Prof. Dr Divya Singh is Chief Academic Officer at Stadio Holdings, and current Director of Globethics.net Southern Africa. She formerly served as Vice Principal: Advisory and Assurance Services at the University of South Africa (UNISA), and currently also serves on the Globethics.net Board of Foundation, as a course instructor for the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Sustainable Development course, as well as Series Editor just to mention a few! Below, Nefti Bempong-Ahun, Assistant Editor/ Communications Assistant at Globethics.net in conversation with Divya on her long-standing collaboration with Globethics.net, what ethics means to her, and more on her thoughts regarding online learning.
NBA: Thank you so much for joining us today and participating in the Spotlight Series! To start, what is your professional background, and how did it lead you to Globethics.net?
DS: I'm professionally trained as an advocate, so law is my professional discipline. I opted for academia and actively made the choice, as I preferred being an academic opposed to being in the courtroom. I've got a very strong view on social justice, and the role higher education can play in my understanding of socio-economic empowerment. Perhaps it comes from when I was a student in a country like South Africa, and the opportunities that were available, as well as those that were not available. As I looked at the country, and the history, the urgency and importance, I really developed a strong belief on how education can change lives, how education can be used to take people out of poverty.
I started in the Faculty of Law, and moved out of teaching after 10-12 years to become deputy registrar of a university, and then the Vice Principle responsible for advisory and assurance services at UNISA. Within those roles, I became more and more responsible for areas regarding governance and the ethics office. I worked with the Ethics Institute in South Africa, who had very strong ties with Globethics.net. Prof. Dr Christoph Stückelberger was in South Africa during one of his sessions with the Ethics Institute. The CEO said that there is someone I believe you should meet, and in 2013 I met Christoph. We had a chat and found a lot of mutual understanding and excitement. UNISA signed a partnership agreement with Globethics.net, and I suppose as people would say – the rest is history.
After I left UNISA, I continued to work closely with Globethcis.net. Within a year in my new role at Stadio Holdings, we also drew up an agreement with Globethics.net, and now have a very active cooperation. I continue to work with Globethics.net because I believe in the value that it is adding.
NBA: Like you said, Globethics.net has ongoing partnerships with Stadio Holdings, one of them being your role as course instructor for the newly developed CSR & Sustainable Development course. I wanted to ask about your experience as a course instructor, as well as your interactions with the students via this new course?
DS: It has been a very, very interesting experience. For the first time, I have had the opportunity to engage with students from so many different countries in one classroom. What I find rewarding, and almost enlightening, is the different views that come through from the different students, it emphasises the reality of difference. That's a fact; we come from different countries and different backgrounds, and we learn how life shapes our views and our approaches. This was also a learning experience for me, and definitely not a one-size fits all because you need to be aware of the differences that feature and factor in the experiences. One thread that I have found to be consistent in this programme, notwithstanding all the difference of our lived realities and experience, is the discussions about social responsibility and the common good.
During the course and the different modules, there have been moments of cynicism, moments when you begin to wonder together with the students: is it really worth the effort or are we just a small group of people talking to ourselves? What I found from the course, as something that is incredibly heartening, is to hear even the small group of 90 students wanting to expand their knowledge, and wanting to come to grips with concepts. Over time, I can now see the students beginning to integrate notions of sustainability, norms and standards for a better world into their discussions. They are now beginning to think more widely about stakeholders and businesses, and the impact and influence that can be made.
We are currently on unit 7, and the participants who are sharing their experience are beginning to talk about what they can learn and do to improve their business culture and integrate the ethical normative perspective into their spheres of influence, and this is different from when we started. We have learnt from each other, and the great advantage is that the students also share and learn from one another via peer learning. So there is exposure to experiences that they would otherwise have not had the benefit of learning about. It is an engagement too that brings with it the question of how to ensure that the common good, social responsibility and social awareness are respected when we find ourselves in environments that are totally different to the ones that we may be used to.
NBA: It's great to hear that students are integrating what they are learning and applying it. Like you said, with online learning there is this huge benefit of bringing together so many different perspectives. But I also wanted to know how online learning has impacted your teaching experience, especially with more students transitioning to online learning due to the pandemic. Has there been a notable difference, for instance are students more familiar with online tools and thus more engaged?
DS: Online learning platforms are great in the sense that they allow us to bring together so many people. The global reach is amazing and the heterogeneity of your student body is something we can derive in the online learning space, that we otherwise wouldn't have been able to achieve in a traditional classroom. So students get the different experiences and I think that is very important. As well as the tools being available, allowing us to engage and participate in applied learning experiences, but there are also challenges.
