Camille Meyer, Senior Lecturer, University of Cape Town
"How do we build a bridge between the poor and the rich? The formal and the informal? How do we not exacerbate this divide? At UCT, we try to make South Africa a healthier and more equitable society" says Camille Meyer, Senior Lecturer in Social Innovation and Entrepreneurship at the University of Cape Town.
As Camille's original training is in the humanities, and he has a vast interest in languages, he sought out the literal meaning of the word impact. The Cambridge dictionary defines impact as "the force or action of one object hitting another" and "to have an influence on something" (Cambridge Dictionary, 2022).
As scholars, we put forward our own agency and force, which have an influence on our audience and hopefully make the recipients of that force change. This change can be small or big, and impact can be positive or negative. In this light, our impact can either exacerbate the crises we are currently facing or, to the contrary, contribute to mitigating and adapting to these crises.
For Camille research impact "is about how we change the shape [of mindsets] as the hit happens. What force do we bring into a space – a classroom, a journal – and what kind of impact it has on other people – students, readers, our community, the general public?".
Influence from the surrounding environment
Being located in South Africa influences how Camille relates to impact work. In Cape Town, the contrast is very visible between the world-class infrastructure of the waterfront and the nearby shantytowns and townships with poor infrastructure, violence, and terrible conditions of poverty.
The University of Cape Town, where Camille works, started a decolonization process initiated by the students in 2015. Students were questioning the justification for having the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the British mining magnate and ardent believer in British imperialism, on campus. This student movement had an influence on the strategy and the positioning of the university, and for example the tuition fees were under scrutiny. Camille reflects on these conflicts and asks himself the questions "What does it mean to decolonize? In terms of race and gender, in terms of curriculum, in terms of research? How do we think differently to not reproduce what has been done by the former colonizers?".
As educational and academic institutions, business schools are grounded within the larger societal context, and hence they play an important role in society, such as in strengthening institutions and enabling engagement in the market for those living in poverty. "It's our responsibility not to exacerbate the inequalities and the social, racial, and economic divide that exists in a country like South Africa, and I think this might be generalizable to other countries as well" says Camille.
Impact as a researcher
The research interests of Camille focus on the idea of ‘the commons’, which he has studied from an interdisciplinary perspective in the contexts of complementary currencies, community entrepreneurship, and international business with multinational enterprises buying communal land in developing countries.
Camille is now asking himself what the impact of these academic publications is. He finds the impact is primarily in contributing to and legitimizing a conversation on the commons and land grabbing, which is a relatively recent but important development in business studies. Research on the common good "has a limited impact on the general public, but it’s created legitimacy for these conversations to happen".
Advice for young scholars
Research strategy. Finding a research topic that is theoretically interesting and relevant, opening possibilities for interdisciplinary exploration and influencing one’s world view is important in order to remain eager to discover more. "My research strategy explores the commons in different contexts, and some opportunities in this area are still unexplored.
Scholarly community. It is important to identify a community of like-minded peers who want to promote impact in teaching, research, and community outreach. Impact themes are increasingly present in academia, and we need to support each other in the development of new ideas and perspectives to advance our professions and contribute to society.
Stay healthy. Working on environmental and social sustainability can be very depressing. Preparing your lecture on social and environmental crises, reading the latest scientific reports and engaging with the broader society can create meaningful pressures on our mental health and wellbeing. “As we educate ourselves and others on these topics, we often go through a process of mourning. It is important to take care of our mental health and develop coping mechanisms to support each other and promote solutions to the issues we are collectively facing.”
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Cambridge Dictionary. (2022). Meaning of Impact in English. Retrieved from https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/impact on Feb 12th, 2022.