Just in time for Easter, Global Utmaning wrapped up its first module in the EaP Sustainability Leadership Programme with an interactive seminar focused on discussions among Belarusian, Georgian and Ukrainian representatives on aspects of SDGs localization.
On March 25, participants from Belarus, Ukraine and Georgia gathered for the second transnational webinar to join in an interactive peer-learning session on sustainable development.
The day started with two inspirational presentations from Swedish peers and their work with local sustainable development. The first guest was Albert Edman, representing Swedish Research Institute (RISE) and Viable Cities. He provided the participants with practical examples of sustainable initiatives from the Swedish city of Umeå – a frontrunner for sustainable cities. The next speakers were Kristina Birath and Charlotte Halvardsson Kindmark, representatives from Eskilstuna Municipality. They described how Eskilstuna works with inclusive stakeholder involvement in their city planning processes and highlighted experiences of co-developing the Eskilstuna Vision2030 with different stakeholders within its municipality.
During the second part of the webinar, participants were divided into thematic interactive breakout rooms to discuss relevant areas of sustainable development. Based on previous submitted texts and input from the participants, the following discussions were organized after 3 recurring themes: 1) Sustainable Cities, 2) Awareness Raising, and 3) Multi-Stakeholder Involvement. Below follows some main points from the three discussions.
- Today’s lack of green areas in the city is considered a problem. By increasing green and blue areas, cities will be more resilient towards climate change, as well as be more attractive for tourism.
- Climate change is multi-dimensional. Apart from it being an environmental threat, it also has a negative impact for example on elders’ quality of life.
- Equal access to the city is an important factor to achieve a sustainable city. Accessibility is not only an area related to disabled people, but also to other groups of society, such as children, elders and young mothers.
- Insufficient water quality and industrial pollution are common challenges. Answers on how to cope with them are absent.
- Cities need stronger city strategies. The lack of proper organization structure within the municipality administration in combination with local public officials’s low awareness on sustainable development and SDGs is a core issue. Little attention and finance are given to sustainable development. City strategies are in need of better risk assessment. Participants believe smaller pilot projects could be the solutions for trying out sustainable solutions in practice. It is cost-efficient, and it could work as a gateway to attract larger finances and awareness for sustainable solutions in the near future. An inclusive cross-sectoral cooperative method when conducting city strategies is preferred.
- Strengthen private sector and companies’ role. It is also important to increase corporate social responsibilities. Currently, the private sector lacks knowledge on how working with sustainability issues is an asset for them. Moving forward, more cross-sectoral discussions and cooperation has to take place. The private sector’s involvement has great potential for society if used right.
- Youths play an important role. Therefore investments in quality education on sustainable development need to be implemented. Teachers must be given knowledge on the matter in order to educate children properly.
- Individual behavior patterns need to change. Today, people do not understand that they have to act responsibly. One example of this is waste management, where lack of social responsibility in combination with poor recycling infrastructure results in insufficient waste management.
- Sustainability knowledge is exclusively located. Knowledge is found among smaller societal sectors, such as NGOs and youths. A strategy on how to use their knowledge and engagement as a catalyst for other sectors of society has to be developed further. Awareness raising is best achieved from a bottom-up approach.
- Increase understanding of profits gained through sustainability investments. The business sector is busy and shows no interest in participating in sustainability work. Participants are eager to find ways to motivate the private sector. Arguments on how sustainable work is beneficial for them to need to be developed. Similar argumentation has to be addressed towards the public officials.
- Low trust in local governmental representatives. The discussion touched on the fundamental question: How to find trust in involving different stakeholders? And when trust is achieved, how do you find the trust to motivate them, to make them understand the common goal of the cooperation? The answer is ownership. After being included, a feeling of ownership and responsibility is established. The feeling of shared responsibility will create mutual trust towards each other.
- Be humble to your own knowledge. When approaching public officials, do not manifest as if you know better than them. Make clear you will not do their work for them, but instead assist them. It is important that municipalities can feel ownership of their own policies. In the end, they are the ones who are promoting policies, not the people of this program.
- Difficulties with online awareness raising. Due to the pandemic, people are tired of receiving information through digital means. Social media channels Instagram and Telegram have temporarily lost their potency. It is easier to motivate people face-to-face.
- Motivation decreases over time. It is easy to get people excited about sustainability. However, due to a lack of knowledge on how to incorporate the newly gained knowledge into practice in everyday life, people will eventually lose interest. The low governmental interest in the matter also affects motivation levels.
- Struggles with communicating the SDGs to the broader public. Knowledge is found within narrow communities and sectors. There are clear differences in reachability among different parts of society. For e.g., it is easier to raise awareness among youths than elders. While many public officials derive from the older generation, this affects awareness-raising in public offices. Strategies on how to raise awareness in different stages of peoples’ lives become central.
- Different tools have different impacts. One participant mentioned how they, through a TikTok dance, happened to raise awareness about the SDGs simply by having an SDG poster in the background. People started commenting and asking what those color boxes in the background were. This turned out to be their most successful video. They found out TikTok is a great tool for reaching the younger generation. Other participants will reevaluate their position to outlets such as TikTok. It is not a counterpart to serious businesses, it is an alternative means of communication.
- Gender roles’ impact on awareness raising methods. When raising awareness among youths, girls tend to be more open to participating in more serious discussions, whereupon boys are more practically inclined. Awareness raising initiatives therefore have to take the gender division aspect into consideration, to make it suited for different genders.
- Low SDG awareness among governmental officials. This complicates funding opportunities for sustainable initiatives. Participants seek guidance on how to raise awareness among public officials.
- Increase the quality of the educational system. Teachers are in need of quality education on sustainable development in order to raise awareness among the students. Sustainable development should be incorporated into the school curriculum.
- More creative ways of awareness raising. One participant explained how they raised awareness by analyzing popular culture and from the point of SDGs. In one campaign they discussed how the infrastructure in a particular movie could be improved. Through creativity and interactions, knowledge is easier stored. This tactic could be used more frequently.
- Unreflective awareness is a sign of progress. People can be unaware of sustainability ideas, yet act accordingly to them. Hopefully, they can impact others’ mindsets and actions. In the end, the goal is to achieve a change in discourse, regardless of the process of getting there.
- Accessibility to quality information is important.
Tilde Karlsson, Intern at Global Utmaning
Contact: Joel Ahlgren
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Photo: Egor Kunovsky on Unsplash