Sustainability at its Best

DAAD alumni of the University of Flensburg met to talk about energy issues

Around 35 DAAD alumni of the University of Flensburg met a few days ago in northern Germany. Brought together by their common interest in sustainable energy management, they plan to stay in contact and collaborate on future solutions.

It was just one year ago that the Master’s degree programme in Flensburg “Energy and Environmental Management in Developing Countries” organised the successful workshop on renewable energies and sustainable business, which served as the sixth station of the Millennium Express.

“It was remarkable to see how pleased the alumni were to see each other again in Flensburg,” said Professor August Schläpfer, director of the DAAD-funded Master’s degree programme. “These kinds of meetings represent sustainability at its best.”

Ideal spot for collaboration
According to alumnus Fumi Maeda Harahap, the reunion came at a good time. “It was very important to get an update on the careers of fellow alumni, so that we can form a stable network among energy-industry leaders around the world,” she said. The 29 year-old Indonesian works today as Project Manager for the energy company E.ON Carbon Sourcing. “This kind of gathering is ideal for exploring collaboration opportunities.”

This most recent workshop consisted of 35 international graduates of the Sustainable Energy Systems and Management (SESAM) degree programme and DAAD alumni. They had two main goals for the workshop. The first was to share experiences and learn from each other about the new and successful companies in the area of sustainable energy in developing countries. The second goal was to identify strategies for staying in contact with each other over the long term.

Sustainable with few means
The discussion in Flensburg focused in particular on the question of climate change and how it will impact energy systems. What will be the consequences? How can we establish sustainable energy use technologies and practices in poorer areas? Alumni from Asia, Latin America and Africa presented examples of successful projects. They talked about challenges faced during the early conceptual and start-up phase of projects, and also discussed success factors, financing issues and their visions for the future. Schläpfer was particularly impressed with the example of the Mahatma Gandhi Institute for Rural Industrialisation in India, which has fought for years to improve the situation of the poor in rural areas. Clearly, energy plays an important role in this context. Today, for example, people in these rural areas are successfully producing textiles from organic material and using exclusively solar energy to power the process. For August Schläpfer, these are interesting developments. Schläpfer and the alumni all believe that the University of Flensburg could make important contributions to further development on this front.

Considerable time and effort required
With a practical hands-on approach, the international alumni also looked for better, more concrete ways to strengthen their network and promote worldwide collaboration. In Africa, for example, alumni have already established a central alumni organisation. In Latin America, Flensburg University alumni are currently researching the best place to create a head office. The reunion in Flensburg provided a good opportunity to discuss practical questions. What formalities need to be taken care of? What’s the best way to finance an office? It goes without saying among alumni that considerable volunteer time and effort is needed to maintain the network. But they also made it clear that some funding is necessary to keep a network established and sustainable over the long term. “They discussed the possibility of financial contributions from alumni,” reports August Schläpfer. “Especially the African contingent debated this issue at length.”

On one issue there was no need for debate. All agreed on the importance of keeping in touch, whether through workshops or the Internet. “Climate change has made the energy issue so global, that we simply must learn from the strategies of other countries,” says alumnus Jorge Lossley Jimenez, currently director at the FSA Engineering energy company in Costa Rica. “Contact to other alumni helps build and maintain a network of knowledge and experience, which will help us take on the challenge of building a sustainable energy economy.”

DAAD alumnus Dechen Dema, manager at the Bhutan Power Corporation in Thimphu, also commented on the benefits of a healthy alumni network. “For me it was important to experience how we can stay in touch with each other,” she said. “All of us around the world are wrestling with the same questions, so an ongoing dialogue and sharing of solutions should remain stimulating and productive into the future.”

Read more about the workshop in Flensburg 2011.