University of the Free State: Trans-local collaboration enriching the lives of social entrepreneurs in rural communities

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A growing number of researchers concerned with the dynamics of mobility, migration, locality, and interconnectedness have turned to trans-local research to transcend boundaries and generate meaningful insights. Trans-local learning involves different localities through research by connecting participants from diverse backgrounds and locations to come together and join in a set of fieldwork activities to re-interpret how they each view their own locality.

Linking the rural mountainous communities of Phuthaditjhaba and Gojome in Japan through trans-local learning, Dr Melissa Hansen, Geography Lecturer and Subject Head on the Qwaqwa Campus, is coordinating the Japan Sustainability Science project with Prof Shogo Kudo from the Akita International University.

The project-based collaboration is exploring the relationship of migration, entrepreneurship, and sustainable development between Phuthaditjhaba and Gojome, a rural town found in the Akita province in Japan. The partnership began in June 2017 and is exploring similarities and differences between the two mountainous towns. It is a field-based programme, working with social entrepreneurs in each locality to explore linkages between the two rural towns with the purpose of obtaining diverse perspectives that are useful when engaging with community projects.

Exploring the similarities and differences between two localities

Prof Kudo and Kanako Omi, co-researcher and PhD candidate at the International Christian University in Tokyo, visited the Qwaqwa Campus earlier this month to meet with social entrepreneurs in Phuthaditjhaba who are involved in this project.

According to Dr Hansen, trans-local learning connects different localities so that each learns from case study reflections. Through this sustainability project, she said they discovered that young in-migrants are returning and settling back in Phuthaditjhaba and Gojome and contributing to sustainable development through entrepreneurship, as they find their hometown more profitable than staying in major cities. “Along with their return comes the influx of new ideas from these major cities. We aim to contribute to the development of the Qwaqwa Campus as a sustainability science hub and to foster the development of inter- and transdisciplinary research,” she said.

Echoing Dr Hansen’s sentiments, Omi said the project had revealed interesting findings about the issues faced in the two localities. “They have very different sociohistorical contexts and economic environments, but issues of rural sustainability are similar. Social entrepreneurs are all trying to find creative ways to solve rural development.”

Fanafikile Lephaka, a social entrepreneur himself, also acts as an interlocutor between the researchers and other local entrepreneurs. He said having local and international researchers showing interest in their work gave them a “sense of pride. It motivates us to put more effort into what we do, because we realise that it matters”.

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