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Dr. Tshilidzi Marwala, Rector of the United Nations University, Visits KGU to Discuss the SDGs

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On May 17, Dr. Tshilidzi Marwala, Rector of the United Nations University (UNU) and Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations, together with Dr. Shinobu Yamaguchi—Director of UNU-Institute for the Advanced Study of Sustainability (UNU-IAS)—visited the Nishinomiya Uegahara Campus and met with President Yasutoshi Mori, Chancellor Motoo Nakamichi, and others.

Upon arriving at KGU, Dr. Marwala took the stage to give a special lecture to students about some of the notable challenges of our time; specifically, bringing about peace, addressing climate change, and adapting to technological transformation, such as the development of generative artificial intelligence (AI). He elaborated on UNU’s SDGs-related research projects, of which there were 177 in 2023, before discussing what artificial intelligence can do to advance the causes of the SDGs in the case of education. He mentioned some of the challenges and ethical consideration of using AI, and noted that higher education institutions had a critical role to play in fostering innovation in such fields and preparing future leaders, recalling a message from UN Secretary-General António Guterres—“When young people are shut out of the decisions being made about their lives, we all lose”—and emphasizing that young people’s voices are critical to build a sustainable future. In response to a question about the role of the humanities field in the development and application of AI, he spoke about how a grasp of psychology concepts such as Pavlovian reinforcement was essential for the creation of learning algorithms, and stressed the need to make education more multidisciplinary.

Following a campus luncheon, Dr. Marwala and Dr. Yamaguchi then met with President Mori and other KGU officials and spoke about the connection between Kwansei Gakuin University and the United Nations, noting that KGU has been one of the biggest contributors from Japan in terms of dispatching students to United Nations internships and volunteer programs. The group discussed KGU’s ongoing efforts in terms of equipping students with the skills to become global professionals, as well as the possibility of collaborative initiatives between UNU and KGU once the new Graduate Department of UN System Policy Studies is launched in AY2025. Dr. Marwala and Dr. Yamaguchi then spoke to a group of KGU students, including members of the SDGs Campus Supporter organization, to answer their questions and offer advice. In response to a question about the importance of interdisciplinary skills, Dr. Marwala and Dr. Yamaguchi gave examples of multi-layered problems which demand collaboration between multiple areas of expertise. On the topic of corporate “greenwashing,” Dr. Marwala discussed current incentives for corporations to take climate action and some ways they could be reconsidered, while Dr. Yamaguchi pointed out that substantial progress has been made in the last two decades, noting that corporations are now much more aware of the SDGs and individuals now have the knowledge to take climate action in their own way.

As their visit came to a close, Dr. Marwala and Dr. Yamaguchi thanked the students for the incisive questions, leaving them with the message that “With leaders like yourselves, we are going to solve these issues.”

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