What does a global school look like in practice? For EarthRights, it is a space where environmental and human rights defenders connect and build community. 

Throughout November, EarthRights initiated this conversation with defenders and activists from around the world at our virtual global convening. The ensuing discussions raised even more important questions: What is the need and value of a global school? Who would be an ideal attendee of a global school? How do you balance the challenges associated with language barriers with the desire to connect across cultures? And what kind of program formats might best serve the goals of a global school?

Building Regional Connections 

To address what a global school would look like in practice, we spoke with activists and representatives from organizations in the Mekong and Amazon regions and the Democratic Republic of Congo about the simple idea of a global school. These calls opened collaboration between people from the same regions and ignited broader, global discussions. 

What will success look like in five years? In the Mekong, one participant said that “in five years, communities would be able to easily access resources on how to create change that is relevant to their specific cases.” Another noted that in five years, there would be “a network that brings people together and amplifies local voices with a clear chain for accountability and responsibility of companies to communities.”

Examining Key Issues Facing Defenders at the Global Level

Following the regional pre-sessions, the main sessions of the global convening took place virtually over three days, with experts speaking about key issues facing defenders worldwide. 

During the global convening, experts on human rights defenders spoke about security, Chinese investment, and the criminalization of human rights defenders. Speakers included Jing Jing Zhang, the founder and executive director of the Center for Transnational Environmental Accountability; Ana Maria Vidal, our EarthRights Defenders Coordinator, and a Peruvian attorney; and Nick Bull, our EarthRights Defenders Program Manager.  

The convening was a space for dialogue, information and resource-sharing, and building community with earth rights defenders from around the world. Participants said that the discussions were unique opportunities to listen to stories, hear “experience[s] from the ground,” and discuss “topics that affect the community of my people.” One participant appreciated the “time to talk about what we experience as activists,” while another participant was grateful for “the great expertise and wisdom in our group.” The conversations we started were just the beginning. 

Where to go from here?

Any global program would have to address the tension between what to focus on: shared challenges and opportunities at the global level or developing skills and outcomes that will be immediately useful to people and communities on the ground. Carefully navigating this tension is essential to creating a useful and effective global school. 

Here are some other considerations we are thinking through as we begin to lay the groundwork for the global school:

Language. While hosting the convening over Zoom meant that we were able to provide simultaneous translation from English to French and Spanish, any program that involves an in-person element that brings together people from the three regions together must be sensitive to language accessibility. Many people who participated in the global convening from the Democratic Republic of Congo mentioned that it would be best if the majority of the program could take place in French, which people said was important in terms of inclusivity and accessibility. The attendees from Latin America also expressed similar desires for learning in Spanish. 

Audience. During the convening, we discussed some possible criteria, such as experience in the field, deep roots in the community, the ability of participants to follow up afterward and apply what they learned.  

Context-specific content. In helping people understand the subject, it is important to have context-specific content for people to connect with. Even if the global school will examine issues that are global in nature, by focusing on those issues through the lens of a specific issue, people can connect to specific rather than broad or abstract concepts. 

Questions as we move forward

Participants in the global convening agreed that there was both a need for a global school and significant value in working together to make the global school a reality, with one participant calling the opportunity a “rare, special asset.” As we continue to weigh some of the tradeoffs of each model and explore new ones, we more clearly develop the vision of the global school. We also learn which elements are most important to prioritize, no matter what form the school ultimately takes. 

The 2021 Global Convening kicked off the next phase of our global education program. We’re planning more webinars, convenings, online courses, and information sessions. If you would like to hear more about the global school and our education programs as it evolves, please subscribe here

Ali Sutherland is the Global Education Programs Manager at EarthRights International.