Event: University leadership for the Decade of Action


As part of the 2020 International Conference on Sustainable Development, SDSN AusNZPac was thrilled to host a session with global leaders in university action on sustainable development on how universities can increase their impact on achieving the SDGs and the Decade of Action.

Speakers were:

  • Michael Crow, President, Arizona State University
  • Dawn Freshwater, Vice-Chancellor, University of Auckland
  • Kit Poon, Professor, School of Public Policy and Management, Tsinghua University
  • John Thwaites, Chair, Monash Sustainable Development Institute & SDSN AusNZPac (Moderator)


Dr Mike Crow

Dr. Michael M. Crow is an educator, knowledge enterprise architect, science and technology policy scholar and higher education leader. He became the sixteenth president of Arizona State University in July 2002 and has spearheaded ASU’s rapid and groundbreaking transformative evolution into one of the world’s best public metropolitan research universities. As a model “New American University,” ASU simultaneously demonstrates comprehensive excellence, inclusivity representative of the ethnic and socioeconomic diversity of the United States, and consequential societal impact.

Lauded as the “#1 most innovative” school in the nation by U.S. News & World Report (2016-2020), ASU is a student-centric, technology-enabled university focused on complex global challenges related to sustainability, economic competitiveness, social embeddedness, entrepreneurship and global engagement. Under Dr, Crow’s leadership, ASU has established twenty-five new transdisciplinary schools, including the School of Earth and Space Exploration, the School for the Future of Innovation in Society and the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and launched trailblazing multidisciplinary initiatives including the Biodesign Institute, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and important initiatives in the humanities and social sciences.

Professor Dawn Freshwater

Professor Dawn Freshwater has been globally recognized as a leader in world-class universities for more than a decade, whilst remaining committed to her academic discipline.

She became the University of Auckland’s first female Vice-Chancellor in March 2020, after serving as the University of Western Australia’s Vice-Chancellor and Senior Deputy Vice-Chancellor (2014-2020). Professor Freshwater was the first female Chair of the Go8 Research Intensive Universities in Australia, and Deputy Chair (2018-2020). She is currently Chair of the Partnership Board of the World University Network (WUN), sits on the Asia Pacific Rim Universities (APRU), and is a member of the Executive Committee for U21. She is also Board Director of Research Australia.

As an academic expert on mental health, Professor Freshwater has contributed to almost 200 publications, including peer-reviewed papers, research reports, books, editorials and media contributions, and she continues to supervise PhD students.

Professor Kit Poon

Kit Poon is a Professor at the School of Public Policy and Management and a Key Researcher at the Institute for the Sustainable Development Goals at Tsinghua University in China.

Before joining the Tsinghua University in 2018, Professor Poon was Undersecretary for the Environment in the Government of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. She led the formulation of sustainable development strategies for the Greater Pearl River Delta Region in the period of 2008 to 2012. She was responsible for managing a public-private partnership fund to promote clean production in the Region. At the Tsinghua University’s Institute for Sustainable Development Goals, her research specialties include environmental governance and the development of low-carbon strategies for mega cities. She teaches graduate courses on sustainable development in China and the world.

Professor John Thwaites

John Thwaites is a Professorial Fellow, Monash University, and Chair of the Monash Sustainable Development Institute and ClimateWorks Australia.

John is Chair of Melbourne Water and a Director of FairTrade Australia New Zealand. He has been Chair of the Australian Building Codes Board, President of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) and a director of the Australian Green Building Council.

John is the Chair of the National Sustainable Development Council, which has developed the Transforming Australia: SDGs Progress Report 2018. He was previously Chair of the National Sustainability Council, an independent Council appointed by the Australian Government, which produced the Sustainable Australia Report in 2013.

He is Chair of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) launched by the Secretary General of the United Nations to provide expert advice and support to the development and implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals.

In 2013, John was named as one of the 100 Global Sustainability Leaders by ABC Carbon Express. In 2015, he was awarded the “Planning Champion” award by the Planning Institute of Australia and in 2016 was awarded the Richard J Evans Award for excellence in recognition of outstanding contributions to planning in Victoria.

John Thwaites was Deputy Premier of Victoria from 1999 until his retirement in 2007. During this period he held various Ministerial portfolios including Health, Planning, Environment, Water and was Victoria’s first Minister for Climate Change. In these portfolios he was responsible for major reforms in social policy, health, environment and water.

Prior to being elected to Parliament, he was a barrister and Mayor of South Melbourne.

He has degrees in Law (Honours) and Science from Monash University. He is a Fellow Australian Institute of Company Directors.