Local projects provide solutions to development challenges


Following a call to action, the government of Flanders has given six organisations a much-needed monetary boost for their efforts to tackle global challenges, including in education

Think global, act local

The government of Flanders has awarded subsidies to six projects that help solve some of the biggest development challenges facing both Flanders and cities across the globe. Set to begin this month and ranging from sustainable school lunches to interactive theatre, the projects are the winners of a call for projects issued by the department of foreign affairs last April.

The Call for Global Challenges is the latest in a series of grants announced by the government in 2005 for educational initiatives that “promote the creation of support for international co-operation within the Flemish Community and foster the development of an attitude of international solidarity”. Subsidies were awarded annually until 2014, after which budget constraints obliged the government to shift the grant call to a biannual basis. 

This latest call drew 33 applications. Each was evaluated by a jury of five from various departments and minister-president Geert Bourgeois. “Almost all the proposals were of very high quality,” said the foreign affairs department in a statement. “We had about €1 million to spend, so the selection was not easy.” 

Applications were mainly assessed on their ability to think outside the box and their response to the principle of “think global, act local”. Other selection criteria included the quality of partnership – ideally with some form of co-operation with the private sector – target group participation, implementation strategy and long-term sustainability.      

Look to the foodture

The winning proposals are highly diverse but all promote active citizenship and provide an innovative, local solution to a global challenge. “Our goal is to promote sustainable food consumption in supermarkets by linking retailers directly with consumers,” says Liesbeth Van Meulder, programme advisor for the Leuven-based non-profit Vredeseilanden, which presented one of the winning projects, Citizens for the Foodture.

“We had already brought various agri-food chain actors together,” she continues, “when we realised that consumers – the very people whose consumption patterns determine what food ends up on the shelves – were being completely excluded from these processes.”

If we can change supermarkets’ food offer to a more sustainable one, then we have a real impact

- Liesbeth Van Meulder of Vredeseilanden

This realisation led to four sessions with consumers and retailers to think about how they can contribute to the mainstreaming of sustainable food consumption. Together they came up with seven concrete ideas to be set up in supermarkets across Flanders over the next two years.

“These ideas are meant to trigger a shift in the consumption patterns of mainstream consumers,” says Van Meulder. “We are not targeting ‘green consumers’ who are already convinced. If you consider the fact that 70 to 80% of Belgians buy their groceries in supermarkets, that is where the leverage is.”

Van Meulder points out that her organisation already works with the five largest supermarket chains in the country: Lidl, Carrefour, Aldi, Delhaize and Colruyt. “If we can change their food offer to a more sustainable one, then we have a real impact.”

She also believes the Citizens for the Foodture project stood out because few initiatives provide accessible, on-the-ground approaches to global challenges – a feature shared by Peace Craft: Play to Change, another winning project presented by the Flemish chapter of the international peace movement Pax Christi, in collaboration with the social innovation lab iDrops.

Play to change

“We have been working with young asylum seekers in Antwerp for several years and have collected many testimonies,” says Hanne Vervaele, who runs U Move 4 Peace, the artistic department of Pax Christi Vlaanderen.

“Our idea is to use these stories for two things,” she continues. “The first is to create a virtual reality game about life in the asylum seekers’ country of origin and their journey to Europe. The second is to hire professional actors for a participatory theatre play on the struggles asylum seekers face here in Belgium.” 

Both will be offered to high schools and cultural centres as a package, where the game will be played in preparation for a theatre workshop. Demand is high, with 60 performances to be scheduled in schools across Flanders over the next year-and-a-half.

Concrete solutions

“We really work from the bottom up, starting with the asylum seekers’ personal stories and sharing them with other youngsters in a creative way,” says Vervaele. “We wanted to do more than just create another book on the challenges of migration, and thanks to the grant we will now be able to operate on a wider and more professional level.”

The four other proposals selected for government funding include Maakbaar, a manufacturing design project by conservation organisation Bos+ that aims to incorporate sustainable solutions into products, and GoodFood@School, a counselling platform set up by GoodPlanet Belgium for schools wishing to provide and educate their pupils on sustainable food choices.

Thanks to the grant, we will be able to operate on a wider and more professional level

- Hanne Vervaele of Pax Christi Vlaanderen

The local chapter of the Food Surplus Entrepreneurs Network submitted a winning proposal for an integrated platform of activities that raises awareness and stimulates action against food waste, while the youth organisation Globelink was selected for its initiative linking Flemish youth to civil society organisations to encourage their involvement in the sustainable development goals.

Underlying all six proposals is the concept of education as key to developing a more inclusive and sustainable global society.

“We know that citizens are concerned about the challenges facing our planet,” says Van Meulder. “They draw a link to food consumption, but they don’t necessarily know what to do about it. This is where Citizens for the Foodture steps in, providing concrete solutions and making it easier to act responsibly.”

Vervaele builds on this idea, claiming that educational projects such as Play to Change help young people relate to the images of refugees they see on TV. “It gives a face to the story, creates mutual understanding and provides a rehearsal for life.” 

Photo courtesy USDA/Flickr