In Oyropa

Die Oya, Zeitschrift für gesellschaftliche Alternativen (“anders leben, anders denken”), hat eine Ausgabe Europa gewidmet. Das ist schön, denn den Blick zu weiten und nach Rumänien, Spanien oder Italien zu radikalen Experimenten und gesellschaftlichen Dynamiken zu blicken tut gut. “Oyropa” schaut nicht speziell nach Brüssel zum Institutionen-Europa, aber fehlen darf das dennoch nicht, und so wurde ich vor ein paar Monaten als Gesprächspartner für die Europa-Ausgabe der Oya angefragt. Daraus ist ein hübsches Portrait entstanden:

Danke Oya, und viel Spaß beim lesen.

Euer “Lobbyist für den Wandel” ;-)

Injustice breeds terror

I wrote this article after the attack in the London tube 10 years ago, when I was editor with the pan-European online journal Unfortunately, its reasoning is still up to date…

Herbert Kitchener (wikipedia)

Poverty and injustice, the product of over 500 years of Western colonial politics, are the fertile soil in which terrorism grows. Decisions about development aid at the G8 summit are by no means enough. A new beginning is what international relations need.

On 2 September 1898, British colonial troops, led by General Kitchner, crushed the local Muslim forces in the Battle of Omdurman. 50,000 warriors armed with machetes and spears found themselves facing 8,000 colonial soldiers equipped with machine guns and modern artillery. It was “the most signal triumph ever gained by the arms of science over barbarians. Within the space of five hours the strongest and best-armed savage army yet arrayed against a modern European Power had been destroyed and dispersed”, wrote a young Winston Churchill about the battle, in which10,000 Sudanese died under the hail of British bullets and only 48 Brits lost their lives.

From Caesar to Bush
Today London laments its victims of the terror attacks of 7 July. At the same time, the families of the 25,000 to 100,000 civilian casualties of the war in Iraq and ensuing occupation lament theirs. Neither tragedy is any less grave than the other. But so as to understand the logic of the terrorists and to get to the root cause of terrorism, the developments and hallmarks of today’s power structures which the terrorists oppose must be analysed. The “western model”, which once again feels under attack, has been aggressively expanding all over the world for more than 500 years. To begin with the West used force to accomplish its political aims. Nowadays it achieves these through the use of economic and institutional pressure, although superior military technology is a favourite back-up plan, as in the case of Iraq. The balance of the world economy, the international political community and the dominant media are all “western”. A gigantic solidarity machine is set in motion for every kidnapped European in Iraq, whilst non-western victims are left to fend for themselves – unless they happen to be the translator of the French hostage, Florence Aubenas.

The ignorance surrounding the suffering and worries of non-westerners, of the AIDS epidemic and the bloody conflict in the Congo, about Europe’s support for dictators when convenient and its refusal to provide shelter to refugees, all lead to a collective and cumulative feeling of worthlessness among the marginalised. Divide and conquer – the western approach to power since the times of Julius Caesar – has thus far hindered the establishment of a notable degree of solidarity among the repressed. Radical groups have for the first time been able to capitalise on these feelings on a global level within the coherent and international system of the Islamic religion. The people who attach themselves to Al Qaeda or other groups sympathetic to their cause hope to regain their honour and feeling of self-worth, even if they must kill for this. After all, the others kill too. Bin Laden is celebrated as a hero in many parts of the world – and not just in Islamic parts. He embodies the resistance to the system which secures power and influence for a very small part of mankind – the so-called West.

Bad at heart
Contrary to what the men gathered at Gleneagles would like to have us believe, this confrontation does not stem from disagreements about values such as human rights, freedom or democracy. This confrontation is about power. In the aftermath of the attacks on London, George Bush declared that the contrast between those who try to protect human rights and freedom and those who kill and are bad at heart could not be greater. But following Hiroshima, Vietnam, Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, we have learnt that the categories of good and evil are entirely relative. The fact is that only a new beginning in the field of international relations can dry out the mire which is the fertile soil of terrorism. Tony Blair’s initiative to increase development aid spending by 50 billion each year until 2010, as approved at Gleneagles, may be a start but is by no means enough. The very nature of the G8 summit, at which the most powerful men in the world hide behind barbed wire to decide the fate of millions, is a further perpetuation of injustice. And whilst those pulling the strings remain detached from events and above criticism, innocent civilians will continue to be the victims. In London just as in Iraq.

