SASAC student on show in Uganda

In March, an abstract by Dennis Choruma of Rhodes University was selected for an oral and poster presentation at a summer school in Uganda; Choruma is part of the second cohort of students currently on the Southern African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC) programme.

The summer school, titled Sustainability in the Food-Water-Ecosystem Nexus in Sub-Saharan Africa, was co-hosted by Uganda’s Makerere University in Kampala and Germany’s University of Bonn, and funded by the Volkswagen Stiftung (Foundation) under the Knowledge for Tomorrow – Cooperative Research Projects in Sub-Saharan Africa. The summer school brought together doctoral and postdoctoral young scientist from Sub-Saharan Africa and Germany with an interest in interdisciplinary research in the field of the food-water-ecosystem nexus in Sub-Saharan Africa.

At the summer school, Choruma had a chance to interact and network with other researchers working in this area. He and the other delegates also visited field sites where they met with and engaged farmers and catchment-water users on various conflicts associated with the multiple uses of water and limited availability of land. One such visit was to the Doho rice scheme, an extensive network of wetlands in the country’s Butajela district. Besides supporting the livelihoods of thousands of farmers, the wetland also regulates water flow into Lake Kyoga.

The legacy of systems analysis in South Africa: when young scientists become global leaders

In 2007, Sepo Hachigonta was a first-year PhD student studying crop and climate modelling and member of the YSSP cohort. Today, he is the director in the strategic partnership directorate at the National Research Foundation (NRF) in South Africa and one of the editors of the recently launched book Systems Analysis for Complex Global Challenges, which summarises systems analysis research and its policy implications for issues in South Africa.

But the YSSP program is what first planted the seed for systems analysis thinking, he says, with lots of potential for growth.

Through his YSSP experience, Hachigonta saw that his research could impact the policy system within his home country of South Africa and the nearby region, and he forged lasting bonds with his peers. Together, they were able to think broadly about both academic and cultural issues, giving them the tools to challenge uncertainty and lead systems analysis research across the globe.

Afterwards, Hachigonta spent four years as part of a team leading the NRF, the South African IIASA national member organization (NMO), as well as the Southern African Young Scientists Summer Program (SA-YSSP), which later matured into the South African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC).

From left: Gansen Pillay, Deputy Chief Executive Officer: Research and Innovation Support and Advancement, NRF, Sepo Hachigonta, Editor, Priscilla Mensah, Editor, David Katerere, Editor, Andreas Roodt Editor

Now, many years into the relationship between IIASA and South Africa, that partnership has grown.

In fact, several of the co-authors are former SA-YSSP alumni and supervisors turned experts in their fields.

 “Systems analysis is like a black box, we do it every day but don’t learn what exactly it is. But in different countries and different sectors, people are always using systems analysis methodologies,” said Hachigonta, “so we’re hoping this book will enlighten the research community as well as other stakeholders on what systems analysis is and how it can be used to understand some of the challenges that we have.”


Capacity Development 2018 enters the home straight

16 July 2018

The SASAC Capacity Development Programme 2018 has entered its final stretch, with the bulk of supported students making their way to Cape Town this week.

Over the week, the three SASAC cohorts of doctoral students will all, albeit separately, gather around Cape Town for different training programmes. (They will congregate under one roof only at a formal dinner this Thursday.) Now at different stages of their studies, training has been tailored to meet groups’ respective needs, explained SASAC director, Professor Priscilla Baker of the University of the Western Cape (UWC).

With this in mind, the cohort 1 students (those who entered SASAC in its inaugural year in 2016) will spend the week at the Joie de Vivre conference venue just outside Paarl. There they will be put through their paces at a writing boot camp facilitated by Dr Ruth Albertyn and Ms Ella Belcher, both affiliated with the Centre for Higher and Adult Education at Stellenbosch University. This week serves as final preparation for the students, many hard at work writing up their final theses.

Enquiring minds: Ms Lydia Chikumbi, a cohort 2 SASAC student at the University of Cape Town, poses a question at the ‘Science to Policy for Sustainability’ week, hosted at UWC.

At the same time, cohort 2 (2017) will be based at UWC for a policy week – titled From Science to Policy for Sustainability – looking at how knowledge produced at research institutions is, ultimately, translated into policy. Presenters will include Mr John Dini of the Water Research Commission (WRC), Dr Shingi Mutanga and Dr Thokozani Simelane of the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), and Ms Charmaine Williamson of UNISA.

In turn, the SASAC intake of 2018 (cohort 3) will close down their month-long stay in Stellenbosch with a mixed programme. This will include further discussion on the application of systems analysis and systems thinking across disciplines, as well as a short writing boot camp of their own.

Austria/IIASA visit is cherry on top for SASAC student

Greg Schreiner is taking full advantage of his time as a SASAC student; in May this year, he spent a week in Austria visiting Professor Reinhard Mechler, his co-supervisor based at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

  Naturally, Schreiner – a doctoral student at Wits University, and part of SASAC’s second cohort – was in Austria largely for academic reasons. Specifically, he was visiting the IIASA headquarters just outside Vienna to work on the design and coding of a social survey that will form the hub of his research. The survey will provide the critical data necessary to evaluate the effectiveness of large scientific assessment processes, and will inform Schreiner’s doctoral research. For guidance, he turned to Mechler, who is deputy director of the Risk and Resilience (RISK) research programme at IIASA, as well as a team of RISK experts well versed in social surveys.

