Our Story

Can university students learn from the field to make positive change in the world? We know they can.

More than fifteen years ago, when Associate Professor Haripriya (Priya) Rangan was doing research on post-apartheid land reform and its effects on rural livelihoods in South Africa, she met many talented women and men working in communities to protect and create healthy, safe, and productive environments. Their visions for the future were bold but also grounded in the context and complex insights gained from experience of their places and regions. Priya recognised that this was the kind of knowledge and engagement that could never be fully grasped in the classroom. Students needed to learn from the experiences from such people in the field, to understand why concepts like sustainability, development, conservation, and resilience were so hard to translate meaningfully into policy and practice.

Priya and some of her South African colleagues based in Mpumalanga province discussed the idea of a field-based program that would combine critical thinking, mutual learning, contextual knowledge and reflective practice. They saw enormous benefit both for communities and university students that wanted to make positive change by creating sustainable environments and livelihoods. Together, they designed a program that would bring community-based organisations, government agencies, NGOs and university students to exchange ideas, experiences, and views in ways that would shape longer term relationships for creating positive change in the region.

The first South Africa field program took place in 2002 in Mpumalanga. Priya brought a lively group of her students from Monash University and their enthusiasm and engagement with the people they encountered was infectious. The learning approach appealed and energised everyone involved.

The students returned to their university studies, profoundly impacted by the people they had encountered and the stories they had heard. They developed a new awareness of the diverse perspectives within and between communities and how these intersected in different ways to produce unique problems of sustainability or development in the field-study region.

The community-based organisations that hosted the program were enriched by interactions with the students. Many students found creative ways to maintain relationships with them and support their projects in agriculture, health, gender empowerment and education. One of these ways was to make each subsequent student group deliver their support and messages to these organisations and ask them to bring back messages and stories to share with everyone.

The field programs ran each year until 2005, and biennially thereafter. Each time, the alumni, local communities and organisations, new students, and academics brought fresh insights and improvements to learning, extending and deepening their relationships.

In 2013, after more than a decade of successful field trips, current and former students of the programs felt that a new organisation was needed to sustain and grow this radical experience of learning for university students. They felt that this field study model was critical in helping them recognise and build a complex set of skills that had launched them on successful careers pursuing issues and fields they cared about. So, the alumni, led by a core group of students from the 2013 trip, partnered with Priya to form the social enterprise RESEED, which stands for Radical Education in Social Environmental and Entrepreneurship Development.