Published 11/07/2005

This text was originally written in German language and was published in English, French, Italian, Spanish and Catalan. English translation by Fiona Wollensack.

Another World is happening: Towards a Great Transition through a Global Citizens Movement

“We’ve become something of a bacterial species, and our fingerprints are everywhere. The planet is dying, and there is a need to reform or rethink or out-think the ways we’ve been thinking about the world and our relations to it. Today’s most pressing imperative is to turn to each other.”  –  Bayo Akomolafe

These are the opening words of my master dissertation research. They are not mine, but pronounced by my friend and source of inspiration Adebayo “Bayo” Akomolafe, in one of the twelve interviews I did for this study. This sentence sums up my thinking and findings in a poetic and beautiful way: We need to overcome the “modernity” paradigms, and in order to so, we need to change our “mental infrastructures” and connect as a human movement to build another world.

I’m thankful for the encounters and exchanges I had through this research process, in particular with the twelve interviewees.

You can download the full dissertation (which still awaits assessment) here:


And here is the abstract:

“This dissertation examines the potential and character of a global citizens movement to address a paradigm shift towards a just and sustainable planetary future, and the role development education can play in facilitating such a process. It argues that a “great transition” is necessary to move beyond the current anthropocentric and unsustainable growth, market, profit and competition based system, resulting in exploitation of people and planet. As planetary democratic mechanisms to address global challenges don’t exist, global civil society is the only force that can address such a profound change process. However, the NGO sector became largely co-opted by the system it claims to change. Relinking institutionalised civil society, in particular big NGOs, with social mobilisations and grassroots experimentation is crucial to build systems of influence that can address systemic change. A multi-layered, non-hierarchical and inclusive global citizens movement should move from a focus on policy change to nourishing radical alternatives and addressing values, discourse and culture that constitute the understanding of what is possible.

This research builds on 12 interviews with local movement organisers, international NGO leaders, global activists and development educators from 6 continents on the character, potential and challenges of a global citizens movement. Three essential elements for the advancement of a global citizens movement are identified: The acknowledgment of the need for a great transition, a changing role and practice of NGOs, and a focus on cultural transformation. It concludes that development education can play a crucial role in facilitating the re-appropriation of political change by citizens if focused on values, emancipation and social transformation. Through such a shift in concept and practice, and indeed the re-linking with its radical roots, development education can move from the margins to the centre of the development discourse and become a central force for transformational change.”

From instruction to emancipation: Power and child rights in schooling

In the highly interesting  module “Learning To Live Together: Children’s Rights, Citizenship And Identities” proposed by Hugh Starkey back in autumn 2012, I wrote three little essays on child rights, power and schooling, which I would like to share with anyone interested:

– “Implementing a children’s right approach in a school” undertakes the adventure to apply the Istanbul Principles and Vanessa Andreotti’s HEADS UP checklist to formal education – in less than 2000 words :-):
Troll T (2012) Implementing a children’s rights approach in a school

– “Participation as lynchpin of a rights based approach to education” outlines illustrates three, more or less emancipatory types of participation practice in schools with examples:
Troll T (2013) Participation as lynchpin of a rights based approach to education

– “The question of power as a barrier to child centered learning” again refers to the HEADS UP checklist, this time as a tool to analyse and reflect on power relations:
Troll T (2013) The question of power as a barrier to child centered learning

Enjoy the reading, and don’t hesitate to comment!

DEEEP and the Istanbul Principles

The Journey from IstanbulIn 2011, international civil society adopted the “Istanbul Principles on CSO Development Effectiveness“, as a reaction to the donor driven aid effectiveness agenda. For DEEEP, these principles “propose a radical reconsideration of NGO practices in order to stimulate a system shift towards a more just and sustainable world. This is quite a challenge for NGOs, busy with daily policy business, trapped in topical silos and steered by the aspiration of short term wins, when the inclusion of our momentary buzz words in an official policy paper becomes the success story of the year. Getting out of the business as usual and starting to address the essence of the Principles in our own organisational practice, such as moving from charity to justice, addressing systemic change or cross- sectoral partnerships, real participation and transparency is a major strategic shift for most CSOs, which still requires a lot of learning and questioning.

