The ESD multilayered partnership – Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development (RCE)

2014 concludes the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Just a glance back in time proves significant progress has been made since its beginning in 2005. The strides made are of course the fruits of the labor by individual organizations such as educational institutions, local governments and NPOs. What supported the work by these organizations behind the scenes was the platform provided for collaboration.

The RCE (Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development) is a scheme that supports the establishment of networks at a local level to promote the education and training required for the development of a sustainable society. Here we introduce its function from the partners’ point of view.

What is RCE?

The RCE was established in 2005 by the United Nations University with the support of the Japanese government. It aspires to achieve the goals of the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development – to deliver education for sustainable development (ESD) to local and regional communities by creating a Global Learning Space. RCE translates its global objectives into the context of the local communities in which they operate. Initially the scheme started with just 7 RCEs. Over time the numbers grew and now as of August 2013, there are 117 acknowledged RCEs worldwide. In Japan there are 6 acknowledged RCEs covering the Greater Sendai Region, Yokohama, Chubu, Hyogo, Kobe, Okayama and Kita-Kyushu.

Each RCE is formed of local multi-stakeholders and belongs to its continental network as well as the global network. Furthermore, a RCE will also belong to a network of a specific theme area such as biodiversity, climate change, sustainable consumption and production or youth and ESD. Through these networks, the RCEs provide a space for research and development as well as opportunities for capacity building without limit to geography.

The local multi-stakeholder networks

The local networks are formed by a diverse set of actors including educational institutions of all levels from elementary to higher education, researchers as well as local and national governments, corporations, cultural institutions (museums/ art galleries), NGOs, the youth and aboriginal communities. The local networks aim to create a local knowledge base, increase quality of ESD, promote ESD and train trainers. It may seem obvious that a multi-stakeholders collaboration is required in the promotion of ESD. Until the RCE scheme was set in place, however, sufficient collaboration could not be found even within a single sector, such as between schools, let alone in a multi-stakeholder capacity and the ability to share issues and undertakings suffered as a result. The local network enables actors to come together as equals to discuss the issues and work together toward a common goal.

The continental networks

Individual RCEs come together with neighboring countries and regions with similar geographical or social characteristics and issues to form the continental network. The continental networks include North America/Latin America, Europe, Middle East/Africa and the Asia Pacific region. Holding region-specific meetings to exchange information or working together to secure funding are a couple examples of the collaboration seen in the continental networks. It allows stakeholders to find approaches or breakthroughs when facing region-specific issues or systems. For example, in the Africa region, government officials exchanged information on improving the legislation for promoting environmental education and it directly resulted in a change in the legislation in some countries.

The global network

The global network is comprised of 117 acknowledged RCEs. A global meeting is held once a year and a portal is used to share best practice daily. The global meeting serves as a space to discuss critical issues in a continent or a specific theme area as well as RCE strategy-related issues such as RCE governance and collaboration between RCEs, and RCE management-related issues such as securing funding and enhancing communication.

The networks of specific theme areas

The strength of the RCE network is that regional groups, which under normal circumstances would have no reason to collaborate, come together under the shared issue of sustainability. Together, they work creatively toward building a better world. Specific theme areas include climate change, traditional knowledge and biodiversity, sustainable consumption and production, disaster risk mitigation and education for disaster prevention, as well as youth and ESD. Locally active RCEs connect globally with their fellow networks of a specific theme area and have a hand in supporting UN institutions’ collaboration and international cooperation in the promotion of ESD.

Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development
The above concludes the introduction to the multilayered network.
Not we move onto 2 examples of the operational policies which also support the development of partnerships.

Emphasis is placed on diversity

RCE was aware of the importance of diversity from its establishment, even before its necessity becomes a commonly acknowledged fact in society and the workplace. In addition to encouraging the attendance by diverse actors, the RCE has incorporated different programs and expected degree of progress to match the needs of and to help localize and create realistic schemes for individual countries and regions. These undertakings too have helped the development of the RCE.

Individual resources are maximized

Although this is a global program, the Global RCE Service Centre is run by only 10 staff. One reason the operations stay afloat is the policy to build capacity and maximize on existing resources. While it is important to create something new, given the limited resources, the RSD also places emphasis on maximizing on the motivation, know-how and network within the ESD members in its promotion.

Although both policies sound simple, the only reason it is successful is because a partnership is in place and there is a trusting relationship between the parties involved.