Conferences as Learning Spaces for Advancing Knowledge and Action for the SDGs: Insights From Youth Experiences

Conferences as Learning Spaces for Advancing Knowledge and Action for the SDGs: Insights From Youth Experiences

Mona Betour El Zoghbi
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 32
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7727-0.ch005
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The international community is increasingly recognizing the importance of youth as key stakeholders in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals and Agenda 2030. Young people need to be continuously empowered and provided with opportunities to enhance their competences and networks. There are multiple capacity-building and networking events that seek to engage youth, yet the learning and impact generated in such spaces remains less understood. This chapter explores the value of youth-targeted and youth-led conferences and events centered on sustainability themes in advancing the learning experiences of youth participants. Testimonials from young people provide key insights into their engagement. The findings highlight the need for such platforms to be more empowering through focusing more directly on fostering collaborative actions amongst youth and organizations rather than merely on capacity-building on the spot; and through garnering financial or technical support for advancing youth action on the SDGs, especially at the local community level.
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In today’s era of heightened global interest in crafting development pathways that are sustainable, equitable, and seek to ‘leave no one behind,’ the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Agenda 2030 are driving dialogue and action for a more promising future. In this regard, the international community is increasingly recognizing the importance of youth's role as key stakeholders in this development process. Today's youth are living and learning in a vastly globalized world and green-oriented economy whilst facing rising global challenges to their daily lives, well-being and career prospects. Questions are increasingly being raised regarding the extent to which current education and learning experiences are equipping young people, who constitute key stakeholders, decision-makers and leaders of future society, with the skills to efficiently manage such contemporary and long-term complexities. Current literature is often focused on expert reviews and analysis of the potentials of formal learning spaces such as schools and universities for enhancing students' knowledge and skills in leading the transition towards a more sustainable future, or for integrating education for sustainability into academic curricula (Sterling, Glasser, Rieckmann, & Warwick, 2017). A growing body of research is also exploring informal and non-formal learning spaces and the importance of sharing knowledge and action on environmental issues through social ventures, media projects and national and international conferences and forums (Van Poeck., Læssøe, & Block, 2017; Wals, Mochizuki, & Leicht, 2017). Less insight is provided into the experiences, perspectives and priorities of youth themselves as collaborators, participants or attendees at conferences and events around the SDGs and sustainability pathways. Scholars are increasingly emphasizing the importance of informal educational spaces and social learning and networking platforms for enhancing understanding of sustainable development and promoting collective and collaborative action on sustainability (Dlouha, Barton, Janouskova, & Dlouhy, 2013; Wals; 2010).

This chapter seeks to highlight the educational value for youth of informal learning and networking spaces on sustainability issues, such as conferences, youth forums and regional and international networking and policy consultation events. The chapter reports on the insights of diverse young people who have participated in national and international sustainability events and who have shared their perspectives and experiences for this study on the advantages and drawbacks of their participation at these events. The chapter therefore discusses the strengths and weaknesses of such platforms as learning spaces on sustainability issues through providing testimonials from youth participants in various national and international conferences and forums that the author has attended.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Efficacy: Perceived self-efficacy involves people’s belief in their ability to make a change or to succeed in a certain endeavour. It enhances their feelings as agents of change who are able to contribute to positive social and political change.

Decade of Education For Sustainable Development: The Decade (2005-2014) seeks to mobilize educational resources and engage all stakeholders in critical, holistic and fore-sighted education and learning, and to encourage multi-stakeholder and inter-cultural dialogue and collaboration for promoting the pathway towards positive and sustainable societal change. UNESCO is the lead agency for the Decade.

Envisioning: The envisioning technique, often applied within sustainability research, aims to engage people in a profound, critical and future-oriented thinking over their desired futures and their preferred pathways to sustainability. A critical aspect of envisioning is its ability to empower people by helping them to see themselves as owners of their visions and as vital contributors and responsible stakeholders to the process of change.

Agency: Agency is the ability and power that people have to undertake and impact positive changes in their personal lives and wider socio-political contexts.

Empowerment: Youth empowerment mainly relates to young people's willingness as well as capacity to take action. It is the ability of youth to increase their participation in decisions regarding their own lives as well as wider community issues that are of importance or concern to them.

Engagement: Youth's meaningful engagement transcends the general notion of active participation or involvement to entail a deeper level of reflection, exploration, valuing, and understanding; and a sense of perceived power and control over issues that affect their future.

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