This quote is an extract from the recent publication “The Journey from Istanbul – Evidences on the implementation of the CSO DE Principles” by the global CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness.

We are proud that DEEEP has been chosen as one of 19 case studies from all over the world. Under the title “DEEEP: CONCORD Europe’s transformative action experiment on citizen’s emancipation for global justice” (page 43) you can read how we try to address each of the 8 principles. Tell us what you think!


DEEEP – a transformational action experiment

DEEEP4There was not much activity on this blog in the last, well, 11 months – my apologies to the faithful reader who comes here regularly (if you exist). This is because the DEEEP project took most of my energy since the beginning of the year. DEEEP? Read more about it in this short article, which was originally published in the Smart CSOs Blog on Theory and Practice. Enjoy – and come back! You won’t have to wait for another 11 months for updates – promise.

DEEEP4 – Advancing towards system change in in the development sector

The Smart CSOs Lab proposes a radical reconsideration of NGO practices in order to stimulate a system shift towards a more just and sustainable world. This is quite a challenge for NGOs, busy with daily policy business, trapped in topical silos and steered by the aspiration of short term wins, when the inclusion of our momentary buzz words in an official policy paper becomes the success story of the year.

Getting out of the business as usual and starting to pull the “key leverage points” such as systems thinking, cultural transformation and building a global movement is a major strategic shift for most CSOs. At CONCORD, the European Development NGO Confederation, the DEEEP4 Project was recently set up as an action experiment to try out some of the Smart CSOs thinking in practice, and hopefully to scale up its experience in the wider confederation.

DEEEP is an EC-funded, project-based support mechanism created by the confederation’s development education working group (the DARE Forum) 10 years ago. When DEEEP entered its fourth project phase, running from 2013 to 2015, many elements of Smart CSOs thinking where already considered during the drafting process, and more concretely implemented in the first months of the project, when the team and strategic orientation was set up. With our team of six and a range of stakeholders from CONCORD, we introduced Smart CSOs thinking in a two-days “DEEEP retreat”, the project’s official kick-off.

As result, the project’s stakeholders resolutely positioned DEEEP as a tool for social transformation: DEEEP’s vision is “systemic change through engaged global citizens”, and its mission “a renewed civil society based on values and citizen participation” – an ambition which goes far beyond previous project phases and the objectives of most development NGOs. The participatory vision process led to broad ownership of this radical repositioning of DEEEP, from a support mechanism for one CONCORD working group to a confederation-wide recognized tool to bring upon meaningful transformation within civil society and ultimately in the economic and political system. All work areas of DEEEP have integrated this transformative ambition in their respective strategies (for example to develop a “new advocacy”, to explore system change approaches through the research portfolio or to implement a resolutely emancipatory practice in the capacity development field).

The implementation of this vision results in activities which go far beyond a traditional charity approach to development education (reinforcing public support for development aid), and privileges actions with a more system oriented, cross-sectoral and long term citizen engagement with social change. For example, DEEEP facilitated the participation of CONCORD in the first ever European Citizens Summit, which united 230 participants from all sectors of civil society to explore a new vision and narrative for Europe, based on shared values such as solidarity and justice – a quite unusual business for a confederation whose main scope remains institutional policy work. A global conference in Johannesburg in November will explore ways to “Building a global citizens movement”.

Beyond the level of concrete activities, the positioning of DEEEP as a “transformational action experiment” results in a strong value base, which is shared by the team and the management, and which is the base line for all activities and decisions, also beyond the core business of development education. For example, ambitious internal “green policies” are being developed, and the HR policies follow a logic of empowerment rather then traditional line management. Instead of solely contracting a final project evaluation, a “critical friend” will accompany the project permanently to facilitate an emancipatory learning process. Regular team meetings and retreats allow staff to co-shape the projects development, and by applying a systems thinking approach, we try to critically assess all organizational practices and implement innovative and sustainable solutions regarding procurement, climate impact, staff policies, fundraising etc. The project tries to continuously cultivate seeds of new CSO practice through streamlined reflection and learning loops, which are rooted in the values and vision of truly emancipatory change.
Maybe the most positive experience of setting up DEEEP as transformatory action experiment is that interest and feedback from internal and external stakeholders is overwhelmingly positive: It seems that people are eager to see that things can be done differently by thinking bold on the vision and learning humbly at the same time. We would be happy to share our learning and learn from you, so please get in touch!


