Celebrating 17 years of an initiative by Jacques Berleur, SJ under the time of Father General Peter-Hans Kolvenbach, SJ of the Society of Jesus, who was very interested in the collaboration and partnerships amongst Jesuit institutions, the forthcoming Conference on Transformative Land and Water Governance in Mindanao, Philippines is an advancement of Father Berleur’s vision.
The Institute of Environmental Science for Social Change, a Jesuit research organization in the Philippines, is the lead organizer for this conference and the work emerging is contributing to the area of vulnerability and disaster risk reduction, a key water agenda in the Philippines.
With the University of Namur, there is also a new area opening up on studies in migration and population with Professor Sabine Henry, Head of the Department of Geography. There is also a significant opening expected in the area of agricultural economics, with Professor Jean-Marie Baland, Director of the Department of Economic Sciences, especially in the light of what is celebrated by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation as the 2014 International Year of Family Farming. Family and small-scale farming are linked to: 1) food security; 2) preservation of traditional food products that promotes a balanced diet, agro-biodiversity, and sustainable use of natural resources; and 3) improved local economies when accompanied by policies that socially include, not exclude.
On the other side, European Jesuit universities collaborate further with their interests in sustainability science and a greater social reconciliation with environmental pressures. Here, the University of Namur plays a critical role especially on two counts: 1) having once connected deeply with Saint Joseph University (in French, Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth, USJ) in Beirut, Lebanon; and 2) that it is well-positioned to be a point of connection with Spanish Jesuit universities. This will be another source of discussion and exploration as we look at the renewed identity of our institutions and service of mission.
Dr Annick Castiaux, Academic Director of International Affairs at the University of Namur, has been very supportive of discussions so far. However, this brings us further into global discussions of our boundaries and a need for a much more energetic response to sustainability.
At the same time, Jesuit business schools in Asia and globally are concerned about speaking more directly to sustainability, a focus of this year’s annual forum of the International Association of Jesuit Business Schools towards an inclusive economics. This is a key element of the Sustainable Development Goals that emerged from the UN Rio+20 process and builds upon the Millennium Development Goals for a convergence post-2015.
There are pre- and post-conference visits arranged and what people will see in these visits is a dialogue of science and values. Science has a great deal to contribute to the well-being of society and needs to increasingly link to a broader set of human values that can communicate more effectively the scientific message that Anthropocene is a new era for the world in which we have a hold in its turning. Discussing this further in his keynote speech in the conference is Mr Andreas Carlgren, former Environment Minister of Sweden and now working at the Newman Institute, the first Jesuit university in Sweden.
What people will see in Mindanao are some of the vulnerable sites where disasters occurred in recent years and where there are significant social responses. On the other hand, there is also the balance sought in the development of rural agriculture while sustaining local livelihoods and the environment. This is increasingly a relationship compromised as the indigenous and sustainability science frameworks are losing out to aggressive commercial agriculture financing of GMO crop production. Local farmers are pressured with the new agriculture partly because of the social and financial system that sustains their poverty, as well as a production that moves them away from food security.
Youth unemployment, while a national concern in the Philippines, is starkly more pronounced in marginalised areas that are far from urban centres such as coastal areas and the uplands. The options in life and livelihoods for young women and men in the uplands who are not in school, both indigenous and migrant, are very limited. The effort is to broaden the options a bit more widely so that options are not just early pregnancy and early marriage, joining armed groups, or taking up the lowest rung in the labour market. In designing the skills training, it is critical to secure the youth training courses within a value-based framework, for which parallels are found in their cultural identities and in value systems external to their cultures.
The conference is indeed about a re-thinking, a shifting, a changing of attitudes to allow transformative and innovative governance of natural resources development and management, especially in the context of Mindanao with its fragile environment and peace and the diversity of its cultures and people.
The gathering is also about a group of people coming together from different parts of the globe to look more deeply at the broader sense of mission and environmental concerns, developing collaborative strategies, and envisioning practical, contemporary responses that reflect a creative care and compassion for an integral, inclusive, sustainable, and quality human development for people and cultures.