A Strong Community

Workshop in DresdenBack in their home countries, they are business executives. In Germany, they are DAAD scholarship holders from developing countries receiving higher degrees in a variety of postgraduate programmes. In November 2010 they organised a workshop titled “Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability” – six more workshops are to follow in 2011. Together they build a workshop series to commemorate the DAAD programme “Postgraduate Courses for Professionals with Relevance to Developing Countries”, which turns 25 in 2012.

Yasuní National Park in Ecuador is a slice of paradise: the tropical rain forest, a declared UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, is arguably one of the most biodiverse places on this planet. It is also home to two indigenous tribes who live in harmony with nature, far from ‘civilization’. The park also sits atop 846 million barrels of oil, representing profits of USD 7.2 billion for the developing country. Drilling for this oil would also mean releasing an estimated 407 million cubic tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The country would clearly like to avoid the exploitation of its resources.

At the same time, however, the country desperately needs this money to fuel its own energy, educational, health and social programmes. The Ecuadorian government has proposed a way out of this dilemma: To keep the oil in the ground, the international community should pays half of what the country would otherwise receive from drilling. “It’s an unusual but good idea,” says Paola Betancourt, a native Ecuadorian currently studying in Bochum, Germany. With her country’s proposal remaining relatively unpublicised, Betancourt decided to present the topic for discussion in the workshop “Climate Change and Environmental Sustainability”.

DAAD scholarship holders organised the two-day workshop event held at the Technische Universität Dresden (TU Dresden) to discuss climate change and environmental sustainability. Four representatives from ten different Masters programmes were invited to attend – from the Sustainable Energy Systems and Management programme at the University of Flensburg to Surveying and Geoinformatics at the University of Applied Sciences in Stuttgart and Regional Studies and Spatial Planning at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT).  All workshop participants are enrolled in the DAAD programme “Postgraduate Courses for Professionals with Relevance to Developing Countries”. In their home countries, they are professionals – either specialists or managers – in their respective fields.

Paola Betancourt, for example, is completing a Masters degree in Development Management. Before taking up her studies she worked in Ecuador’s Ministry for Oil and Mining. The scope of the workshop, however, was broader. “The most devastating natural disasters occur in poor countries, and their populations remain the hardest hit. This is one reason why developing countries are more sensitive to the climate change issue. This fact alone should hearten us to develop to new projects.”

The workshop format provided an ideal platform for sharing good ideas. The participants presented case studies from various regions, exploring them from different angles and scientific perspectives. The various professional backgrounds – from engineer to manager – also played a role in the presentations and discussion, each participant offering his/her unique view. “You touch upon so many fields of study when start looking at sustainability in terms of forestry, water, agriculture and tourism,” says Fred Kalanzi from Uganda. One of seven initiators of the workshop, Kalanzi is currently studying Tropical Forestry Management at the TU Dresden. Working with knowledge won during their studies, the students developed a project plan which was then accepted and supported by the DAAD.

Kalanzi values not only the technical exchange of ideas in Dresden but the personal, one-on-one exchange with the other scholarship holders. “We worked together for just two days. But we developed a strong sense of community, nonetheless.” A mailing list was set up to keep the exchange flowing and to create a structure for networking and transferring knowledge in the future.

The Dresden workshop is the first in a series of seven workshops planned for 2011, all to take place in different locations within Germany. “All of the workshops share the same motivation: To find solutions to global issues relevant to developing countries and explore the role of higher education in this process,” says Anke Stahl, Section Head at DAAD. The workshop series celebrates the upcoming 25th anniversary of the DAAD program “Postgraduate Courses for Professionals with Relevance to Developing Countries” in 2012.

Text: Alexandra Straush

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