By Tobias Troll, DEEEP project manager ( – 15 July 2013

Getting it right – towards a rights based approach to education

Children are citizens, with specific characteristics and a potential to contribute to the collective like any other social group. This is not the credo of an obscure child-power movement, but international law of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), which has been ratified by all UN member states but USA and Somalia. I learned this in my Development Education Master at the IOE/University of London, where I’m following Hugh Starkey’s module on citizenship, children’s rights and identities in this autumn term (see short youtube clip above).

If applied consequently, the effects of the Child Rights Convention on education would be massive: Schooling would need to put the child’s rights at the very centre of learning, and not presumed needs, which are often the needs of the institution or the economy. The essay below examines how the right to education, rights in education and rights through education can be applied in schools. The article concludes:

A qualitative shift towards a truly human rights based education has to be based on a broad public debate. This would include a shift in the collective mindset of seeing schools mainly as training camps for labour markets and social requirements towards a concept of social orchards stimulating the flourishing of varieties of humans which all play crucial roles in the social system. Schools can stimulate this process, but all of us have to embrace it in order to become meaningful.

Enjoy the reading!

Getting it right: Towards a rights based approach to education, based on the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child

Global Learning for Obama – an open letter to the American president

Maybe you saw the victory speech of Barack Obama after winning the US elections. He proved again to be a charismatic and inspiring speaker, but he seemed a little, hm, obsessed, by “the greatest country in the world” – America of course. Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti, professor of global education in Oulu, Finland, wrote an open letter to Mr. President to point to the missing global dimension in the speech. This is Vanessa’s second guest post on this blog (after the HEADS UP checklist). Thanks Vanessa, and tell us if you receive an answer!

Dear Mr Obama, 44th President of the United States,

I would like to congratulate you on your election tonight. For the past few months I have acted and watched friends and family from (literally) all over the world and across generations campaign for you, grounded on a sharp recognition of our global interdependence. However, it was this recognition that I believe was lacking in your first speech as re-elected president tonight. I acknowledge the pressures you were under to focus on ‘the American people’, who you called ‘ your own’ and ‘your family’, after all, you are ‘their’ president. However, other people who have campaigned for you may have done so because they realize that for ‘our family’, which is much larger than America, dismemberments and forced artificial separations (be it in nationality, citizenship, religion, gender, race, sexuality, identity or ideology) have caused enough damage and trauma already. Therefore, in my professional capacity as an educator and in what you may call ‘wishful idealism’ or ‘blind optimism’, I urge you to do something I know is impossible in your polarized political climate: to change your speech a little to make it a bit more globally sensitive.

First, I noticed you nobly emphasized the need to reach out (to the opposition in this case), I urge you to direct your reaching out to the global sphere by prioritizing the poor and the vulnerable not only at home, but everywhere USA leadership has (historically and continuously) contributed to the impoverishment and oppression of ordinary people – let this be driven by an idea of  justice based on complicity in harm, not on ethnocentric and depoliticized charity.

Second, please do not offend our intelligence with the slogan that ‘America is the greatest (and richest) country in the world’ as this can be interpreted as patronizing, arrogant and out of line, given USA’s world impact and record, and the shadow of local and global violence in the source of its wealth: I noticed that Native Americans were not meaningfully mentioned in your speech, please acknowledge the enormous sacrifices and wounds of indigenous people in the Americas and elsewhere – again, offer them justice, on their terms, not only ‘inclusion’, listen and let them teach you.

Third, please introduce the notion of ‘radical hope’ by daring to speak of the possibility and necessity of a much more ethical economy that does not rely on fossil fuels (national or foreign), rampant consumerism (and unrestrained waste production), profitable militarism, (subsidized) competition, the commodification of life, the financialization of the globe, the relentless destruction of the environment, the exploitative division of labor at home and abroad, siege consciousness, or the elimination of dissent.

