IV. Conference Proceedings

Parallel Session 4: Mobility Programs Beyond Academics: Global and Community Engagement

Mobility Programs Beyond Academics:
Global and Community Engagement



Community service has been called the Third Mission for Higher Education Institutions. This session focused on how mobility programs contribute to this mission and provided examples of local community and student engagement programs in Dadaab, Kenya, Las Nubes Biological Reserve in Costa Rica, Ethiopia and other international networks. Mobility programs harness transformative knowledge transfer from academia and research to local associations communities in global to local practice. Knowledge, culture and experiential exchange are beneficial to both students and the local community. Some of the many examples outlined by panelists include knowledge exchange with grassroots organizations, visits to local farmers, biological reserves and hospitals taking students outside of the classroom to connect with their local community. However, knowledge ownership and bureaucracy are often a barrier to action. To make community service successful, there must be inclusive and collaborative opportunities to work cohesively with the local community. Unfortunately, access to technological resources and the Internet are not as readily available to developing nations and the COVID-19 pandemic has further limited online learning between university networks and favored those with access to technological resources.


Addise Amado Dube, Head of Development and Communications, Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology (EGST), Ethiopia, shared learnings from mobility programs conducted by EGST throughout local communities in Ethiopia to take academia beyond the classroom. He argued that mobility programs mutually enhance stakeholders and is essential to learning, but it is important to reimagine the approach to education to include community engagement. He highlighted that mobility programs should take students outside of their urban settings and into rural areas that they may have never experienced before so that they [students] can think and act locally.

Mobility programs that offer local community programs benefit knowledge acquisition for local organizations, community members, and students. He noted that although education is essential for critical theories, community service and mobility programs enable comprehensive education and practical application of theories. Within the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology, students have experienced community heritage and community life of rural dwellers and practitioners in food, agriculture, gender and health services. In-person student learning inspires further research and enhances knowledge and skills in health, agriculture and community development. Through mobility programs, students are generally encouraged to share their resources in service with the community. He also drew a direct benefit of bringing academia to real-life experiences. Dube challenged the colonization of knowledge. He highlighted that knowledge institutions hold a wealth of knowledge, and it is their responsibility to share knowledge with the local community, but in practice community application is often dismissed.


Ana Maria Martinez, Research Associate, York University, introduced the Las Nubes Project which is an initiative of the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change at York University and is supported by the Fisher Fund for Neotropical Conservation. The Las Nubes Project supports the protection of the biological, ecological and social values of the Las Nubes Biological Reserve and adjacent areas in southern Costa Rica. She explained that with the arrival of Felipe Montoya, Las Nubes Project Director, the focus is now on contributing to community wellbeing in ways that are conducive to environmental conservation. This is achieved through the three main pillars of research, education, and community engagement. As an example, the Las Nubes Coffee supports coffee production and simultaneously incentivizes sustainable practices such as the shifting from sun-grown coffee to shade-grown, the reduction of agrochemical use, and the implementation of fair-trade practices. Another project highlighted was the Casita Azul project, where Las Nubes in collaboration with York Universitys library share their facilities and run a local library and resource center to provide training opportunities and access to technology and books to local students. She highlighted that one of the most impactful changes was the new policy where students had to stay with local families throughout the length of the course, offering students a more immersive experience of day-to-day life in rural Costa Rica. The Las Nubes Project and students also helped organize a festival to create awareness of The Alexander Skutch Biological Corridor and to offer a window into the community’s wealth including the national, cultural, scientific, artistic, and agricultural resources. This festival has been kept and continued by the locals and held annually under the name Expo COBAS.

Finally, Martinez highlighted that York University students have demonstrated increased interest and participation in the Las Nubes Semester Abroad Program. She mentioned that a considerable number of undergraduate students, who have taken their courses, were inspired to pursue their graduate studies and some were persuaded to conduct their research at Las Nubes. She emphasized that since its creation in the late 1990s, the Las Nubes project has come to understand that this biological corridor cannot merely be a biophysical canvas upon which agro-ecological techniques are implemented but rather as a space of multiple intersecting and interconnecting layers that influence each other affecting the entire matrix.


