Makana welcomes technology-based community building initiative

Dr Sizwe Mabizela at the launch
Dr Sizwe Mabizela at the launch

Social change begins with you - the people of Makana with rich histories, complex struggles and formidable resilience. Tapping into this deep well of stories and lived experiences is the core purpose of Rhodes University’s new Social Innovation Hub - a multi-faceted digital storytelling lab launched by the Rhodes University Community Engagement Division on the chilly evening of 25 June.

Vice-Chancellor of Rhodes University, Dr Sizwe Mabizela, the mayor of Makana Municipality, Mzukisi Mpahlwa and the collective Makana community came together to celebrate the official opening of the Social Innovation Hub – a centre for digital education, resource-sharing and engagement with the broader community.

“The activities and initiatives aimed at enhancing digital literacy, digital storytelling workshops and all the activities that will be run from this innovation hub will bring hope to the many young people of our community,” said Dr Mabizela. “Whatever we do in our community engagement is not an act of charity. We do so because we acknowledge our common humanity and our shared destiny.”

The Social Innovation Hub is part of the Common Good First project, a global initiative funded by the European Union and comprising six South African universities and five international universities. Also present at the launch was Julie Adair, the Project Manager of the Common Good First project from Glasgow Caledonian University in Scotland, as well as fellow members of the Common Good First project from the University of Johannesburg, University of Free State, University of the Western Cape, North-West University and Nelson Mandela University.

“Around the world, individuals and communities face very similar problems relating to their health, wellbeing, housing, education and the environment. And whilst the problems they face may be very similar, in some places, severity will be greater,” remarked Adair. “Whatever they face, people are remarkably resilient in finding their own solutions to the problems in their community – and that is how Common Good First was born.”

After a brief introduction into the world of digital storytelling and a robust discussion about the great potential that digital storytelling has for e-learning, social healing, and combating the digital divide in South Africa, the Makana community joined Community Engagement Director, Di Hornby, in a walkthrough of the vibrant space that has become the hub of social innovation at Rhodes University.

The Hub offers more than just the lively fixed lab located at the Community Engagement Offic,e which makes digital equipment and training programs available to the public. There is also a mobile lab which runs programmes that builds on existing social projects. Currently, the Hub has partnered with Awarenet, an e-learning program located at the Joza Youth Hub. The Hub’s mobile lab provides equipment (laptops, cameras and microphones) to Awarenet for their Youth News Show – an exciting project that has been met with enthusiasm by the local participating learners.

"I think a multitude of hubs [made] available to parts of the public who are not otherwise exposed to ICT could be a game changer for the community. So if our hubs could be the start of such a network, it would be great," says Ketjil Torp, manager of Awarenet.

Various pop-up labs also take place in different spaces, with the most recent workshop taking place at Nombulelo Senior Secondary School. The Hub held an introduction to media technology workshop with after-school program, iKamva Youth, training the eager learners in the basics of photography, audio recording, creating storyboards, and sharing personal narratives.

The official opening of the Social Innovation Hub promises to be the beginning of many great projects and initiatives that will unite students, academics, social advocators and Makana residents in their common goal – improving the lives of their community and building social cohesion.