“From a work perspective, I found my colleagues at IIASA to be incredibly helpful and very interested in my research, often willing to share ideas and suggestions,” reports Schreiner, supervised at Wits by Professor Bob Scholes. “It was an extremely productive week.”

This was Schreiner’s first visit to Vienna, and he was more than impressed. “Austria is a fascinating place, and Vienna, in particular, is incredibly beautiful,” he recounts. “I have never visited such a well-functioning large city anywhere in the world.”

Equally impressive, Schreiner says, were the palatial IIASA offices in Schloss Laxenburg (or ‘Laxenburg Castles’). IIASA is headquartered on the castle site in the town of Laxenburg, not far from Vienna.

Understandably, the setting meant that it wasn’t going to be all work for Schreiner. One of the highlights of his trip was, he says, spending a Sunday afternoon eating cherries in Vienna and swimming in the city’s iconic Danube River.

South African VC to lead IIASA

Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, vice-chancellor of the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), has been appointed as director-general and CEO of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).

Dr Van Jaarsveld will take up the position – one of the most senior positions in the Institute – on 1 October 2018. IIASA is an international scientific institute that aims to provide scientific insight and guidance to policymakers worldwide by finding solutions to global problems through applied systems analysis.

IIASA also inspired the founding of the Southern African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC), established under the aegis of the South African National Research Foundation (NRF). SASAC seeks to create a cadre of systems analysis scholars through, for example, the funding of doctoral students placed at South African universities.

“We are delighted that Albert van Jaarsveld will become IIASA’s eleventh director-general,” said Professor Mike Clegg, chairperson of the IIASA Council that made the appointment. “He brings to IIASA wide-ranging experience in research management, administration, and scientific leadership. On behalf of the IIASA Council, which represents the interests of science academies and national research funders in 23 nations around the world, I warmly welcome Dr van Jaarsveld to IIASA.”

SAs make their mark: Dr Albert van Jaarsveld will in October 2018 take over as CEO and director-general of IIASA, becoming the second South African to be appointed as the Institute’s governance structures over recent months.

Dr van Jaarsveld joined UKZN as vice-chancellor and principal in 2015. Prior to this, he was CEO of the NRF, where he doubled the budget from R2 billion to R4 billion, and led the research funder’s drive for excellence and transformation across the South African research landscape.

“Leading IIASA into the next decade greatly motivates me,” said Dr van Jaarsveld. “I am passionate both about protecting the environment and about using science as a force for positive change at the global level—both of which are central to IIASA’s work and mission. I look forward to working with IIASA staff, its National Member Organizations, and IIASA’s large network of collaborators across the world for a better future.”

Dr Van Jaarsveld joins another recent South African appointment on IIASA’s governance structures. In November 2017, Dr Gansen Pillay, deputy-CEO of the NRF’s Research and Innovation, Support and Advancement (RISA) business unit, was named as the deputy chairperson of the IIASA Council.

SASAC students travel to Stellenbosch for month of training

25 June 2018

Travelling from around South Africa, some 24 doctoral students gathered in Stellenbosch on Sunday, 24 June, to begin – to a warm welcome and braai, albeit on a chilly day – the month-long capacity development component of the Southern African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC) programme.

The component runs from 25 June to 21 July 2018, and is one of the pillars of SASAC. Co-hosted by consortium members, Stellenbosch University (SU) and the University of the Western Cape (UWC), the capacity development training underpins the scholarship programme, established in 2015 by the National Research Foundation (NRF) in collaboration with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) to build expertise among outstanding doctoral students in the application of systems analysis across academic disciplines.

In addition to receiving a three-year scholarship, students – at this critical early stage of their PhD studies – are offered series of capacity development initiatives to prepare them for their research. So, in 2016 and 2017, the SASAC cohort 1 and 2 students had attended their respective capacity development programmes.

This year, it’s the turn of the 24 students that make up cohort 3.

Welcoming the students at the Stellenbosch braai, SASAC director, Professor Priscilla Baker of UWC, urged students to make the most of their time in the university town. "Embrace the challenge of thinking out of the box,” she told them. “Explore the bigger picture of your specific research focus area and make it count for all!”

Welcome to Cape Town: (From left) Itumeleng Zosela (SASAC administrator) and Prof Priscilla Baker (SASAC director) with doctoral students Current Masunungure (Nelson Mandela University) and Clive Mandizvidza (Stellenbosch University) at the braai hosted this past Sunday to launch the SASAC Capacity Development Component.

Over the first week of the programme, the students will attend sessions on grant writing, preparing for the PhD studies, and the writing of funding motivations and opinion pieces. In the second and third weeks, they will register for courses of their choice offered as part of the Winter School of SU’s African Doctoral Academy. (Students from cohorts 1 and 2 can also register for courses, should they wish.) Over the final week, cohort 3 will attend presentations on systems analysis, and participate in a three-day writing workshop.

