1st Americas Regional Conference

The RCE Conference of the Americas
by Lyle A Benko & Roger Petry


RCE Saskatchewan hosted the first RCE Conference of the Americas from 25-27 May 2008. The Conference was entitled Knowledge and Innovation for Sustainability: Assessing and Adopting Beneficial Practices. Funding was received from the Government of Saskatchewan's Green Initiatives Fund, partner universities, and nongovernmental organisations. A diverse range of interests and needs was met by the conference including a discussion of models for self-evaluation by RCEs and for inter-regional networking. The conference focused on regional and interregional capacity building for ESD as well as the specific theme areas of RCE Saskatchewan—Climate Change; Health and Healthy Lifestyles; Reconnecting to Natural Prairie Ecosystems; Farming and Local Food Production, Consumption and Waste Minimization; Supporting and Bridging Cultures for Community Building and Sustainable Living, and Sustainable Infrastructure including Water and Energy.


The conference began on the evening of 25 May 2008, with over 260 people attending a public keynote address from Severn Cullis-Suzuki, recognised for her riveting speech as a young teenager at the U.N. Earth Summit in Rio 1992. There were over fifty additional presenters at the conference. The schedule included two pre-conference fieldtrips, plenary sessions, presentations in each ESD theme area, workshops, poster sessions and displays, and much opportunity for delegates to visit and network. Eighty-five delegates from the RCE Saskatchewan region and across the Americas attended the conference. All four of the Canadian RCEs were represented as well as RCEs from North Texas (USA) and Curitiba-Parana (Brazil).


At the close of the conference, delegates from RCE Montreal announced that Montreal would host the next RCE Conference of the Americas in May of 2009. Other conference highlights included unveiling the new logo for RCE Saskatchewan developed to create a sense of regional identity and assist in RCE promotion and recognition, presentations by RCE Saskatchewan's two flagship projects, and a presentation by the seven RCE student researchers hired to conduct an inventory of ESD initiatives in the RCE Saskatchewan region.


The goals of the RCE Conference of the Americas were ambitious and reflected the range of needs and aspirations of participants, sought out in advance of the conference. At a grassroots level, the conference enabled showcasing and celebrating ESD projects with other RCEs, community organisations, the research community, the media, and the public. Participants wanted to learn about other RCEs with similar ESD theme areas and projects. At the same time, students and faculty were attracted to the conference by having formal opportunities to present their ESD research findings.


Organisationally, RCEs were able to explore their respective strengths and challenges while identifying new opportunities for growth. Specific sessions showcased RCEs to allow a more in-depth understanding of the regions represented as well as their organisational structures. This contributed to RCE capacity building in an important way as RCEs became aware of reasons why different organisations, such as academic, business, government, and NGOs, have an interest in ESD. By understanding the role RCEs can play in advancing these interests, RCEs could identify potential resources (financial and in-kind) available to ESD projects in their own regions and their RCE. In addition to building capacity at a local and regional level, the RCE conference had focused discussion on how RCEs might network as a ‘region of regions’, in this case, within the Americas, and the value this scale of networking might have in contributing to the global UNU RCE initiative. Recognising the importance of having increased RCE participation in the success of the conference, financial support was provided by the Government of Saskatchewan to help subsidise participation of all RCEs from the Americas in attendance.


With the anticipated growth in the number of RCEs globally during the U.N. Decade of ESD, annual meetings of RCEs at a continental or hemispheric scale also provide greater room for showcasing RCE regions over time. Closer geographic proximity was viewed as potentially facilitating a mentoring model between better established RCEs and those that are new and emerging. Finally, opportunities for networking as a ‘region of regions’ provide a further learning experiment given the distinctive forms of innovation and social capital generated at this geographic scale and subsequently sharable with other RCEs networking at a similar scale.


The conference intentionally integrated a diversity of ways of knowing and knowledge production for ESD within its schedule. It provided a space for theoretical reflection on what we mean by ESD in global and local contexts and for focused discussion on specific ESD theme areas grounded in the SD challenges of the region hosting the conference. Specific panels, poster sessions, and displays emphasized scientific knowledge, including a panel on the role of education in technological and social innovation for SD. An opportunity was also given for workshops, allowing sharing of tacit knowledge (or know-how) related to ESD topics proposed by participants. Extended breaks and celebratory events allowed for further networking and tacitknowledge sharing. By accommodating a wide range of presenters, the conference enabled formal identification of ESD expertise available locally and internationally, especially within the RCE network. The conference gave participants an opportunity to learn through direct experience and observation, with early morning bird-walks, other nature walks, and pre-conference tours.


Opportunity was also provided for spontaneous sharing of ideas through a large group wrap-up discussion and ongoing gathering of ideas from individuals in a variety of formats (paper, video, and website) during the course of the conference. The conference allowed for knowledge sharing through art and stories. The symbolism of the newly designed RCE Saskatchewan logo was explained and shared with participants through locally handcrafted materials incorporating the logo. The keynote speaker, Severn Cullis-Suzuki, shared her life journey speaking about the formative experiences supporting her current environmental leadership. The conference was formally closed by Joseph Naytowhow, an aboriginal storyteller, sharing a heartfelt story, song, and prayer.


By documenting as much of the conference as possible, it is hoped the first RCE Conference of the Americas might provide a source of ideas and models for other such conferences.

Further information about the conference including the final schedule of presenters, presentations, photos, fieldtrip information, and evaluations are posted on the RCE Saskatchewan conference website. Other materials are available on the RCE Saskatchewan website.

For more information, contact RCE Saskatchewan’s coordinators:
Lyle Benko, lyle.benko@sasktel.net
Roger Petry, roger.petry@uregina.ca

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