The United Nations has established a 15-year plan to improve the lives of people everywhere, and as Dr Alec Wersun, Senior Lecturer in the Glasgow School for Business and Society, explains to David Christie, GCU is intent on playing its part for the Common Good.
What do GCU, footballer Lionel Messi and Her Majesty Queen Mathilde of Belgium have in common? This isn’t the prelude to a punchline; for they are all advocates of a United Nations-led sustainable development agenda to transform the world by 2030.
University Chancellor and Nobel Laureate Professor Muhammad Yunus is one of a select group of key figures appointed by UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon to spur action on Transforming Our World: 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
An ambitious plan agreed by UN member states, it comprises 17 sustainable development goals and 169 targets, seeking, among others, to end poverty, fight inequalities and combat climate change.
“They are not goals we can solve by ourselves, let’s put that one absolutely straight,” admits Dr Alec Wersun, Senior Lecturer in the Glasgow School for Business and Society. Yet this has not stopped GCU, nor Alec as the School’s Common Good Lead, from addressing the goals head on.
“What we can do is make a contribution. And if all universities make a contribution, if governments, if businesses, if individuals all make a contribution, together there is a feeling, a dream if you like, that by 2030 many of these goals will have been achieved. I think they are very ambitious, but what’s wrong with ambition? GCU is an ambitious university.”
The first Scottish university to join the United Nations Global Compact, the world’s largest voluntary corporate responsibility initiative, GCU is also a signatory to the Principles for Responsible Management Education, embedding social, economic and environmental sustainability and ethics across its practices.
Across GCU, staff and students are already making a major contribution.
In July, the Glasgow campus hosted the World Health Organization (WHO) Nursing and Midwifery Conference, its focus on global health, while at our London and New York campuses, embedding sustainable business practices within the $2.5 trillion fashion sector is a priority.
GCU delivers the MSc Climate Justice, the only degree of its kind in the world, focusing on the role of developed nations in supporting less developed countries experiencing the worst of climate change. Leading clean water projects; establishing affordable higher education opportunities in Scotland and Africa; researching gender equality, GCU is the University for the Common Good for its actions; not its words.
A dedicated follower of sustainability himself (mindful of water wastage when brushing his teeth and a keen recycler), Alec is the perfect person to ensure GCU embraces the goals. The son of two Ukrainian prisoners of war, Alec grew up in the Lancashire town of Leigh and was the first in his family to go to university, studying Russian and Serbo-Croat. At one time in charge of a $33 million investment fund for Russian start-up companies, Alec joined GCU in 2000 and has never looked back.
He adds: “I believe in what we are doing at GCU and, often if you enjoy something, you’ll probably be pretty good at it. The next stage is to map activities across the University against the sustainable development goals – in our teaching, our research, our partnerships.
“We have a fantastic story to tell. When I go to meetings in the UK and overseas, people are blown away by the different projects and initiatives we have at GCU. Sometimes you can be challenged by asking whether our work really makes a difference, but to quote Professor Yunus, ‘if each of us can improve the lives of five people then the world will be a better place.’”