May 22, 2023
Prof. Akiyo Okuda
Vice President, Keio University
In the fall of 2021 we started thinking about launching the SDGs Student Conference, which is known as the 2022 Keio University Student Conference. I would like to take this opportunity to reflect on how we prepared and implemented the project this past year.
Keio President Itoh raised two main objectives for this project: (1) to reflect the voices of students in advancing Keio's initiatives for the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and (2) to raise students' general awareness. In preparing the project, we intended for the conference to not only contribute to progress in sustainable development, but also to be an opportunity for participants' personal growth. These two objectives carry great significance. Among the 169 SDG targets, subsection 4.7 calls for acquiring knowledge and skills that are essential to carrying out the SDGs. We understood that active discussions about how the SDGs should take shape would then turn into actions and lead to real contributions. So we needed to create a new framework for this to happen.
In January 2022, we decided to set up the Student Conference as an extracurricular activity to be held at Hiyoshi Campus where there are many first- and second-year students, and looked into establishing a secretariat office. Meanwhile, we benefited from the expertise of two SDG specialists, Professor Norichika Kanie and Project Professor Hiroko Kuniya, both from the Graduate School of Media and Governance. Based on their advice, we envisioned Keio University thirty years from now as a leader in achieving the SDGs. Using that as our model, we decided to set a concrete goal for the Student Conference: to have the participants formulate proposals which would be submitted to the president during the 2022 academic year. These proposals would be implemented from AY2023 onward. Hiromichi Kobayashi, a professor of the Faculty of Law with prior experience as director of the Research and Education Center for Natural Sciences, joined the planning sessions. In February, we submitted our plans to this center as an educational project. The outline specified a conference that would deepen students' study and understanding of the SDGs and have them compile fifty proposals that prioritized sustainability, based on their discussions and their images of Keio's sustainable future. In addition to formulating a long-term vision of what the future should be like in 2050, the project would have participants propose short-term actions, based on the seventeen SDGs, that students could actually take before they graduate.
The secretariat for the Student Conference was placed in the Research and Education Center for Natural Sciences. Under the supervision of Professor Kobayashi, who assumed the position of project leader, application guidelines were prepared in March, announcements and calls for applications began in early April, and participating students were selected in May. This consistent progress was achieved largely thanks to the cooperation among managers from each of several departments on the Hiyoshi Campus. The Student Conference sought to ensure a balance of students from the undergraduate faculties and drew students from an at-random selection process in conjunction with its open call for applications, modeling itself after the citizens' climate assemblies held in France and the UK, which were also convened by random drawings.
Furthermore, in French and the UK's respective climate assemblies, citizens discussed and compiled recommendations alongside expert panelists who could advise the participants. Following this format, we scheduled several experts to give lectures to the conference. There were eight speakers in total: Seita Emori, Yukari Takamura, Atsuko Miwa, Taro Yamamoto, Takejiro Sueyoshi, Kohei Itoh, Hiroshi Minami, and Masahiro Kawatei.
An Orientation session kicked off the conference on June 1, and afterward students were introduced to the conference supervisors, Professor Kanie and Project Professor Kuniya. Approximately ten other faculty members from various specialties, not limited to only the natural sciences, participated in each session to support the Student Conference and provide their insights. The lectures, which were conducted over several weeks, highlighted specific issues related to the environment, economy, and society, and provided the students with the knowledge they needed to fuel their discussions in the fall semester. The lectures focused on highly specialized topics which proved thought-provoking for the students, even for those who already had some knowledge of the issues at hand. However, it was unfortunate that discussions were cut a bit short since each session brought in two lecturers.
Even from the initial planning stages, we wanted to use a broad interpretation of what we meant by "Keio students," and we considered the possibility of including elementary through high school students from Keio University's affiliated schools in the conference as well. We were able to make this a reality through a special summer camp. On August 31, students selected from Keio's affiliated schools were divided into discussion groups for each of the seventeen goals where they were joined with Keio University students. This was the first time that Keio University had attempted to bring together in one place its students ranging in age from elementary school to university. The program inspired everyone as they brainstormed ideas from different perspectives. Our hope was that the ideas generated at this event would be used when the Student Conference members further developed their proposals. Teachers from each of the affiliated schools also participated in the summer camp, and the event provided a wonderful opportunity for participants to actively share their thoughts and exchange their opinions on the SDG initiatives with Keio University's president, vice presidents, and university faculty members.
