Local wisdom the key to unlocking sustainability

Local wisdom the key to unlocking sustainability

By: Dr. Kenneth Fung

Local communities often possess valuable knowledge about their environment, culture, and resources. This local knowledge can be harnessed to develop sustainable solutions that are context-specific and effective. Local expertise can be crucial in identifying sustainable practices that are both ecologically sound and culturally appropriate.

When local communities are actively involved in the design and implementation of sustainable development initiatives, they are more likely to take ownership of these projects. This sense of ownership leads to greater engagement and commitment to the success of these initiatives.

Taking a local approach to sustainable development can also help preserve and celebrate local cultures and traditions. This ensures that development is in harmony with the cultural values and identities of the community.

Moreover, different communities have different needs and priorities. A localized approach allows for the development of tailored solutions that address the specific challenges and opportunities of each community. And community-based sustainable development often follows a bottom-up approach, where ideas and solutions emerge from the grassroots level. This can lead to more effective and sustainable outcomes compared to top-down approaches that may not fully understand the nuances of local contexts.

These are some of the key points of how sustainable development can be tapped from local communities to spur social buy-in, according to the Director of the Sejahtera Centre for Sustainability and Humanity, Associate Professor Dr. Zainal Abidin Sanusi.

Associate Professor Zainal was speaking at the Public Forum on “Translating Science into Public Knowledge: Enculturating the Sustainability Narrative for Public Good”, at Universiti Malaya on 6 June 2023.

“The Malaysian research infrastructure needs to transition from its traditional views of research and development to synergize top-down government initiatives with grassroots, bottom-up movements to reach a balance,” he said.

He pointed out that sustainable practice could be found in communities before the introduction of unsustainable products such as plastics and fossil fuels.

“Communities, particularly in the Global South such as Brazil, South Africa and South East Asia have community philosophies that pre-date industrialization and still resonates with the current generation.” Both content and context are key to science policy when dealing with the challenges in sustainability.

“Leaning on this heritage has the potential to motivate communities to change their current practices while inspiring ownership of the ideals so that it can be passed down to future generations.”

The public forum was hosted by the Department of Science and Technology Studies (STS), Faculty of Science, Universiti Malaya. The Department of STS at Universiti Malaya is currently offering a full-fledged master programme by coursework in Sustainability Science; as well as the newly launched Master of Science Communication and Public Engagement.

The public forum was moderated by Datuk Professor Dr. Azizan Baharuddin; Director of the Universiti Malaya Centre for Civilisational Dialogue (UMCCD). Datuk Professor Azizan added, “Sustainability has to resonate with the heart of society for it to truly take root. It cannot rely on top-down direction for it to succeed. Just appealing to head knowledge is insufficient for society to truly adopt sustainable practice.”

The event also discussed the role of evidence-based science and the role of research in the Malaysian society.

“There has been an ongoing discussion about how research should be inter-disciplinary, but the focus should be considering what society desires for it to be valuable in the long run,” said Associate Professor Zainal.

“Social desirability has been a concept of Responsible Research and Innovation which is aligned with the inter-governmental climate in recent years. Researchers will do well to tap into these channels rather than just focusing on their fundamental projects.”

The event was held in conjunction with the UM Sustainability Festival; and supported by the Faculty through the Semarak team, a group of Faculty of Science lecturers committed to the advancement of Science Communication.

The author is a senior lecturer at the Department of Science and Technology Studies, Faculty of Science, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at [email protected]


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