Accelerating transformation through placed-based learning

© Sustainability Institute

Vanessa von der Heyde, Managing Director of Institute Programmes at the Sustainability Institute

Jeremy Doyle, Independent researcher and MPhil candidate at Stellenbosch University Centre for Sustainability Transitions

Today, society faces arguably its greatest challenge: tackling the sustainability crisis in the face of worsening social and racial inequalities. We need new ways of thinking, new ways of understanding the challenge and how we might approach it; even unlearning what we already know. At the Sustainability Institute, we see our role as helping to accelerate this response. Situated just outside Stellenbosch in the Western Cape, South Africa, our vision led to the establishment of a mixed-income and mixed-race ecovillage in which people from different walks of life could choose to live and work together as a community, and practice development in which both people and the natural environment would flourish.

With over two decades of lived experience, we explore fundamentally different ways of living, learning, and working, often in collaboration with universities, NGOs, development agencies, farms, corporates, and others. In this article, we reflect on the challenge for higher education in the twenty-first century, explore the role of place-based learning, and outline three examples to illustrate our recent work, demonstrating how learning that happens in a physical environment can bridge the gap between theory and practice.