The youth network No Excuse Slovenia galvanizes young activists aged between 15 and 19 to learn new life skills and boost their knowledge on public health in relation to sustainable development.
The network, which uses non-formal education and peer activities to deliver training, lectures and action projects, was nominated for the 2019 UNESCO-Japan Prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), which rewards outstanding projects as of UNESCO's wider work on ESD.
Co-founder Jan Peloza said: “No Excuse is really filling a gap. As far as schools go, education for sustainable development is often seen as an add-on rather than an integral part of a holistic curriculum. Our organization is the only player in the Slovenian youth sector dealing with ESD. We aim to have sustainable development incorporated in all subjects and in all government policies.
“We chose to focus on health because the environment directly impacts health and wellbeing and using this approach, we were able to attract more government support.”
President Nassim Djaba explains how the programme works.
“We go to high schools all around the country to present our activities. Those students who appear truly interested are then invited to an interview to explore further if their values coincide with ours. If selected they form a local group to organize sustainable development activities in the community,” he said. “We focus less on what they already know and more on their commitment and positivity.”
Teaching youth how to address challenges
The unique feature of the programme is that it imparts training through 1000 hours of workshops, training, lectures and projects. It works at three levels with the local level teaching students project management to address challenges in their communities.
A good example of this work is a project called Sustainaware, which began in a local community to educate young people about the phenomena of sustainable development and 'greenwashing' (misleading practices by different industries to appear greener than they actually are). As a result of its success, it attracted international funders developing from a network to an international youth partnership between 2014 and 2017.
At the second level, activists connect to form advocacy and research groups related to sustainability and health using evidence-based knowledge. A third level uses peer education to promote critical thinking on unethical and unsustainable industrial practices. All activities may be connected to public health but do not have to be.
The network, which started in 2006 and took its name from the UN slogan 'No Excuse 2015' used to promote the Millennium Development Goals, now aligns itself closely with the aims and targets of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“We focus not just on growing the network but on the wellbeing of young people. We impart soft skills like assertiveness, how to destress and how to handle sensation-seeking in relation to drugs, vaping, alcohol or social media. We use non-formal education methods to make young people feel included in their own community and that their opinion matters. When young people feel valued, they are naturally happier and more motivated. They feel more in control over their own destiny,” said Jan.
Mobilizing networks to find solutions
The programme shares what is learned by organizing large youth exchanges, seminars, trainings and conferences.
“We try to connect people from many backgrounds and in many regions of Europe as well as organizing local projects,” said Nassim. “We focus on three words: Criticize, Suggest and Act. While it is easy to criticize, we encourage young people to go further and come up with solutions to tackle the problems they have identified. The hardest stage is to move to action, but we seem to be successful, since we reached over 100,000 young people in Slovenian schools on our topics.”
The programme focuses on informal learning in order to create an environment where young people can experiment.
“It is very important that we allow young people to make mistakes, fail better and then continue rather than holding them to a high institutional standard. We want to harness the rebellious nature of young people that has such potential and use it in a positive way,” said Jan. “We are not interested in fuelling rebellion but in using the momentum of youth that already exists to create change.”
For the future, with the movement already growing in Europe via youth exchanges and seminars, there are plans to create an international network, called No Excuse International.
Education for Sustainable Development empowers people with the knowledge, skills, attitudes, values and behaviour needed to think and act for a sustainable future. It is also about including sustainable development issues, such as climate change and biodiversity into teaching and learning. UNESCO promotes and implements ESD at all levels and in all social contexts.