/ 28 June 2019

Communication Award

The Wits Communications team: Erna van Wyk
The Wits Communications team: Erna van Wyk, Deborah Minors, Refilwe Mabula, Buhle Zuma, Boniswa Khumalo, Shirona Patel, Schalk Mouton and Lauren Mulligan

There is immense power in the medium of communication. It can be used to share stories, to inspire young minds, and to engage with people across all ages and sectors. It can be used to advance society and the public good. This passion for communication across various media is what makes the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) Communications Services team stand out.

Wits is a research-intensive university and, since 2013, one of its strategic goals has been to increase research output by 30% over five years. The result has been that Wits has not only achieved this target but exceeded it, almost doubling its output over five years. This goal has been supported by the university’s commitment to advancing the public good through research, teaching activities and public engagement efforts. To further this commitment, Wits approached Wits Communication Services to develop an integrated communications strategy that used new and creative technologies across multiple platforms to convey its messaging.

The integrated strategy adopted by the team was itself built on research from Wits that was applied across media materials, research articles and audio-visual materials. The results were extraordinary. The campaign that covered the HIV liver transplant from a mother to her child made global news headlines and was handled with incredible sensitivity by the team. It resulted in national policy changes and an increased awareness of the importance of organ donation. The team also helped reveal the discovery of the world’s oldest art in the Blombos Cave — an event that even made it to The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, and that of Homo Naledi

“The Wits Communications team is committed to making research and science accessible through creative strategies and multiple platforms to reach different audiences,” says Shirona Patel, head of communications at Wits. “This can only be successful through working with scientists and their extended teams around the world to make their work visible to various publics, both locally and globally.”

The team has worked with Professor Lee Berger and his international team of scientists for more than a decade to raise awareness around the palaeosciences and the important discoveries made in this discipline. It has also launched a recent campaign that takes fossils into classrooms using virtual reality, a project undertaken in collaboration with the Perot Museum in the United States.