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A session at the Nachhaltigkeitscamp (sustainability camp) Bonn 2016 │© Severin Caspari

My experiences at the sustainability camp 2016 in Bonn, by Kole Odutola

Kole Odu­tola is a Bon­nec­tions friend, US-Nigerian poet and devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ca­tions scholar, who teaches Yoruba at the Uni­ver­sity of Florida, Gainsville. He writes about his experiences at Bonn’s first sus­tain­abilty bar camp which took place on 25 June.

 Let me start this very brief note about what I saw and what impressed me from the choice of the venue and go on to tell you about the way the meet­ing was struc­tured and maybe end with one rec­om­men­da­tion for the orga­niz­ers.

One report about the gath­er­ing states: “There were around 270 par­tic­i­pants and 30 ses­sions pre­sented dur­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity camp which took place on Fri­day, 25 June 2016.  It was a great oppor­tu­nity to share expe­ri­ences and net­work with like­wise social change agents. The audi­ence con­sisted of dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tions, back­grounds, all in pas­sion­ate dis­cus­sions, devel­op­ing new con­cepts, re-shaping old ones, shar­ing knowl­edge to deepen their per­spec­tives and explor­ing avenues to break down bar­ri­ers which can cre­ate trans­parency, com­mon solu­tions and bet­ter ways of orga­niz­ing.”

Per­sonal Notes

The sus­tain­abil­ity camp, spon­sored by the gov­ern­ment funded agency Engage­ment Global, took place in Ger­many last Fri­day and I trav­elled by the night bus from Lon­don Vic­to­ria to Bonn. The var­i­ous peo­ple I had the plea­sure of inter­act­ing with more than made up for the pain of sit­ting in one place for over 13 hours. I was even lucky to sit next to Nora, who loves Nige­ri­ans and Yoruba foods, she even likes pep­per. Her story is for another day!!

So I arrived at Base­Camp not too dazed but tired and happy that my mis­take in book­ing the bus did not hin­der my early arrival. I asked the sweet lady at the recep­tion how much it will cost to take a shower and she says with a smile “oh no we will not charge you for a shower” The recep­tion­ist pointed me to a man who in turn directed me to the cre­atively designed toi­let on one side and shower room on the other. At this point I could not fail to think about Florida or even the Lon­don Vic­to­ria sta­tion where it cost 20p just to piss (now it has been adjusted for infla­tion by 10p!!). I had a quick shower and change of clothes ready for I did not really know what…

If it is Ger­many, then be sure start­ing on time will not be up for any debate. The pro­gram started promptly with Sascha of Bonn.Digital who was one of the brains behind this event intro­duc­ing other mem­bers and spon­sors of the day’s event. Would you blame me if I expected a keynote speaker? There was none and no invit­ing any­one to a low or high table. The only down­side thus far was as expected that he spoke Ger­man but every­thing sounded Greek to me. Thanks to San­dra who sat next to me and who con­stantly fur­nished me with trans­la­tions of what she thought were impor­tant.

In any case the idea behind the meet­ing was to have as many peo­ple in a con­ducive space shar­ing ideas about what mat­ters most to them as it relates to sus­tain­abil­ity.  Ses­sions were planned on the spot and spaces and times allo­cated in a very smooth man­ner. I was lim­ited by my inabil­ity to com­mu­ni­cate in Ger­man and this meant I had very few ses­sions I could attend.

The ses­sion on com­mu­ni­cat­ing sus­tain­abil­ity drew a very size­able group of active prac­ti­tion­ers in the busi­ness of shap­ing pub­lic opin­ion with the expec­ta­tion of behav­ioral changes. The for­mat was very sim­ple, a facil­i­ta­tor intro­duced the sub­ject to us by lay­ing down what he thought would be the best way to achieve results.

There was a leaflet by Fem­net that served as a case study for us; the idea was to take a look at it and see what good points we can learn about cross-cultural com­mu­ni­ca­tion, effec­tive sto­ry­telling, man­age­ment of per­cep­tion before engag­ing the pub­lic. In short, what do the audience/recipients of the mes­sage think about the sub­ject or the sender of the mes­sage before embark­ing on a cam­paign of any sort. It must be rec­og­nized that in com­mu­ni­ca­tion there is the con­cept of com­mune, with­out cre­at­ing a com­mune or rap­port with the peo­ple there may not be effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion.  Finally we agreed that there should be means of eval­u­at­ing the entire com­mu­ni­ca­tion project in a way that can make explicit the lessons learned and errors to avoid in the future.

