opportunity for the University to make a mark on reducing hunger in Kosovo through an ongoing campaign called ‘Why Care.’ I recently spoke with Alejtin Berisha, Executive Director of Universum University College in Prishtina, Kosovo about this project.
1. Briefly describe Universum University’s approach to responsible leadership and sustainability.
Our mission is to provide high quality, accessible, and affordable educational opportunities and services to a Kosovar and international student body through teaching excellence, lifelong learning, applied research, and partnership building, thus preparing students to be thoughtful, responsible, and successful citizens and support the economic development of Kosovo and the region. With our programmes, we prepare our students to become responsible managers in the dynamic and complex sustainable global economy. We seek not only to create business leaders, but also social responsible citizens of our country and socially responsible leaders.
Our approach towards responsible leadership and sustainability lies in three areas: environment, business, and society. As our activities show, our understanding of sustainability is closely linked with our mission and our values. From the beginning, management at Universum University insisted on fulfilling its responsibilities to its employees, to society, and to nature.
2. How did the ‘Why Care’ campaign come about?
One of the services that our career office offers to students is the opportunity to develop their own projects that help society and contribute to common good. A group of 8 students came to the career office last year wanting to do something for International Hunger Day. Within a week of starting, the project already had 100 students involved.
Over 1.5 billion people around the world are threatened by hunger, and 18% of the population in Kosovo lives in extreme poverty. In response to this, the students and professors started a public campaign called “Why Care?” The campaign was kick started with a debate on campus, which included the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development, Deputy Minister of Environment and Spatial Planning, and several faculty from Universum presenting facts and figures on poverty, hunger, and Kosovo. This debate also marked the beginning of a project initiated by the university with the same title.
3. Briefly describe the ‘Why Care’ campaign.
The “Why Care?” campaign will be implemented in four stages:
- Awareness Raising Phase – During the first phase, a photo exhibition was put together by Universum College students. Different individuals wrote their answer to the question ‘Why Care’ (relating to hunger) on pieces of paper and took a picture of themselves holding the paper. These pictures were shared through social media. In this phase, we managed to gain the support of the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Rural Development, the Ministry of Environmental and Spatial Planning, and organisations that support philanthropy development and business.
- Research Phase – Now, we are in the second phase of this project, and our students, together with Universum professors, are in a process of conducting research in Kosovo that will help us better understand the extent of the problem of hunger in the country. This research will also help to identify the best mechanisms, which we will use in upcoming phases in order to help reduce poverty in Kosovo.
- Fundraising Phase – In this phase, we plan to build a joint fund with Kosovar institutions, nongovernmental organisations, and the private sector that already are implementing socially responsible policies. This phase will be implemented after the results of the research are presented and after the hunger reduction mechanisms are identified.
- Reducing Hunger Phase – In this phase, we will work to tackle the problem of hunger in Kosovo through activities such as study scholarships, grants for new farmers, small funds for new enterprises, etc. The list of activities that will be implemented during the final phase will be based upon results of the research that is presented and hunger reduction mechanisms are identified.
This project is being implemented in cooperation with Universities Fighting World Hunger where Universum is an active member. In partnership with the World Food Program of the United Nations, Universities Fighting World Hunger mobilises universities from around the world to fight hunger and create an academic models that provide solutions to hunger that can be replicated or adapted by universities worldwide.
4. What has been the benefit of developing partnerships for your project?
When it comes to fighting hunger, we are very conscious that we cannot do miracles within a month, especially if we work alone. We organised the debate to see if we could get support and build partnerships with Kosovar institutions, nongovernmental organisations, and the business sector. We did manage to get this support and to build partnerships. Currently, we have the support from government, especially the Ministry of Agriculture, different non-governmental organisations that work in this area in Kosovo, and from a number of local businesses.
5. What impact has the project had so far, and what advice do you have for others who are thinking of doing something similar?
We believe that the major success of this recently launched campaign is that people are already starting to understand and talk about hunger in Kosovo.
Besides providing high quality, accessible, and affordable educational for our students, as we mentioned in our mission, we aim to prepare our students to be good citizens that will help others in need. We think that this campaign provoked their emotions and put their skills into use in order to fight something that is happening globally. They are feeling proud and part of the change.
We think that, besides providing students with high quality education and engaging them in projects that contribute to common good, it will help them become better citizens and leaders for a better world of tomorrow.
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