28 December 2015

Cross Cultural Collaboration to Achieve the SDGs

Open communication, collaboration and cultural understanding are the hallmarks of international diplomacy, and a new initiative launched by Chestnut Hill College in Philadelphia, USA and Effat University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia looks to advance these principles through a newly launched partnership between the two schools. 

On 7 December 2015 students and faculty from the two schools gathered in person and via videoconference at the United Nations in New York for their inaugural meeting to discuss areas of mutual interest and give students from both schools an opportunity to share their cultural backgrounds. Attendees also discussed how the universities could collaborate to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals that were adopted by the United Nations on 25 September.  This collaboration is the first experience of this kind for both schools.   

Presentations by Hanan Althaqafi, Rahaf Alsaieri and Jawarai Khan from Effat University highlighted the current state of women’s involvement in the educational system, art, and civil engagement in Saudi Arabia.  Althaqafi noted that women make up 56 per cent of enrolled college students in the country, with Effat being the first women’s college in Saudi Arabia.  Alsaieri, a psychology student at the university, talked about civil society engagement in Saudi Arabia and non-governmental organizations that provide various volunteering and research opportunities.  The National Centre for Youth Research is an example of an organization that welcomes youth between the ages of 15 to 30 years old for further development in various areas.  

Jawarai Khan talked to the group about art, architecture and theatre in Saudi Arabia today and cutting edge artists. Khan gave Head over Heels, a play written by Maisah Sobaihi that explores the lives of Saudi women and marriage traditions, as an example of contemporary theater in the country.

CHC participants Lauren Haynes, Noel Parent, Lea Sanders and Natalie Williams discussed the format and style of education, fashion trends and women in sports in the US.  Haynes emphasized the importance of education, while Sanders, a lacrosse player, addressed the benefits of sports for women in terms of self-development.  “Discrimination against women in sports still exists, and this is why we need more female involvement,” noted Sanders.

Participants from Effat talked about their knowledge of trends and the education system in the United States and encouraged American students to learn more about Saudi culture.

Wayne Jacoby, President of Global Education Motivators (GEM) , an educational NGO, stressed the importance of the voices of youth at the United Nations stating, “Get involved and be a good listener, be open minded and learn from each other across cultures.”

Abdullah Alsultan, Director of Arab Programs at GEM, expressed that the videoconferences will reduce discrimination and bring the two cultures together for peace and humanity.

After the cross cultural exchange, both groups were excited to move forward with this program as a United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI) initiative.  The students and their advisers agreed to a three part monthly series to be held between February and April 2016 on the Sustainable Development Goals.  The schools hope to enlist another university that can bring additional cultural perspectives to the table.

The program seeks to promote cultural differences as something that should be cherished and not something that divides people.  By seeing the world through the eyes of others, we can build understanding and further human development through education, collaboration and understanding and make this word a better place for all people.