Don Dippo, Education Professor at York University and the Co-Director of Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER), focused on the curricular and pedagogical benefits of blended integrated courses between domestic and international classrooms in refugee and displaced zones. He highlighted that his work is part of the universities’ third mission to provide access to education for refugees, displaced, and war-affected individuals. The BHER program along with four universities and two NGOs aims to bring education to refugee camps in Dadaab and Kakuma, Kenya. He outlined the case for refugees’ education: new knowledge mobilization and contributions to scholarships, community capacity building, improved quality of life and personal growth, development and the capacity to inspire. As part of the program, BHER offers online, blended forums connecting a classroom with a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, with his lecture classroom at York University in Toronto. These online pedagogical experiences are beneficial to both classrooms and students as they provide cultural knowledge and facilitate learning experiences that are outside of their current contexts.

Dippo maintained that social change is a common outcome for the BHER programs and community engagement. He stated that the program had successfully catalyzed graduate students in self-organized efforts at the Dadaab refugee camp to form their research and advocacy organization, and that students’ capacity to do research has helped develop their capacity to aspire. He explained that research enables hope, desire and creates goals through systematic approaches. He stressed that without knowledge or mobilization, despair and demotivation are exacerbated. Finally, he reported that the program’s impact has multiplied in Canada, where numerous students have progressed their careers to give to local communities in Kenya and conducted advocacy work for refugee education.


Nidhu Jagoda, Masters of Climate Change Student at the University of Waterloo and National Network Coordinator for the Sustainable Development Solutions Network Canada – Youth Chapter, raised the case for internationalization beyond academics and highlighted that the SDGs are based on the premise that they apply to every country equally and the success and end goal for them is linked to the development of others. Jagoda stated that although progress is being made in many areas and places during this decade of action to reach the goals by 2030, the speed of action is not sufficient. She said that the SDGs, the Higher Education Institution (HEI) and the academic mobility programs are aiming to have a big-picture agenda and a common vision, to grow a generation of global citizens, create a global collaboration, and cross-sectional dialogue, with the purpose of building a capacity for research and mobilizing talent. However, in a post-pandemic world, she wondered whether these cosmopolitan ideals behind the mobility programs are still environmentally sustainable and inclusive for certain disadvantaged groups. Jagoda stressed that no single government or institution can take on this work alone, which is why the higher academic institutions can assist by fostering growth and partnerships. She said that “…higher academic institutions and networks can learn, think and act as agents of change and they must go beyond academic internationalization to empower localized action in the communities”. Jagoda explained that SDG Networks guide communities to find their own SDG solutions with resources, case studies and tools to support further action. It is important to note that the COVID-19 pandemic has not slowed down their operation and collaboration. She reported that some of the existing SDG Networks which are gaining traction are Sustainable Development Solutions Network, The Association of Commonwealth Universities, HESI, and University Global Coalition. The projects and initiatives are quite diverse and include everything from educational tools for SDGs, scientific modeling, KPIs and benchmark indicators for Municipalities to track SDGs performance.



Throughout the session, the panelists outlined numerous mobility programs beyond academics to engage in local and global communities. Dippo outlined that The Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER) program has been dramatically impacted because students have been unable to access in-person learning resources. He outlined an inherent lack of funding even before the pandemic and stated that education is a luxury in fragile and war-torn contexts. Similarly, Dube stated that Ethiopia’s online learning had been limited because of connectivity and technological resources. Martinez and Montoya noted that COVID 19 had halted international exchange experiences creating local economic roadblocks community partners who benefit from international tourism and exchange. However, solidarity has increased among local and international networks to mobilize regardless of travel barriers. Jagoda agreed that although the Internet has evident accessibility and inclusivity issues, global programs have historically operated online and have further reach. Therefore, global networks enable practitioners to organize and work in solidarity.