Unfor­tu­nately the Fem­net case study did not meet up to the expec­ta­tion of most par­tic­i­pants who spoke about the leaflet. Ms Tamara observed that some com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paigns leave her bleed­ing with­out point­ing to what can be done to rem­edy the sit­u­a­tion that called for the mes­sage cre­ated. To redeem the direc­tion the ses­sion was head­ing; there was a call to par­tic­i­pants at the ses­sion to share their expe­ri­ences of what worked and par­tic­u­larly projects that did not achieve their set goals.

A lady from Deutche Welle Acad­emy spoke about a recent cam­paign on Heroes of Free Speech. Accord­ing to her, the inten­tion was to tell suc­cess sto­ries through indi­vid­u­als and not to project their own orga­ni­za­tion. The strat­egy worked because most read­ers could relate to the pas­sion­ate sto­ries of the indi­vid­u­als fea­tured in the mate­ri­als pro­duced. Another par­tic­pant also con­tributed to the ses­sion by shar­ing her knowl­edge of work­ing in the area of com­mu­ni­ca­tion in var­i­ous coun­tries on the African con­ti­nent and now presently with refugees in Bonn. To her those who send mes­sages must be ready to walk the talk and not just ana­lyze sit­u­a­tions but be ready to take action or ask the read­ers or view­ers to take con­crete action about what is at stake. The take away for me from this ses­sion was a hand-written note that said “BarCamp-SDSGs + Sus­tain­abil­ity is more than goals — it is com­mu­nity action. Change is pos­si­ble and hap­pen­ing peo­ple are [to be encour­aged] to walk their talk.”

A cou­ple of hours after this ses­sion, it was time to hold my “I pledge some­thing” ses­sion. It was not a hugely pop­u­lar ses­sion as it attracted less than a dozen atten­dees. The main objec­tive of the ses­sion was to encour­age par­tic­i­pants to do some­thing about what they learned or fol­low up on issues brought up dur­ing the one-day meet­ing. Here below are sam­ples of what par­tic­i­pants pledged to do after the meet­ing:

(1). “I pledge to start and share a list of ‘sus­tain­able City tours.

Share: Look up & share the sus­tain­abil­ity strat­egy of Bonn City Hall.”

(2). “Share knowl­edge in open and inspir­ing atmos­phere”

(3). “I will tell my boss that he has to go to the next Nach­haltigkeitsCamp”

(4). “I pledge to fol­low up with peo­ple and invite them to share their sto­ries and help make ini­tia­tives more vis­i­ble”

(5). “I pledge to par­tic­i­pate in the move­ment Bonn in wandel=Transition Bonn [or tran­si­tion move­ment in your town]” Read more about this idea at https://www.transitionnetwork.org/

(6). “I pledge to cre­ate ‘snack’ con­tent for social media to spread aware­ness about NCBN16/sustainability”

(7). “I pledge to tell 10 of my friends about this camp and encour­age them to do some­thing sim­i­lar in their own coun­tries”

(8). I pledge to start visu­al­iz­ing top­ics and words I use for my com­mu­ni­ca­tion on sustainability—to also follow-up with peo­ple and ini­tia­tives and share their sto­ries with a wider audi­ence

I pledge to share with col­leagues at the office-to share key facts and impres­sions via social media.


This is one very cool expe­ri­ence for me. I got to watch at very close quar­ters a dif­fer­ent way of orga­niz­ing a meet­ing where peo­ple of pas­sion are gath­ered. (Watch video of the gath­er­ing.) The venue of the meet­ing spoke vol­umes and the vol­umes of ideas gath­ered can­not be quan­ti­fied. If I had only one rec­om­men­da­tion for the orga­niz­ers it would be to reserve the very last hour for rep­re­sen­ta­tives of orga­ni­za­tions to dis­cuss how each of them can col­lab­o­rate with each other on on-going projects or those in their plan­ning stages.

There is no doubt that the world still has a large army of foot sol­diers will­ing and ready to get their feet dirty in the cause of the earth. So much is hap­pen­ing at the same time in small spaces that need greater expo­sure.

Now I know that a camp could be an acronym for “Come And Meet Peo­ple”. I did meet dif­fer­ent per­sons doing won­der­ful things in their own unique ways

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