Also over that final week, cohort 2 will attend a policy-to-practice workshop at UWC. In turn, the cohort 3 students (now entering the final stretch of their studies) will participate in a special writing boot camp.

NRF launches new book on systems analysis


The National Research Foundation (NRF) has launched Systems Analysis Approach for Complex Global Challenges, a seminal work aligned with its multi-year investment in research and capacity development for systems analysis. Published by Springer, the book is edited by Dr Priscilla Mensah of the NRF; Prof David Katerere of the Tshwane University of Technology; Dr Sepo Hachigonta, also of the NRF; and Andreas Roodt of the University of the Free State. The work contains a collection of review articles with a focus on evidence-based policy making. It will serve as a valuable resource for policy makers, researchers and postgraduate students; provide an analytical foundation for the management and governance of natural resources, disasters, and climate change for the technological and ecological transitions to sustainability. This book is a result of South Africa’s investment in systems analysis through initiatives such as the Southern African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC) and its predecessor, the Southern African Young Scientists Summer Programme (SA-YSSP), established by the NRF in collaboration with South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST) and the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA).


Second inception a resounding success

In the largest intake yet, a total of nearly 45 doctoral students and supervisors attended the 2018 Inception Programme of the Southern African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC), the second such inception hosted by SASAC. Hosted by consortium member the University of the Western Cape in Durbanville at the end of January, the two-week Inception (supervisors attend only the first three days) was designed to welcome the 2018 cohort – the third SASAC cohort of students – onto the programme, and introduce them the workings and aspirations of SASAC, as well as to the application of Systems Analysis as a framework. To this end, they were addressed by experienced scholars and presenters from across disciplines and South African universities, as well as by Brian Fath, professor of biological sciences at Towson University, US, and scientific coordinator of the Young Scientists Summer Programme of the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), of which South Africa is a member. In addition, the students are trained in some of the more generic skills relevant and essential to doctoral studies, such as drawing up a research proposal, presenting their research, and budgeting for their studies. While there was critique and suggestions for improving the Inception, the reviews for the event were largely positive. “The inception meeting was a golden opportunity for me as a PhD candidate; academically I grew and changed in a lot of positive ways,” noted one student. “Thank you for a very enriching and thought-provoking experience,” wrote another. This third cohort will meet again at the Capacity Development Programme to be hosted at Stellenbosch University over June and July.

NRF’s Gansen Pillay appointment strengthens links to IIASA

31 November 2017

Dr Gansen Pillay will expand South Africa’s role in IIASA as the organisation’s newly appointed deputy chairperson

Dr Gansen Pillay, Deputy-CEO of the National Research Foundation’s Research and Innovation, Support and Advancement (RISA) business unit, was appointed as the deputy chairperson of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) Council in Austria in November 2017. IIASA is an independent, international scientific institute established in 1946 that conducts policy-oriented research into grand challenges or problems that are too large or complex to be solved by a single country. IIASA has 26 member countries representing 71% of the world’s economy and 63% of the world’s population. Since South Africa’s membership to IIASA during 2007, a range of research collaboration and capacity building activities have been developed by IIASA and more than twenty South African research partners. From the partnerships sprang both the Southern African Young Scientists Summer Programme (SA-YSSP) in 2012, and SASAC in 2016. Dr Pillay has in-depth international experience, professional and scholarly credentials, and a long-standing engagement with IIASA. In addition, the innovation and insight he has brought to IIASA on a variety of transformation aspects will further contribute towards the effectiveness of this global organisation.


Priscilla Baker takes over reins at SASAC

3 November 2017

Prof Priscilla Baker will serve as SASAC director in the final year of the programme’s first three-year South African cycle.

Extraordinary Professor Priscilla Baker has taken over as director of the Southern African Systems Analysis Centre (SASAC). Prof Baker stepped into the post on 1 November, taking over the reins from Professor Thandi Mgwebi, who had managed the portfolio in her capacity as director of research at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Prof Mgwebi has since joined the Tshwane University of Technology as deputy vice-chancellor for postgraduate studies, research, innovation & engagement. Prof Baker, who in 2014 was named as a Distinguished Woman in Science by the Department of Science & Technology (DST), is co-leader of SensorLab, an electrochemistry research platform in UWC’s Department of Chemistry. As SASAC director, she will oversee the closing of the programme’s first three-year cycle from 2016 to 2018. Over this period, UWC had managed SASAC’s administrative arm, forming part of a consortium alongside the University of Limpopo, Stellenbosch University, and Wits University. “Over the first two years, the SASAC consortium has developed and managed a programme that has laid the foundation for the study and application of systems analysis in South Africa,” Prof Baker said. “Over 2018, we will continue to do so by building on what we’ve learned over 2016 and 2017, and lay the groundwork for SASAC beyond 2018, in whichever way it manifests itself. The National Research Foundation (NRF), which funds the SASAC programme, will put out a call for a new SASAC consortium in 2018.

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