Blogpost | 24 May 2018

Exchange projects as a chance for transformation

Blog post by Marie Heitfeld, May 2018

In 2017, Germanwatch e.V. initiated an international online training course and exchange project on Climate Action for 20 young professionals from India, Tanzania and Germany – the “Empowerment for Climate Leadership”-program (ECL). With this program, the Germanwatch team for Education for Sustainable Development offers a new educational format and represents a pilot project under the umbrella of the African-German Youth Initiative (AGYI) of the African Union Commission (AUC) and the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).

Crucial exchanges on Climate Action (SDG13)

It is widely agreed that exchange programs give engaged youth and young professionals the opportunity to experience different perspectives on ways of living, history or different societal and political realities. The potential of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) in youth exchange programs however, received little attention for quite a while.

Certainly, better mutual understanding and more cooperation are still needed between countries from the global South and the global North to work together on the current challenges of climate change mitigation and adaptation, increasing food insecurities, inequalities, exploitative trade agreements or conflicts.

As Sixbert Mwanga, director of CAN Tanzania put it, youth exchange programs can offer a space for exchange on these topics before young people become representatives of interests of others. This way, youth programs offer the chance to build the foundation for a more genuine cooperation of future decision makers from different countries.

Therefore, many programs – including ECL – now put the discussion of climate protection, climate policy and sustainable development on their agenda. Education for sustainable development needs to take place here.

Mutual learning in exchange programs

Ideally, youth exchange programs enhance not only mutual and intercultural understanding, or an living example of global citizenship education but also a mutual learning. Learning can happen at least at two different levels:

On the personal level, an exchange can be a life-changing experience that shapes and empowers young people to take their responsibility and engage in action for a sustainable development and the transformation of our societies.

On the technical level, an exchange on different strategies of implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – from renewable energies over sustainable cities to ESD itself – broadens the perceived range of opportunities for action.

To be more than just an inspiration but to equip participants with important tools for change, exchange projects in the context of the Agenda 2030 – like the ECL-program– should also include skills training, for example in advocacy work.

A chance for transformation?

With the UNFCCC Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the Agenda 2030/SDGs we are now in an important phase of national and subnational implementation. What can exchange programs contribute to the development of carbon-free, closed resource cycle lifestyles and economies? How are exchange programs reformed by the Agenda 2030 stating that especially countries in the global North need a fast transformation towards more sustainable societies? As Stefan Rostock, team leader for Education for Sustainable Development at Germanwatch put it, exchange programs offer a forum for constructively analysing non-sustainable behaviour patterns and political structures in our own and the partner countries. Moreover, they support the discussion of solutions and the reflection upon the different responsibilities and starting positions – as for example the chance that many countries in the global South are not bound in an outdated fossil-infrastructure than countries in the global North.

The ECL-program at Germanwatch is accompanied by an international advisory board with members from India (CEE), South Africa (WESSA), Tanzania (CAN Tanzania) and Germany ( When the visionaries met in Bonn in May 2018, they emphasized that ESD exchange programs are especially relevant for a transformation of our societies through bottom-up processes. The transformation that our societies need – including political as well as individual behaviour changes – is largely dependent on the local and international commitment of young people.

Exchange programs can support a mutual monitoring by pointing out political incoherencies and empower participants to speak up against these. Finally, they can bring together various stakeholders to support understanding and dialogue between civil society and governments – on a local as well as on an international level.

Read more about the Empowerment for Climate Leadership-project organized by Germanwatch e.V. and CAN Tanzania here.

Find out more about the African-German Youth Initiative here.