Four workshops were held in February 2017 in New Delhi, Nairobi, Dublin and Beirut to empower youth leaders on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). More than 130 young people in the 18-35 age group, all of whom are active leaders in sustainable development in their communities and regions in over 30 countries, attended the comprehensive capacity-building leadership training on ESD in order to become change agents.

This training was organized by UNESCO under the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD, in collaboration with members of the GAP’s Partner Network 4 (Youth Priority Action Area), as part of the network’s flagship project. The project’s overall goal is to empower 500 youth leaders from around the world to inspire and mobilize their peers to take action towards building more sustainable, just and resilient local communities. At the same time it is creating a youth-led ESD network for exchange and collaboration to spread GAP ideas to a wider community.

The two-day workshops and pre/post-workshop online sessions were designed to implement the core curriculum of the training script, developed by a Network 4 Key Partner, Earth Charter International based in Costa Rica. This script, compiled from existing training materials contributed by Network 4 Key Partners, covers essential themes for ESD Youth Leaders: Sustainable Development Goals, Systems thinking, Conflict transformation, Leadership, Empathy, Visioning, Communication, Facilitation, Networking, ESD Action and Monitoring. In addition, to engage participants in interactive discussions, each module provides power-point presentations that feature incentive anecdotes, messages, statistics from case studies and videos, which are followed by exercises.

The first regional workshop was co-organized by The Energy and Resources Institute (TERI), a GAP Key Partner, on 15 and 16 February at The Park, New Delhi. It brought together 43 youth participants mainly from all over India but also from Nepal and Hong Kong,  including university students, practitioners, policy-makers and youth entrepreneurs. At the inauguration,  Annapurna Vancheswaran, Senior Director of TERI, noted that “It is pertinent to have IT-enabled learning in the direction of ESD,” while Ram Boojh, UNESCO’s local National Programme Officer in Ecological Sciences, stressed the importance of including “more quality e-learning opportunities for youth in ESD advocacy and implementation.” Addressing the role of youth in SDG action,  Prodipto Ghosh, Distinguished Fellow at TERI, said “Besides the knowledge of 17 SDGs, it is of utmost importance that an individual’s daily activities should be inclusive of these goals. The youth should strategize their action in such a way that it can lead to ultimate long term solutions.”

A second workshop was held in Nairobi, Kenya on 16 and 17 February in partnership with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). Participants were 44 youth leaders from 13 African countries – Benin, Republic of Congo (Brazzaville), Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Rwanda, Somalia, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia – to reinforce their capacity as young and committed leaders to promote the 17 Sustainable Goals (SDGs) in their respective countries.

The training provided clarity on the foundational concepts of sustainable development thinking, and guidelines on supportive tools and structures for action. Saba Bokhari of UNESCO’s Nairobi Office, who facilitated a couple of sessions, said, “The training workshop was an opportune moment to strengthen awareness in youth leaders committed to sustainable development actions in their communities and through partnership with other stakeholders.”

As nine participants were from French-speaking countries, the group took the initiative to reserve two of the eight tables for francophone speakers, while several bilingual youth volunteers skillfully facilitated discussions and presentations both in English and French throughout the workshop.  Two “Okayama Youth” (who were among the 50 young people at UNESCO’s ESD Youth Conference in Okayama, Japan in 2014) from Nigeria and Uganda facilitated the session on Networking based on their experience of staying in contact with other Okayama Youth.

The training encourages sharing of experiences and ideas among young people from different origins through a range of topics, including how to transform a conflictual situation into an opportunity through empathy and respect; the skills required to become a ‘leader’; and how to monitor action research and projects for sustainable development. “What I enjoyed most about the workshop was the thematic topics on the grass-roots approaches at community level, such as project management and critical thinking,” said a participant from Nigeria, Seun Olanrewaju Gideon.  “When I return to Nigeria, I am going to train 60 young leaders.”

Along the same lines, the ECO-UNESCO Club of Ireland, another Key Partner, hosted 27 youth from 10 countries on 21 and 22 February in Dublin for the European region, with the support of the Irish Ministry of Education, which provided a workshop space.  In the exercise for the session on empathy, three young people formed a group so that each could share feelings about difficult past experiences, which generated a strong feeling of solidarity among the participants.  As Linnea Landmark from Sweden summed it up, “What I am taking back with me from the workshop is not only new friends and future partners, but a practical tool box that I can share to mobilize other young people back home.” Some participants also attended the post-workshop excursion to the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve on North Bull Island in Dublin Bay to learn about its significant ecological value.

Besides the three regional workshops, another partner, Organisation de Développement durable (ODDD) in Lebanon, trained 24 young entrepreneurs of five different nationalities (Lebanese, Syrian, Palestinian, Italian and Canadian) on 4 and 5 February, with the support of the UNESCO Beirut Office. “We are really excited to incorporate the training script into a workshop. I tried to create an atmosphere that was experimental, innovative and less formal,” said ODDD’s focal point Eliesh Sahyoun. A dance school was chosen as the workshop venue and some sessions were held outside in the sunshine, connecting the group to nature and the local context while animating Beirut public space.

Having completed this first phase of the worldwide flagship training programme, the newly trained youth leaders will be expected to conduct their own training workshops to get their peers involved, as part of the overall goal. They will also be invited to join the network platform to be created for ESD Youth Leaders, which will connect them to each other to increase their impact locally and internationally.  The network will liaise with Key Partners in all five GAP networks, in view of providing youth leaders with mentorship for their activities.

The flagship project is implemented with financial support from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan through the UNESCO Japanese Funds-in-Trust for ESD.

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