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General News

Global Climate Strike: Exploring the transformative power of the movement

We take a look back at Climate Strikes in September through the eyes of oikos members who joined millions of fellow young people on the streets and raised their voices for a sustainable future. We see how this global action continues to help us at oikos, and what we do to keep the momentum growing at our universities and communities worldwide.

Millions of protesters from Vienna to Tokyo, Copenhagen to Rio de Janeiro, New York to Mumbai took to the streets in September to demand action against climate change. School children and young people at the forefront of the global climate movement expressed their anger at politicians and corporate leaders who had failed to halt the imminent threat of climate crisis. These young people led the largest environmental protest in history that engulfed over 4 million people in 163 countries. 

The protestors, young and old, novices and veterans, were loud, determined, and proud of standing up for the future of the planet. “The energy was amazing. Our entire Government square was taken over by people of all ages. Everyone was galvanized around the idea that things have to change in the US.” – Stephen from Harvard’s Sustainability Club said. Across the Atlantic, belief in the movement’s power to bring a change motivated people to join. “I went to the strike because I believe that Fridays for Future are making a change. If people continue going to protests like this one, we will create more awareness and media coverage, which I think is the main objective.” –  Marta, one of the oikos members marching through the streets in Barcelona, Spain, said. 

For many of the marchers, the strike brought reassurance that they are not alone. “I felt happy to see that there are people who still care.” – Ana, oikos member shared from Heidelberg, Germany. “I liked being united with so many like-minded people. The mood was very peaceful, inclusive, and fun. I think the climate movement, in general, is a great way to show that what matters to us is the environment.” – Ellen, president of oikos St.Gallen, who joined the Climate Strike in both her hometown and in capital Bern said. “Everyone was incredibly helpful and empathetic throughout the strike – unlike anything I’ve seen in other NYC protests.” – Irie, oikos NYC alum observed at the Manhattan protests in the USA.

Belgrade, Serbia

However, the existential angst and bewilderment were familiar feelings for many of the demonstrators. “Some of the marchers still felt powerless, and I can understand them – what is the point of marching if policymakers don’t act on the massive turnout and even repress it sometimes.” – Samy from oikos Berlin, one of the 100 000 people hitting the streets of the German capital shared. 

But nowhere was this Janus-faced nature of the strikes – hopeful and agonizing – more noticeable than in places where only a handful of people rallied for the cause. “The protesters were full of energy and hope but also concerned. They were fewer in numbers than their peers in other countries. On top of that, protests in Serbia, in general, aren’t exactly as prolific as they are in other European countries, so the strikers recognized how little the movement could influence the government.” – Stefan, President of oikos Belgrade, one of the few Serbians on the strike, explained.

With the big wave of protests now over, the greatest challenge for the movement is to keep the people engaged and continue pressuring those in power to finally take action. “The challenge is translating something that is a global movement into a kind of concentrated political pressure that can influence government decisions,” Megan Mullin, a political scientist at Duke University told the New York Times. “It needs to be translated to influencing decision-makers who aren’t already convinced.”

For oikos, this is a clear-cut task. In 2018, we launched the oikos Curriculum Change Initiative, which seeks to support students to influence decision-makers in academia and to usher a profound reform of economics and management curriculum. The economics and management education, we envision, develops intellectually courageous, reflective, and purpose-driven system thinkers who have comprehensive knowledge and competencies to address urgent global sustainability challenges. Such persons are crucial for creating a sound economic system that recognizes ecosystem limits and serves society. One of the first events within the Initiative, oikos Curriculum Academy, takes place in Prague, the Czech Republic, from the 18th to 20th October 2019.

Meantime, we also try to support the development of new rankings and rating systems for business schools to nudge them towards thinking about the social good they create. Positive Impact Rating measures “the contribution of business schools to the resolution of societal challenges, such as the UN SDGs”, while Business School Rankings for the 21st Century Report looks into shortcomings of current ranking systems and outlines 20 suggestions for improvement. 

With our Leadership Program – LEAP, we inspire young people to have an empowered voice and encourage them to be proactive about change continuously. We accompany them for at least nine months to help develop new habits, build their confidence, and guide them as they mentor and support peers.

Each of these and other oikos programs devote great attention to the transformative power of student-driven activities. By placing young people in the driving seat of the reform, we provide them with hands-on experience, tools, and relevant competencies to turn their frustration with the current status quo into effective actions. 

Tuebingen, Germany.

The September protests have proved especially impactful in convincing our stakeholders to trust student leadership and open up to change. “The protests have slowly opened new doors to us, especially in the education sector. They seem to be the first stakeholders influenced by the youth, as top management representatives at universities are more willing to embed sustainability in their programs and operations. (For example, take a look at Climate Emergency Letters.) And it is just the beginning. This generation of young people demand more, and we need to accompany them in their efforts to deeply change our economic system.” – Clementine, oikos International President, said.

“It’s very important to finally see that the desire to act has become a mass phenomenon. Greta is quite a hero if you ask me, and I’m not easily impressed.” – Linus, oikos St.Gallen alum, said. Greta Thunberg, the astonishing 16-year-old from Sweden, taught us all the most important lessons: “no one is too small to make a difference” and nobody should be afraid to be the first to demand change. 

Tides of time often languish our resolve, but we cannot afford to weary now. To save our imperiled planet, we have to fight and win battles constantly. That’s why today, more than ever, it matters so much to keep the momentum going and bring the spirit of September’s protests everywhere – to our universities, workplaces, and neighborhoods.

Zurich, Switzerland. © Linus Grob
New York City, USA. © Irie Ewers
Brussels, Belgium. © Gregory Vrient