During the first phase of the MyCOE program, the organizing partners learned many inspiring lessons from participants, observers, and each other. In reviewing the progress made from the program's initial endeavor, we are clear that there are lessons to be learned and that there are a number of factors that led to or enhanced our success. These Best Practices can serve as a guide not only for the continued activities of MyCOE, but also as a model for other projects.
Geography Matters. The recommendations for sustainable development that arose from the various projects submitted to the MyCOE (Phase I) contest demonstrate the power of geographic techniques and concepts for understanding and approaching a great variety of themes of sustainable development in a great variety of places. Using maps and spatial analysis, projects addressed for example, urban renewal in Jamaica, sustainable agriculture in Nigeria, ecotourism in Singapore, groundwater monitoring in Egypt, coastal management in Norway, industrial pollution in Poland, species conservation in Colombia, wetlands management in Zambia and many more. Different approaches were taken depending upon what scale of analysis was used, whether students engaged with their neighborhood, community, city, state, or nation. Furthermore, different problems and solutions were found in different places all over the world. Clearly geography matters to sustainable development.
Bring the Global to the Local. By focusing on their own community, participants were able to demonstrate the value of global level policy such as sustainable development, in a manner which was very real, immediate and meaningful to their own lives. Building upon these global themes, students were able to connect the broad topic of sustainability to their own place in the world, in the process learning about the importance of balancing economic development with the need to live in harmony with nature and conserve resources for future generations. To accomplish this, we learned that it is imperative to have materials in languages other than English. With the support of our partners, some of the materials have already been made available in multiple languages.
Kids' Voices Matter. MyCOE was designed with the understanding that because our children are the future generations whose responsibility it will be to continue progress toward sustainable development, it is critical that they are exposed to and learn about such issues early on. What we discovered, however, was that they have something important to say about the processes impacting their lives. In profound ways, their projects were vivid demonstrations of the contribution youth can make toward understanding the world and building a more sustainable future. Through MyCOE activities such as exhibitions at conferences and postings on the website, these contributions were made visible to policymakers and the public around the world.
Defy the "Digital Divide." By focusing on geographic tools and concepts, the program did not require a great deal of technology or equipment for students to take part. Indeed, while many projects utilized GIS or other computer-based geographic technologies, a good number were realized using surveying, charting, and hand drawn maps. The desire for truly global participation was achieved given this approach. Still, the internet site where MyCOE information was housed represented a key interactive environment for linking up with participants, mentors, policymakers, funding agencies, scholars, and others. On the webpage, we posted resources for students to consult and opened up a virtual venue for continuously updated references, events, and ideas. Showcasing projects on the web can greatly expand the impact of students' efforts exponentially.
Public-Private Partnerships are Key. When launched in 2001, the MyCOE program was co-sponsored by a group of public, private, and non-profit organizations, working in concert to bring about the vision of promoting geographic learning for sustainable development. The WSSD's call for partnerships between governments, local authorities, business, and civil society was based on the recognition that international treaties can only set the stage for sustainable development and that its implementation must be achieved by and in cooperation with actors from all sectors. MyCOE demonstrates the value of this vision in that each of the organizations have brought critical resources and perspectives, otherwise unavailable to a single-sector program. Each have contributed knowledge, management experience, funding, networks, and material resources which pooled together have made the MyCOE program work and has extended the scope of the program to successfully reach across the globe. Our organizations see this partnership as one of the most important outcomes of the first phase, beyond the educational value of the project itself. Linking the missions and goals of our partners within a framework of sustainable development, youth, and geographic technologies is a key element of ongoing MyCOE activities.
Just Do It. Put together in response to the WSSD, the MyCOE program grew from a great idea into a great global program. We learned that, combined with a clear vision, the faith and commitment of our key players in supporting organizations have represented a critical key for success. The willingness of students around the world to conduct projects in their own communities demonstrates what can be accomplished when you "just do it."