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From 6′ to 30,000′: grassroots activism with strategic thinking for a sustainable future

The award ceremony for the UNESCO-Japan prize on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) could definitely be considered one of SERES’ highlights for 2015. All that we believe in and work for – providing opportunities for unlikely leaders to lead the way towards a sustainable future – was culminated in the moment that SERES facilitator Abigail Quic stepped onto the stage to accept the award and address the general assembly. Abigail – SERES alumni, facilitator, ESD Ambassador, role model and now program leader for our sustainability programs – is one of these unlikely leaders. From humble beginnings in a tiny rural community on the shores of Lake Atitlán, Abigail’s leadership is sending out ripples of hope to many rural indigenous youth in communities across Guatemala. And there in UNESCO’s headquarters, barely visible above the podium, as Abigail committed to building a corps of 7,000 ESD youth leaders by 2020 and called on those gathered to be a part of that task, the ripples expanded.

banner2In the greater picture of the work that SERES does, the 2.5 days in Paris meeting with fellow laureates, UNESCO’s ESD staff and the judges for the prize was time well invested. As facilitators in a grassroots organization, we spend a lot of time down in the weeds – side-by-side with the youth that we are training, giving everything we have to help them achieve their very best and build a sustainable future together. At that 6’ level, caught up in the lives of these young leaders, it can be easy to forget the big picture. The time in Paris at UNESCO’s HQ brought us quickly up to an altitude of 30,000’ and gave us a chance to weave in the realities and experiences of the day-to-day into a high level strategic framework. This was especially insightful for Abigail, who spends less time at this altitude than Corrina Grace, SERES Executive Director. With this bridging of perspectives, we were able to connect the dots between how UNESCO’s Roadmap for achieving the Education for Sustainable Development really worked at a community level for people on the frontlines of climate change.

This interpersonal agility – the ability to change perspectives and work at different altitudes, weaving together strategy and implementation – is also one of the skills that we teach in our leadership training, and this was a great opportunity to cultivate and practice the skill!

Returning back to Guatemala was as rewarding and grounding as it always is. Having had the privilege to participate in theis spaces, our responsibility is always to bring the learning, information and experience back to our colleagues and peers. We had a wonderful opportunity for doing this just after getting back in our Advanced ESD Ambassadors Leadership training. During the 5-day program, we discussed with the ten participants details about UNESCO’s Roadmap, the goals of ESD, and where these young leaders fit into this work.

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Abigail Quic and Corrina Grace of SERES with Eiichi Kawahara, Ambassador of Japan in Guatemala

As we wrap up a busy and fruitful 2015, looking forward to an even more impactful 2016, the UNESCO visit is helping to set our aspirations for the year to come. We are reminded that here at home, both locally and regionally, we must continue to move between 6’ and 30,000’, playing back and forth between the grassroots and the high-level strategic as we weave together local actions with good leadership and stronger partnerships to build a more just, sustainable and peaceful society.

In Abigail’s words: “wherever you are, whatever you do, we invite you to join us.” See you in 2016!


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