One of the big challenges that I experience is from a real engagement perspective, for instance most students will turn their camera off. We know that this is usually as a result of issues associated with bandwidth, connectivity or a data issue. Connectivity thus makes it difficult for some students to participate, and with the video off, it's not always easy to draw out the best from your students. So yes, I am all about the opportunities that are there, but I also believe we need to be aware of these limitations to prepare material accordingly, to think about this in the way we do our presentations and in the we way we have our discussions.
NBA: I definitely agree that we need to stay aware of the limitations, and as a learner I have also learnt to adapt to taking small actions like keeping my video on, even when muted to show my engagement with the content. Moving onto one of your other roles as Series Editor with Globethics.net Publications. I know you are currently writing a book on Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Higher Education, and you've also contributed to countless publications. So my question for you is, what is your motivation for contributing to these book projects, and what has you experience been like with Globethics.net Publications?
DS: My academic background goes back to 1990, and so publications and contributing to new knowledge and expanding the existing knowledge base have always been part of academic DNA. I enjoy that part of it, and I do believe that there is a big contribution to be made by people sharing ideas and sharing their knowledge. My biggest motivation with regard to the Globethics.net Publications is the realisation and the fact that Globethics.net Publications are significantly adding to the body of knowledge in the field about which I am passionate: ethics in higher education, education for the common good and preparing ethical leaders. I felt that it was a very overlooked discourse, and that there was a gap that was created. If we look at the world we live in today, and want to see a better world or more fundamentally, a world for future generations, we must act. We need to keep the discussion and the discourse alive, I sometimes fear that we lose the value and the richness in sharing. The importance of the common good or what we sometimes call communal spirituality.
I think that Globethics.net Publications have prioritised this discussion, and they support not just global research, but also national research. There are books that target specific countries, specific environments or specific topics, but also books with wider and global reach, such as the opinion pieces and shared practices. I derive great benefit from the comparative analysis that I was able to do based on the Globethics.net Publications. So I believe they keep the discussion alive amongst a much wider global cohort. It is an area I'm passionate about and one where I'd like to share my experience in the hopes that it can benefit somebody else, just as I also benefit from the publications and the content that I've enjoyed from Globethics.net.
NBA: Thank you so much for sharing! You've done a lot of work with Globethics.net over the years, establishing so many collaborations and partnerships. Looking back, what has been your most memorable experience or your most exciting project with Globethics.net?
DS: On a personal level, the one that has been a significant highlight was the invitation to serve on the Globethics.net Board of Foundation. It was unexpected for me and it really is a highlight of my career, because of the respect I have for the organisation and the work that it's doing. It was a great achievement to be recognised in that fashion.
More broadly speaking, what stands out is the training partnerships and the cooperation that we have been able to set up with Globethics.net. The training engagements allowed and enable me to ensure that other colleagues and people have also been able to benefit from the experience of experts present within the Globethics.net Network.
Once my colleagues were engaged, they began to see the real value and the applied value of ethics, and how they could utilise that information for curricular development. It's something that is not superficial, but there's a real life-value to it. I think the opportunity created by being able to tap into expertise of the Pool of Experts is something I will always remember. Knowing that I have access to an incredible resource pool that will make a difference, and that is one of the biggest achievements in my collaboration with Globethics.net
NBA: The appreciation is definitely mutual, and we are so thankful for all you bring to the table, and all the value you add to the organisation, so thank you! I feel you have partly answered my last question when you talked about education for the common good and ethical leadership, but why does ethics in higher education matter?
DS: I just believe that higher education has a role and a purpose, and a fundamental function in shaping lives for a better future. Whether we talk about responsible citizenship or social awareness, or let's be honest about it, the economic aspects as education also has value for economic upliftment. As we do so, we need to ensure that the economic upliftment is tempered with social awareness. Higher education is critical, to discipline knowledge, as well as skills, development and training.
Whether it be school leavers or adult learners, we have an obligation to start training our students, to think critically and to evaluate themselves, and to evaluate their values and their contribution to society. However, I do want to say that higher education is not the beginning of this conversation, the conversation really begins at home and then continues. Higher education has an important function in continuing the journey of realisation, and both of self and collective awareness. Higher education has a greater maturity level, we are able to think more critically and to analyse, and I would also hope, to look into the future with more invested engagement. For me this is essential, it is vital if we are looking forward to a better world.
NBA: Thanks so much for answering our questions, for sharing your experiences and thoughts with us, as well as the ongoing collaboration with Globethics.net!