This week, Carlos Mataix and Julio Lumbreras, from the itdUPM, have participated in the International Sustainable Campus Network Annual Congress #ISCN2017. This is the text of the Carlos Mataix’s conference explaining the work of itdUPM to generate multi-actor platforms in the University for sustainability, with the partnership Alianza Shire as an example.
Five years ago, at the Technical University of Madrid, we created a new organizational and physical space: the Innovation and Technology for Development Centre (itdUPM). This is our building that operates as a network hub.
It is not as impressive as other places like the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) where we are very happy to be today.
In fact, the University of British Columbia is a reference for us. Perhaps, what is more interesting of itdUPM is that it was originated as a bottom-up initiative, beyond the silos culture of departments and schools.
Using John Robinson’s words itdUPM functions as a “connecting tissue” for provoking, accelerating and sustain transformative collaboration:
- among disciplines (more than 200 researchers and teachers associated);
- and with other actors (itd has strategic partners in Industry, Public Adm, NGOs, and with the International Development sector with which we have a very close relationship from many years ago.
In 2014 we started to explore with our partners at the Spanish Agency of International Development the potential of multi-actor partnerships for improving life conditions in refugee camps.
As you all know, camps are in very poor and extreme contexts. According to UNHCR, 90% of refugees have not appropriate access to energy and lighting services.
After a careful process of analysis we decided to face this wicked problem through a multi-actor partnership. A partnership that would on the one hand integrate complementary capabilities to cope with the technical and economic dimensions of the problem and, on the other hand, to integrate complex cultural, social, institutional, and political dimensions.
Thus, itdUPM, our collaborative space, become the enabling environment for making possible a common action of three private companies, two development agencies, and one international NGO.
This partnership was instituzionalized as a platform (not as a project) aimed at offering innovation and knowledge services to the humanitarian community.
Each partner had a specific and complementary function. Universidad Politécnica de Madrid was the brokering institution, the facilitator. We developed capacities to fulfill this function: patience, mediation among different organizational cultures, incentives alignment, trust building… and delivery of some wines and tapas when an injection of enthusiasm was necessary.
The partnership was named Alianza Shire, because the first pilot project was deployed in Shire, in the Northern region of Ethiopia.
Let me say that a pilot is not a small project. It is a demonstrator designed to be scaled up. In the camp of Adi_Harush, the Alianza Shire restored and extended the electricity grid, in straight collaboration with local organizations and refugees.
This allowed power supply for community services like primary school, two market places with 36 small businesses, and a wellness centre for women and girls.
In addition, street lighting was installed around the camp covering 5 km of lighting with led lamps in the main corridors of the camp.
We are carefully monitoring the impact of this intervention, following international standards, with our local partners and some of our master and PhD students. Here you have some figures: improvement on safety, cost savings, environmental impacts, health and gender violence.
This was a successful story, appreciated by refugees and operators and won awards from UN, and other international institutions. However, what we want to share with you today is a very inspiring lesson that we learnt during this journey, and took shape during our close work with refugees.
As we were worried with sustainability of this kind of interventions, we developed a training program for refugees.
In Adi-Harush there are thousands of young Eritreans, full of relevant skills and capabilities.
Some of them could be trained to became technicians, who could be hired later to assure systems’ maintenance. So we designed this training process following principles that are familiar to all of you:
- Focusing in practical training (learning by doing)
- Using camp infrastructure as a lab
- Creating a test-bed of innovations that can be exported to other areas
We found enthusiastic students, that had an incredible motivation, and an innovative and entrepreneurial spirit.
Almost without being conscious of it, during this journey we have learnt to reframe our way of thinking about refugee camps.
1.-What if we could extent our living labs to extreme contexts like refugee camps?
2.- What if we could co-create hubs of knowledge and innovation that could spread sustainable solutions to host countries?
3.- And what if we connect these hubs in camps, with our living labs in campuses?
Poster designed especifically for this congress