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The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization has always acted for the youth in general and for education for development in particular, hence its unique Green Citizens project, in line with COP21 and the perspective of youth empowerment. The driving force behind the project is sustainable development; the idea is to remind various stakeholders about how important sustainable development is for our future and the best approaches to effective solutions to problems.

The project is about collecting stories from across the globe through a travelling exhibition. It will travel from Paris to New York bearing a very evocative title, UNESCO Green Citizens: Pathfinders for Change. 25 game changers will be highlighted and will share their stories. The project also involves a contest whereby two project videos will be selected and the winners will have the chance to participate at the COP21.

Horyou got to talk to some of the leaders of the project, mainly Armelle Arrou who gave us more insight on this growing and impactful initiative.

© KARAT/SIPA
© KARAT/SIPA

The project, organised for the COP21, a collaboration between UNESCO and the COP21 Climate conference held in Paris this December. UNESCO felt they had an important role to play, in support of so many educational development projects that are popping up and trending at the moment. “These types of projects are everywhere, they are carried out by individuals that are unknown but have the strength to build them from scratch and, most importantly, to include the youth in the tasks of sustainable development,” says Mrs. Arrou. Through this project UNESCO seeks to bring recognition to those working towards developing education, and to offer them a space to represent their projects and inspire each other. The project is designed to last two years but has taken larger proportions and now UNESCO believes it to be one of the best ways to support innovative and sustainable projects.

The projects flooded in from the four corners of the planet. They are well sorted with themes and categories so that as many projects as possible get the recognition they deserve. “The idea was to identify 8 projects focusing on different topics. For example, we have a traditional education category, where a project for the conservation of the knowledge of native peoples found its place,” explains Mrs. Arrou. Other themes were on water and the oceans, or on recycling, or again the deserts, to mention but a few. Under each theme, projects were identified within two categories: classic/environmental solutions and then sustainable development solutions. “In a general and broader sense, the quality of a project lies in its ability to enclose educational solutions and sustainable development,” she explains. With their presence at COP21, UNESCO Green Citizens hope to contribute to the solutions brought up for the climate, mainly regarding the oceans, sustainable development, water management, biodiversity, climate change and more. Their presence will give a voice to the youth who are innovating for a better future in concrete ways.

© CAHEN/SIPA
© CAHEN/SIPA

Mrs. Arrou underlined the momentous involvement of youth through this project: “The youth are at the same time the actors of change and the beneficiaries of that change for their own future,” she states. For UNESCO, educating the younger generation is as natural as breathing and their focus is on educating for sustainable development. “It is logical for us to support and accompany the youth of today. They are an important community to us and they carry the same values of education and development,” she emphasizes. The contest aspect of the project is a symbol of that support. By selecting two winners from the video projects to attend the COP21, UNESCO is giving them an opportunity and a unique voice. The idea is to remind young people that they are the main actors of change and development.

Earth to Paris is another project UNESCO supports. It is a meeting that will bring together 150 youths in the realm of social media and influential blogging for change. They will get the chance to meet big personalities who will inspire and support their initiatives. They will get to come face to face with real leaders and understand the important role they are playing. “The young people that want to be actors are not always accompanied by public authorities, it’s mainly non-profits and teachers that support them. However, our aim is to create an eco-system that promotes and supports them, giving them visibility and respect for their actions in many other ways,” Mrs. Arrou explains. Another aspect for these types of projects is involving business school students because they also need to be introduced to alternative economic models to the ones they are taught. Consequently, they can one day decide to build businesses that are sustainable for the future: “It is a way for this new generation to witness a different development model. At the Positive Economy Forum, they also meet with 200 company leaders who gather to challenge and be challenged in order to consider new economic models,” she added.

© BRESSION/SIPA
© BRESSION/SIPA

Today, the UNESCO Green Citizens project has expanded in an unexpected way. It started as a communications project and is now fast becoming a means of sharing knowledge: project blueprints, curriculums, case studies of projects that will be made available so that others can use them. The website will offer links to curriculums and also will be catered to what the young community needs but they are mainly for those who educate in sustainable development.

To dream at UNESCO is simply to believe that through education change is possible and that nothing can truly be built without education, first for sustainable development and secondly for issues such as poverty and more. “Everything comes form education,” Mrs. Arrou declared. As a low-budget incubator, the project aims to create a space for inspiration: “UNESCO Green Citizens is a space where change makers can share their experiences, content and inspire one another. UNESCO has a wide range of expert communities: scientists, educators, artists…etc. This space allows them to inspire each other and share their dreams,” she concluded.

“Our actions come from the fact that we are an incubator,” she continues, “we carry and accompany projects. The 8 projects we have selected will gain support from the various UNESCO branches. We are here to guide, encourage and place value on these change makers. That is our goal. That is how we act.”

Watch the UNESCO Green Citizens video here

Written by Amma Aburam

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