#05 2023

Enhancing IORAG as a vehicle for youth empowerment in the Indian Ocean Region

By Nicole du Plessis (Egagasini Node), Sisipho Njokweni (Egagasini Node) and Yanga Malotana (University of Pretoria)

NRF-SAEON’s Egagasini Node hosts the Secretariat for the South African Chapter of the Indian Ocean Rim Association Academic Group (SA IORAG), an open stakeholder network comprised of national universities, research institutions and policymakers responsible for research and promoting research in the Indian Ocean Region. Prof Juliet Hermes, manager of the Egagasini Node, is currently the regional IORAG Chair. 

SAEON and the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) co-hosted the 28th IORAG Meeting in Cape Town from 26 to 27 September, under the theme “Enhancing IORAG as a Vehicle for Youth Empowerment in the Indian Ocean Region”. For the first time, early-career professionals were invited to attend an IORAG meeting. The meeting was further attended by international delegates from 12 IORA Member States, one Dialogue partner and one Observer institution.

The opening remarks were given by Mr Selby Modiba, Deputy Director DSI, Prof Juliet Hermes, NRF-SAEON/IORAG Chair and Ms Zelda Vrolick, Director of the IORA Secretariat. Noting that there would be many new participants in the meeting, the first session provided an induction to IORA, with speakers from the IORA Secretariat, South Africa’s Department of International Relations and Cooperation (DIRCO) and the SA IORAG.

Then followed a session on engagement between the IORAG and the IORA Business Forum, moderated by the Indian Ocean Rim Business Forum South Africa Chair, Mrs Nokuthula Ndlovu.

The final session of the first day consisted of parallel discussions focused on how better to formulate the IORAG to function as a “think tank” or knowledge resource for the region, and the establishment of an early-career professionals network affiliated to the IORAG.

The second day of the meeting had a session on how the IORAG could contribute to the development of the Indo-Pacific Outlook document, followed by an administrative session which focused on the updates and inputs to the work plan of the IORAG 2022–2027.

Participants in the 28th IORAG Meeting held in Cape Town

Reflections by Sisipho Njokweni 

Participating in the 28th IORAG Meeting in Cape Town as an intern was an incredibly enlightening experience. The event’s commitment to inclusivity was immediately evident through the dedicated induction session that fostered a supportive and welcoming learning environment, ensuring that every participant, regardless of experience, felt valued and engaged.

The theme of “Enhancing IORAG as a Vehicle for Youth Empowerment in the Indian Ocean Region” struck a chord, emphasising the active involvement of early-career professionals like me in shaping the future.

Witnessing the seamless engagement between the IORAG and the IORA Business Forum was inspiring. This session showcased the real-world applications of academic research and highlighted the significance of bridging the gap between academia and industry.

The strategic discussions on transforming the IORAG into a “think tank” and establishing a network for early-career professionals provided deep insights into organisational development, strategic planning and the impactful intersection of academia and policy.

Additionally, understanding the IORAG’s contribution to the Indo-Pacific Outlook document demonstrated the tangible impact of academic research on shaping regional policies. The emphasis on policy briefs addressing areas of cooperation added a practical dimension to the academic discourse.

Engaging with international delegates broadened my perspective and highlighted the global reach and influence of the IORAG. Personally, this experience encouraged me to step out of my comfort zone, develop essential skills, and establish meaningful connections with experts in the field, laying a robust foundation for my future career aspirations.

Furthermore, the meeting emphasised the practical importance of academic research and international collaboration in addressing complex global challenges.

DSI–HSRC intern Sisipho Njokweni says her attendance of the meeting encouraged her to develop essential skills and establish meaningful connections with experts in the field

Yanga Malotana took part in the discussion surrounding the establishment of the Early Careers Professionals Network

Reflections by Yanga Malotana

My introduction to the IORAG-SA Chapter was an unexpected, yet wonderful, opportunity. From January to February of this year I completed a short course on the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) which focused on key historical, political, economic, security, strategic, diplomatic, cultural and environmental factors that shape the contemporary region.

The unique unit was designed and delivered via collaboration between six regional university partners from the IOR. It is rotationally delivered annually on location at an IOR partner university campus as an intensive programme involving formal teaching, engagement with policymakers and practitioners, socio-cultural immersion and professional networking.

It was through this programme that I was introduced to the work of IORA. I visited the IORA Secretariat Head Office in Mauritius and gained an enlightening insight into the priority areas and cross-cutting issues for the organisation. This was followed by a study I was required to conduct as part of the short course that focused on the data gaps and data centralisation concerns for IORA.

Shortly after the completion of the course, DIRCO hosted a celebration for IORA’s 25th anniversary. It was at this engagement that I got to address key stakeholders from the IORA region about the role that youth can play in the space of IORA. IORA faces a critical challenge of visibility, especially among the youth.

The short course I had completed was just a first step in aiding the organisation’s quest for visibility, however, much more coordination needs to occur among member states with the objective of increasing youth engagement. One of the areas in which this can occur is through the academic chapters of IORA.

My engagement with SA IORAG has been an exciting learning experience. The 8th SA IORAG meeting that I attended in April this year was a gateway into helping me understand the workings of the academic chapters, especially within the South African context. Considering that my engagement with the organisation had been limited up until that point, I did find certain moments overwhelming as I was still learning the mechanisms of the organisation. Regardless, I appreciated the fact that there was an inclusion of young faces in these meetings.

Shortly after this meeting, I was invited to be part of the South African academic delegation to the IORA High-Level Strategic Dialogue held in Mauritius in June. This was a jam-packed and busy week whereby member states, academics and businesspeople from the region met to strategise on the vision of IORA. I appreciated the member states’ recognition of the need to include youth in the IORA spaces.

Additionally, discussions surrounding climate change as a central issue were of even greater interest to me. Climate change remains as a nexus between development issues in the region and economic growth. The academic discussions during the meeting also illuminated the practical role played by academic groups in advising member states on key issues within the region.

I found it interesting that the main issue I had researched during my study course – data gaps – was given priority during these discussions. Therefore, when I attended the 28th IORAG meeting in September, discussions regarding solutions towards data centralisation did not come as a surprise. The Indian Ocean Rim Association Business Forum (IORA-BF) demonstrated the importance of the different industries and academic groups working together in data centralisation and dissemination.

A key highlight for me from the IORAG meeting was the commitment towards developing a platform for young researchers to engage directly with the IORA focus areas.

I was honoured to be part of the discussion surrounding the establishment of the Early Careers Professionals Network. This is a crucial step towards IORA opening avenues for young researchers to contribute directly to the organisation. I am even more honoured that I get to continue pushing this vision as South Africa’s first early-career professional.