In the fall semester, participating university students were divided into groups based on their respective proposals in each of the 17 SDGs. Students then engaged in a series of discussions to draft proposals regarding the specific goals, targets, and actions they thought the university should and/or could take. Through this process, students became increasingly involved with other parts of the university, requesting information in order to analyze the current state of Keio from the Office of Facilities and Property Management, the Office of Student Services, and the University Co-op. They also conducted surveys within the local community, had interviews with other universities and visited relevant companies. As the student groups prepared to give their final reports, faculty members also provided guidance on effective ways to present their points using PowerPoint and to explain their proposals.
The final presentations were held on January 11, 2023. Each group spoke for five minutes and submitted their official proposals directly to President Itoh. In total, these proposals were made up of 250 pages of slides and reference materials. The recommendations ranged in scale and content from general objectives to specific actions. Below are some examples as a basic introduction. Targets were to be achieved either in the medium- or long-term, or by 2030 or 2050, respectively. These targets included the following:
"Directly support children in Japan living in poverty,"
"Reduce the percentage of food loss on campus to within 1%,"
"Increase the percentage of female faculty and students to 50%,"
"Install water dispensers in campus facilities,"
"Increase the rate of people returning to live in rural areas to 40%,"
"Increase the recycling rate from the current 45% to 70%,"
"Publicize information about the Keio Forests,"
"Use 100% sustainable seafood on campus," and
"Establish a grant program for students who are involved in activities related to peace in the international community."
The students' "action plans" proposed even more detailed goals:
"Provide a safe space and community for elementary school students living near campus,"
"Create a cafeteria for people living alone,"
"Offer classes on preventing sexual assault,"
"Conduct SDG workshops,"
"Hold leadership seminars,"
"Participate in the Renewable Energy University League,"
"Update curriculum to be more flexible,"
"Promote interactions and events on campus that transcend barriers between students, faculty, and staff,"
"Organize collaborative events with the local community,"
"Compost food waste and fallen leaves,"
"Install wood stoves in each classroom," and
"Strengthen international interuniversity networks."
The proposals handed to President Itoh were shared among all Vice-Presidents and reviewed. Feedback was then given to the student conference in late March.
The 2022 Student Conference fully met our expectations. The number of proposals exceeded the initial fifty we had anticipated, and Keio was able to adopt several in various forms. First, Keio University's 2022–2026 Mid-Term Plan incorporated the following three goals to be attained by 2030: introduce renewable energy, reduce waste, and make the campus environment a safe and secure place for everyone. Second, relevant departments will consider implementing partially adopted recommendations, such as "Adding more exchange schools from Asia and Africa to the list of partner schools." Third, from April onward, six projects will be launched to implement the students' proposals about reducing waste and conserving energy on campus among similar initiatives. It is the students who are the main proponents in translating their proposals into action. This is in line with the original intent of the Keio 2022 Student Conference.
Furthermore, another purpose of launching the Student Conference was having students take the lead in promoting sustainable development and raise awareness across the entire university. The collaboration between students and members of the faculty and staff through the conference will expand the scope of their activities and propel Keio forward in its efforts to contribute to the global society. From the inception of the Student Conference, we envisioned that participating in activities where students were encouraged to think consciously about the SDGs would inspire and equip them with tools they could use even after graduation. We believe that the knowledge gained from experts, the understanding gained from discussions, and the experience gained from these actions is powerful. We hope that the Student Conference will be a means of improving Keio University and, in the long run, of transforming society. If achieving the SDGs lies at the helm of social progress, then this is precisely what leaders must do and where they must be: at the forefront of sustainable change.
The project is not over. The 2023 Student Conference has just opened applications to join. We have high hopes for the second cohort.