On May 20th, Dr. Virgilio Viana, Director General of the Amazonas Sustainability Foundation and Professor of Forest Sciences at the University of Agriculture at Luiz Queiroz, came to Emory to talk about sustainable development practice. Dr. Viana is a pioneer in creating sustainable development programs in the Amazon and other areas affected by deforestation. In his presentation he advocated for an end to long-standing prejudices that link development with overcoming natural ecosystems and for promoting multisectoral development initiatives that recognize the linkages between environmental degradation and poverty.
Dr. Viana called for higher education to become far more engaged in sustainable development, but in a new way. Academics, particularly those in the social sciences and humanities, are very good at identifying and analyzing problems. They look at why things fail rather than why they succeed. They are what Viana referred to as "problemologists." In order to address the global twin mega-challenges of climate change and poverty, he called for academics to go further to propose solutions to complex problems; in other words, to become "solutionologists." Academics, working in partnership with governments, business and organizations, can do much more to package research in ways that can be used by people outside academia.
This will require a major paradigm shift in higher education and this may be just the time to make that leap. Much attention has been paid to the impact of the economic recession on higher education. But, the impact of the twinned crises of environment and poverty will also shape emerging paradigms if we are to take seriously the goal of educating citizens for the twenty-first century. Those citizens will need to be "solutionologists."
Director, Institute for Developing Nations,