Community Service and Engagement Directorate

Mekdes Gerawork Kassa
Assistant Prof. of Inorganic Chemistry (M.Sc.) Community Engagement Directorate Director

Higher education institutions in Ethiopia are established to carry out three key interrelated missions: teaching, research, and community service. Thus, community engagement (CE) is one of the three fundamental goals of higher education. Debre Berhan University (DBU) is one of the public higher education institutions founded in 2007. According to the most recent higher education institution differentiation policy, the university is classed as a university of applied sciences (UAS). Thus, one of the academic staff's responsibilities in higher education institutions is to provide knowledge-based community engagement. As a result, there is a great desire to see colleges take an active part in society development.

It is expected that most community service projects to be the results of prior research engagements of staff. Ultimately, research should result in either intervention to solve community problems (community service project) or innovation idea to be commercialized and disseminated to community (technology transfer project/community service project). Understood in this way, there is strong linkage between research, technology transfer and community service activities. However, the idea for community service project can come from variety of sources and it is not a must that a community service project should be preceded by research project by the same staff. Yet, the need for the community service project has to be justified by evidence from research findings of others, need assessment by the community service team or demand from the community or organizations.

Debre Berhan University's community engagement directorate office has been actively involved in providing a wide range of community engagement activities. The office intends to strengthen DBU's commitment to helping the local community by offering sustainable knowledge-based services through a community engagement approach. That incorporates the engagement of the University and the local community for mutual benefit, ensuring societal growth.

Concepts of Community Engagement (CE) & Community Services (CS)

CE is described as the collaboration of higher education institutions and their larger communities (local, regional, national, and global) for mutual benefit through the exchange of knowledge and resources. This often means using institutional resources (e.g., the knowledge and experience of students, staff, buildings, land, crop varieties, animal breeds, dairy production, etc.) to address and solve community concerns. CE approaches include community service, service learning, community-based participatory projects, consultation, training and technical support, capacity building, community-based education, and economic development. Community participation is frequently mandated by universities to meet the requirements, such as in the case of service-learning, graduation, or the requirement of academic promotion by staff members.

Community Service (CS)

CS is defined as any unpaid work performed for the benefit of the community, governmental organizations, or non-governmental organizations by academic staff and students at higher education institutions. Basically, it requires that services be moved away from conventional institutional settings and into local community settings. CS does not always imply volunteering, as it is not always done on a voluntary basis. Universities may be active in CS for a variety of reasons, such as a citizenship requirement to assist communities in need of urgent health care during epidemics and to safeguard the environment through afforestation, terracing, and so on. Thus, community service (CS) can be considered as a means of engaging the community and providing services in local settings and situations.

Community Engagement activities in DBU

DBU community engagement programs are demand-driven, problem-solving, and related to the university’s thematic areas (education quality and relevance, food security and nutrition, resource management, ecotourism, renewable energy supply, and cross-cutting concerns). As a result, the directorate focused on community-based projects to improve and ensure long-term societal development.
Most community-based projects are expected to come from past research engagements by professionals and students. Finally, research should result in either intervention to solve community problems or unique ideas that may be commercialized and distributed to the community (technology transfer initiative). To this purpose, there is a close relationship between research, technology transfer, university-industry collaboration, and community engagement activities. However, the concept for a CE project might come from a variety of sources, and it is not required that it be initiated by the same staff. As a result, the necessity for the community-based initiative must be supported by evidence from other people's research findings, need assessments, or community or organizational demand.
The directorate is also in charge of establishing knowledge-based services to strengthen university-community partnerships. For example, the university has constructed four centres for free legal aid in Showarobit, Chacha, Deber Berhan Prison, and Debre Berhan 04 Kebele. Furthermore, the university has five centres for practical community engagement activities in various agro-ecologies, namely Shewarobit, Chacha, Ankober, and Mintamer /Berhat wereda/ for various disciplines such as agriculture, health, integrated agriculture (aquaculture, fishery, and horticulture), and so on. Furthermore, the institution provides a variety of training and consultancy services through collaboration with students, staff, the community, and other partners.
The community engagement directorate's office collaborates on a variety of projects with both local and international organizations. Our local partners include public universities, industries, non-governmental organizations, schools, zonal and regional offices, research centers, and foreign organizations such as SNV, CDC, Caltiv Aid, ILIR, ICARDA, and USAID.
Since its inception (the directorate office), knowledge-based community service initiatives have benefited over 100,000 members of the community. The office collaborates with a variety of partners on projects that address community problems. The key initiatives are Menze sheep breed improvement, enhanced crop seed multiplication, dairy cow improvement, water shade management, science culture and e-learning establishment, health information, tourism resource documentation and mapping, urban agriculture, and others. Finally, Debre Berhan University attempts to solve community problems in a sustainable way by undertaking knowledge-based activities and developing partnerships.

Challenges and Prospects

There are several barriers to DBU's CE initiatives. To begin, the obstacles stem from a lack of coordination (fragmentation, duplication of efforts, insufficient comprehensiveness, poor consolidation, and inadequate staff and community publicity). Another prevalent mistake about the notion of CE is that sector organizations assume DBU to be an NGO or donor agency, despite the fact that it is a publicly supported institution. Other problems include a lack of sufficient funds, staff motivation to transfer completed research to CBP, and the viability of the cooperation. So, increased institutionalization and coordination, ongoing discourse and participation, regular community forums, and advocacy are some of the tactics and solutions that must be implemented to solve these difficulties. Furthermore, the government's policy attention and priority for CE activities, such as the draft directive research, CS, and technology transfer; prospective designation research-university status, STI policy, HE proclamation, and so on, are deemed favorable.

Extra activities

1. Research, Publication and Dissemination Directorate

2. Community engagement Directorate

3. Innovation and technology transfer Directorate

4. University industry linkage Directorate