Long-term North-South partnership between Lahti and Rustenburg has expanded over the years
City of Lahti has been part of the North South Local Government Co-operation program since 2002. The program is coordinated by the Association of Finnish Local and Regional Authorities and funded by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Through the program, Lahti and its African partner municipalities have received funding for development activities in the field of environmental administration. The co-operation is based on colleague-to-colleague interaction and mutual learning. Best practices are shared through peer reviews, trainings, exchange visits and benchmarking while research pilots and studies are conducted to find new solutions for identified challenges. From September 2014 onwards, the co-operation is being coordinated from Lahti University of Applied Sciences.
Lahti has currently local government partners in South Africa and Ghana. In South Africa, Lahti is co-operating with Rustenburg and Madibeng Local Municipalities that are situated approximately 100 kilometers from Johannesburg in North West Province. The area known as a hub of tourism and mining industry, especially platinum mining. In Ghana, Lahti has partnered with the capital of Volta Region, Ho Municipality. The economy of Ho is highly dependent on small-scale agriculture.
Finding the niches for Finnish environmental technology solutions in the African markets
In 2013–2014, the co-operation between Lahti, Rustenburg, Madibeng and Ho has focused on the development of municipal solid waste management and sanitation coverage. Through the support of the co-operation, South African partners have piloted source separation operations and capacitated community-based groups to start recycling and material recovery ventures. In Ghana, feasibility of dry toilet technology and composting have been studied in course of school and community pilots.
For Lahti University of Applied Sciences (LUAS), the project provides valuable insight and contacts to the progressing African environmental technology markets. Understanding the stakeholders, challenges, needs and priorities of the South African and Ghanaian waste and water sectors makes it possible to evaluate the potential of Finnish environmental technology solutions for these markets. The environmental engineering degree program of LUAS has been involved in the planning and implementation of research pilots of the co-operation, e.g. through course works, final theses and student work placement. This R&D approach will be strengthened from 2015 when LUAS is coordinating the co-operation in Lahti.
International experience for students through work and studies in Africa
Annually 2–6 environmental engineering students have been given the opportunity to work in the environmental administration of the African partner municipalities for 3 months. The work placements have supported the implementation and documentation of the research pilots. In Ghana, students have taken part in the activities of the dry toilet pilot, such as organizing the training events for users and builders of dry toilets as well as monitoring the field trials of end products. In South Africa, for example the design of a public waste education center and waste sorting center have been supported with student work placement.
Work placement in Africa is a valuable opportunity to improve language, networking and project management skills. Students get exposed to the whole cycle of project management while taking part in the planning, budgeting, implementation, monitoring, reporting and evaluation of the activities. Successful implementation of activities requires collaboration with multiple stakeholders. For example, when organizing field trials with urine fertilizer, it is necessary to coordinate the activities between the environmental health officials, agricultural extension officials, local researchers, farmers and dry toilet owners. A part from technical know-how, the work placement offers a good opportunity to develop presentation, negotiation and management skills.
Through the local government co-operation, Lahti University of Applied Sciences has also created network in the field of higher education to South Africa. This interaction has been extended to other countries in Southern Africa. In 2013-2015, LAMK is coordinating a North-South-South Higher Education project, Fanhees 3, with partners from North-West University (South Africa), University of Botswana (Botswana), Helsinki Metropolia University of Applied Sciences, Polytechnic of Namibia (Namibia), HAMK University of Applied Sciences. This project supports teacher and student mobility and enables few environmental engineering students from Lahti to take part in student exchange annually.
Anna Aalto, Project Manager, Lahti University of Applied Sciences, firstname.lastname@example.org