Learning from the grassroots: “Together we are much more than two”

Impressions from the Third Bridge 47 Iberian Knowledge Exchange Partnership Meeting

By Talia Vela-Eiden

y en la calle codo a codo
somos mucho más que dos.”
(and in the street side by side
we are much more than two)
Te quiero, Mario Benedetti

It was not to be, meeting in Lisbon. However, coming together online to save the day, members of the Iberian Partnership in the Bridge 47 Project on Global Citizenship Education (GCE) sat down to learn about how to implement SDG4 in practice at the local level, drawing from the experience of the city of Valencia.

Questions and more questions

The main objective of the meeting was to build up common positions in education for social transformation at the Iberian- American level, reflecting upon the role of academia and its ethical and political links with civil society, social movements, and social transformation.

The discussions centered around three main questions:

  1. What are the elements of the context of each experience in  education for social transofmation  (EST) and global citizenship education that interfere in the processes of knowledge dialogues between university and civil society?
  2. What improvements, limits and perspectives can we observe in the political-pedagogical and methodological aspects in the different experiences of EST/GCE in relation to the processes of knowledge dialogues between university and civil society?
  3. What elements can we suggest for building a collective space of knowledge exchange in EST/GCE between university and civil society at the national and Iberian American levels in the future?

A Global Citizenship Education Project in Valencia

Professor Alejandra Boni from the Polytechnic University of Valencia (Spain) shared here experience with adapting the SDGs to the local level in Valencia through education for development. The starting assumption of her project was that local governments are the nearest actors to the citizens, as they are in daily interaction and communication with them and have an immediate influence on them. Thus, it was fundamental for her project that local governments adopted education for development as a commitment for and a pillar of their actions, based on the inputs, learnings, and contributions by their own citizens. If successful, the experience of Valencia could motivate similar processes in other cities of Europe and around the world.

In her presentation, Boni summarized the elements that enabled the dialogue of knowledges: pilot projects by grassroots organizations, for instance, where diverse actors of a community came together to talk, learn, and exchange.

We want to learn by doing!

Starting with a participatory process to learn from the citizens in the neighborhoods of Valencia, Boni found the following favorable conditions needed for success in projects and programmes that bring together higher education institutions and civil society: open-minded policy makers willing to engage with the SDGs even without much previous knowledge; community-based organizations committed to advance the cause of their neighborhoods and willing to engage with local authorities and other actors; and educational institutions (as the Polytechnic University of Valencia, local schools, citizens’ education initiatives) supporting the efforts of policy makers and local leaders.

Boni and her team started to collect inputs for a transdisciplinary process inspired by Boaventura dos Santos’ ideas of co-production of knowledge and “ecologies of knowledge”. His concept states that ecological thinking, understood as a counter-epistemology, recognizes the plurality of heterogeneous knowledge(s) and highlights the dynamic interconnections that exist between them.

The final product of the project’s first phase was the GCE Strategy of the City of Valencia with the following key principles:

  • Offering Capacity-building related to themes and methodologies for the different actors in non-formal GCE, local government civil servants, local organizations employees, other public and private actors involved. The GCE focus (connecting the local to the global from an interdependency perspective) must be present in all initiatives.
  • Incorporating a territorial perspective as form of action. Here, the project participants do not only refer to the physical elements in the neighborhood but also other spaces (of relationships, socio-cultural). The territory has also a symbolic dimension, as it has meanings for peoples and collectives who participate in the processes. Last but not least, the territory is understood from a global-local perspective that allows to approach the territory of the city of Valencia in connection with other territories in the Global South and North.
  • Coordination as needed at different levels and which affects the relationships among the different actors and also connects the legal frameworks between the city and its different administrative units, between the citizens in their neighborhoods, between the city and civil society actors participating in the strategy, and between public actors at the local and regional levels.

These principles of the strategy were validated and discussed with local authorities and organizations on the ground in the areas where the project took place (A Rovella)

The participatory process entailed the emergence of a common sense of purpose among the members of the community and a desire to share this experience with other neighborhoods in a similar situation in Valencia. The project should continue to gather inputs for the final goal, a common understanding of what sustainable development is for the city of Valencia.

With the support of regional and local authorities and the engagement of grassroots organizations, the different actors achieved a synergy of objectives brought forward to the academics and policymakers elaborating the city of Valencia GCE strategy for non-formal contexts. These objectives are reflected in the following ten strategic lines:

  1. Capacity building with actors involved in the GCE strategy
  2. Trainings in themes and methodologies related to the strategy
  3. Collecting experiences in an archive (bank)
  4. Incorporating elements of the strategy in calls for action by local authorities
  5. Calls or tenders for pilot projects inspired by the strategy
  6. Creating a space of coordination and following-up of the strategy
  7. Strengthening already existing coordination spaces
  8. Design and implementation of an evaluation and monitoring of the strategy
  9. Promoting new spaces of coordination arising from the new projects and the evaluation
  10. External communication of the strategy

This work continues with several initiatives to implement GCE projects in various contexts, formal and non-formal, with wider citizen participation in the near future.

The future of SDG initiatives at the local level

In these uncertain times, the lessons of solidarity and resilience of local communities remain, and with these the motivation to continue with initiatives in other neighborhoods in Valencia. A process of community-to-community learning led by Polytechnic University of Valencia with the citizens as protagonists should continue to strengthen neighborhoods and motivate further inputs to local SDG strategies. Further capacity building in themes and methodologies and continued coordination in the neighborhoods will complement the implementation of the strategy at the local level. Global citizenship education is not only the work of high-level politics but first and foremost takes place at the local level as demonstrated by this project and the citizens commitment to take part in it.

Prof. Boni and her team at INGENIO hope to go back to continue working together with the citizens of Valencia in the next weeks.


The members of the Sinergias ED network of Portugal and Fundación Etea of Spain, with the support of EADI, and following-up with the work of the Bridge 47 Iberian Knowledge Exchange Partnership, organized an international webinar series with recognized academics and practitioners from Portugal, Spain, Iberian America and Luso-Africa to exchange and share on education for social transformation (EST).

The series took place between the 6th and the 20th of May of 2020. Under the title “Education Synergies for Social Transformation”, during five sessions, presenters, commentators, and participants learned and debated on experiences of collaboration between higher education institutions and civil society organizations working in the fields of education for social transformation and global citizenship education.

The main thread across the five expert webinars was the possibilities of co-production of knowledge and alternatives to education for development approaches, gathering the experiences on the ground with social movements, grassroots organizations, community-based initiatives, and popular organizations. What is considered knowledge? Who is recognized as knowledgeable? What about non-formal or informal contexts? Why is it that the primacy of quantitative methods of monitoring and evaluation cannot be overcome? And, after all that, what is the role of education for social transformation and global citizenship education in changing societies in the long term.

Read an Interview with Prof Boni

Further information (in Spanish)

Website of the project “Collective Social Initiative: Knowledge and Learning for Social Transformation

Estrategia de Educación para la Ciudadanía Global en el Ámbito no Formal en la Ciudad de Valencia

Adaptando los ODS a lo Local mediante la Educación para el Desarrollo. La Experiencia de la Estrategia de la Ciudad de Valencia

The complete international webinar series organized by the Sinergias ED network of Portugal can be found here

Talia Vela-Eiden is Project Officer at EADI for the Bridge47 project

Image: with permission of  Innovación Social Colectiva on Flickr. All rights reserved.