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Duncan2Duncan Clough is currently pursuing a Masters degree in Computer Science at the University of Cape Town.  Duncan was named a Talloires Network Student Peer Advisor for his demonstrated commitment to civic engagement work with TeachOut.  An entirely student-run organization, TeachOut provides tutoring in Math, English, Science and Accounting to approximately 250 learners at disadvantaged schools in Cape Town.  Duncan serves as director of the organization, chairing meetings, networking with community organizations, helping to raise funds, facilitating evaluations, and providing guidance to fellow committee members.  He recently participated in the first Talloires 24 Student Discussion.  Learn more on his Student Peer Advisor profile.

TN: What are some of the best approaches you’ve seen students in South Africa take to help improve their communities?

Approaches can vary considerably depending on the problem that needs to be addressed.  Students who are driven and passionate about making a difference have the greatest impact in communities.  As long as that “fire” exists, people will approach the problem with the right mindset.

TN: What lessons have you learned about civic engagement as director of TeachOut?

If in doubt, assume the worst.  Whenever you are unsure, it always pays to assume things will go wrong.  If you live by this rule, then the worst that can happen is that things will go wrong and you’ll have a plan to keep everything running smoothly.  This is by far the most important lesson I’ve learnt.
It is important to have goals and accountability.  Goals are important for providing direction, especially when planning for the future.  Without distinct goals, people can get bogged down in day-to-day operations and lose motivation.  Being accountable for your actions can help define goals and provide motivation for meeting those goals.

It is also important to use your network and to talk to people directly.   More often than not, it’s your contact that helps you get things done.  If you have to work with people you don’t know, then talk to them face-to-face if possible, because this personal contact makes a huge difference.

TN: Could you briefly describe Ubunye and what it offers to the student organizations that are a part of it?

Ubunye is student-run development agency based at the University of Cape Town. The organization comprises of four projects: Inkanyezi, Media School, TeachOut and the Township Debating League. While each project coordinates its own operations, the Ubunye coordination committee offers a platform for cross-project collaboration, as well as a place for project directors to consult on problems and potential initiatives. This body also ensures a measure of accountability in projects, both operationally and financially.

Ubunye lessens the administrative burden on projects, by negotiating university sub-structures and procuring institutional and material support on behalf of the projects. Ubunye is a registered non-profit organization, which makes it easier for the four projects to source sponsorship, and enter into partnerships with other community development projects. As a collective, we are able to achieve far more in the communities in which we work, offering high school students a more holistic development experience through giving them access to all of our projects: academic, mentorship and skills-development.

TN: In your view, why is it important for university students to be civically engaged?

While at university, people are likely to have more independence, flexibility and available time than in any other stage of their lives.  It is the perfect time to engage with the community.  Community involvement provides students with valuable life experiences and often exposes them to the lives of those less fortunate than themselves.  This exposure helps foster a sense of social responsibility which hopefully remains with them for the rest of their lives.

Civic engagement also teaches students skills that they will not obtain in the course of a normal degree.  This is especially true for those students who get involved with project administration.  It is also a great way to meet interesting people.

TN: Has your civic engagement work influenced your thoughts on what you want to pursue professionally or academically?

While at university, my community involvement has shown me, first hand, the massive inequalities present in South Africa, and I believe that everyone should play a part in addressing these differences.  Even though my current academic and professional interests do not fall in areas directly related to civic engagement and this is unlikely to change, I believe I will still search for opportunities to engage with the community in both my professional and personal life.  Should an opportunity where I can combine my professional interests with civic engagement arise, I would definitely go for it.

TN: What do you think was accomplished by the first student discussion in the Talloires 24 Student Discussion Series?

I think that all the students that participated now have a clear idea of what the term ‘civic engagement’ encompasses.  Although most participants already had a clear idea of the concept, the discussion introduced a few aspects that participants may not have thought of before.  This discussion was also necessary to provide a solid foundation for further discussions.

TN: What do you hope will be accomplished in future discussions?

I hope that we will be able discuss various solutions to problems faced by community service projects.  I think it is also important for the Student Peer Advisors to share their experiences of and ideas about things that worked and problems they have encountered, so that people following the discussion are able to learn from them.

TN: What’s one piece of advice you’d like to share with your peers who are managing their own civic engagement projects?

Network as much as possible. Knowing the right people always gets things done much faster and makes finding sponsorship much easier. While working with people you don’t know is sometimes worthwhile, don’t underestimate the usefulness of people you already know. Of course, this shouldn’t stop you from making new contacts, who can introduce you to new opportunities.