Last, please choose a song for your next speech that does not invite parochialisms and dangerous forms of patriotism, but that fuels our internal drive to build bridges of solidarity, to reach out to others beyond geo-political borders, to expect and act towards bright prospects for ALL children (and elderly people, and adults) EVERYWHERE (regardless of place of birth, faith, biological differences, inherited circumstances or life choices), a song that may remind us of the power and indispensability of plurality as an integral part of collective futures we share – together in one finite and fragile planet.

I, and the millions of people who were not born and who do not live (or aspire to live) in America, who have supported you in this campaign, understand that you are only human and that there is only so much you can do within the difficult constraints of your political and existencial context. So we wish you well and expect you to take the privilege and responsibility of your mandate with the recognition that, at this point of our inter-connected present, you are not just accountable to your country, as, with you, we ‘rise and fall together’ – all of us, not just America.

All the best, Vanessa de Oliveira Andreotti, professor of global education

Overcoming Empowerment

Let’s hope, once empowered, the events will get out of poverty.

Empowerment is one of the buzzwords in the development discourse. From World Bank to NGOs, one would hardly find someone who is against the promise to empower the poor to develop themselves. Even more, empowerment as a catch-all term has even left the realm of poverty in order to empower anyone and everything: a DEEEP roundtable at the Rio+20 people’s summit promised to “empower future”, a meeting place in Brussels proposes to “empower events”.

Empowerment implies that someone receives power from someone else – it is not the result of an autonomous struggle against oppression or exploitation, or the negotiation of resources and power between equal parties. It is based on the merciful permission to exercise power to a certain degree, and not on an active conquest of power, which necessarily challenges the power of someone else.

It is no coincidence that Paulo Freire didn’t use this term and rather used the word emancipation for the role of education in relation to power:

“Problem-posing education, as a humanist and liberating praxis, posits as fundamental that the people subjected to domination must fight for their emancipation. To that end, it enables teachers and students to become Subjects of the educational process [..]. The world [..] becomes the object of that transforming action by men and women which results in their humanization. Problem-posing education does not and cannot serve the interests of the oppressor. [..] [O]nly a revolutionary society can carry out this education in systematic terms” (Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

Moving from charity to justice in development should imply that we stop talking about empowerment and move to alternative terms, such as emancipation, which point to the quest and struggle for power rather than proposing a harmless, well-meaning and meaningless empowerment of everyone and everything.

(This text is a modified extract of a recent essay “The question of Power in educational Partnerships“, for which I owe some inspiration to the blog post „Time to move beyond Participation and Ownership?“ and personal exchange with its author.)

The question of Power in educational Partnerships

Everyone thinks linking schools in “North” and “South” is a great think to do: It opens minds, supports intercultural learning, and with a little fundraising, we can even help those poor guys far away to set up the so desperately needed library/lavatory/computer room… But what if such educational partnerships actually contribute to perpetuate stereotypes and neo-colonial relations? Research shows that schools links can have – and often have – no or even negative learning outcome. In order to set up school links which contribute to create a more just and sustainable world (the thing education is about, after all, isn’t it?), the question of power seems to be the crucial one.

In another essay for my MA Development Education, I try to examine the question of power in school partnerships. This includes a critique of a certain vocabulary we are so used to use, i.a. “North-South” and “empowerment”. I also try to set up a typology of partnerships based on charity, participation or emancipation.

The essay concludes:

Addressing power in school links is not an easy task: The complex and irritating questions challenge the comfort zone of well-meaning philanthropy, which often is the starting point of a linking initiative. The challenge is to channel the energy of an approach driven by exotism and charity carefully into a meaningful, equal dialog between the partners, not without omitting the ultimate aim of any critical global citizenship education: To question viewpoints in order to come to a more informed, responsible, ethical and political transformative action. This emancipation of students and teachers through joint and dialogical learning is highly subversive, and thus difficult to embed and justify in an institutional programme and a learning context, which mainly aims to enhance skills and competences of learners to survive in an even competitive economic environment. However, without challenging this very environment we are living in, global learning is meaningless. The question of power is the central question, not only for school links and other educational partnerships, but for any relevant political reflection and action.

You can download the full text here: From Charity to Emancipation – The question of power in international educational partnerships

Feedback and comments are welcome, as always!