by Jen Strong and Quinn Runkle, National Union of Students (United Kingdom)
The application process for the prestigious UNESCO-Japan Prize on ESD seems quite some time ago, yet now that we are here at UNESCO HQ in Paris it’s starting to feel very real! For the National Union of Students (NUS) this prize has been a proud moment to recognise and reflect upon the achievements of our sustainability programmes over the past 10 years. Whilst we feel privileged to be the ones visiting the building itself and meeting the UNESCO ESD team, there is definitely a sense of a collective achievement of the students, their unions, the universities and community organisations who have participated in Green Impact and this pride is rippling through the programme.
The opportunity to get to know UNESCO, the history, the art and exhibitions scattered amongst its corridors has been fascinating, however this unique visit has most of all been invaluable for getting to know more about the breadth of ESD activities UNESCO are facilitating. The number and scope of groups and experts all working to develop our shared understanding of ESD, and making real impact on the ground is genuinely inspiring and the prospect of being part of these networks is tremendous for us and our student leaders. Meeting the other laureates was also a very special part of the visit, providing insight into how sustainability is perceived in other countries and cultures and how we can learn from one another. It really does feel like just the beginning!
As relatively local laureates (the only European winners) we were fortunate to be joined by two of our elected student officers Shakira and Melantha, and our Chief Executive Simon, who travelled from London to Paris for the award ceremony itself. Whilst the NUS has a strong reputation in sustainability engagement and campaigning, this is a relatively new area of work in our 93 year history, and the recognition provided by UNESCO and the jury members has certainly helped to shine a spot light on the creative and inspiring sustainability work within our unions. The publicity amongst our membership of 600 students’ unions has been able to raise the profile of those who are leading in areas of ESD, whilst inspiring others to consider how they could begin to engage with their students on this agenda.
The preparation of the presentation was neatly planned so that the audience was filled with delegates from the UNESCO Executive Board, and the setting of the conference room provided a unique and special place for the prize giving and photo opportunity (which we quickly tweeted and circulated to everyone at home)! We were fortunate to not only have several of the NUS team to celebrate the day, but following the presentation were able to meet with our UNESCO national commission to explore how we can work more closely in the future and find opportunities for the promotion of ESD across the UK. Making so many links such as this has really given us enthusiasm that we’ll be able to share what we do not just within the UK or the education sector, but continue to grow our programmes in different workplaces and communities with students at the heart of the process.