We often hear how the best way of going about making a change in the world is to do it locally. Whether as an individual or a group, we know best what our communities need, what poses challenges for our environment, and who to look for when in need of allies to act together. We must first look at our surroundings before setting our sights on the Planet.
The early years of oikos
Not too different from that was the philosophy of a group of students at the University of St. Gallen in 1987 that led to the creation of an organization that sought to incorporate a different perspective into how they were thought. This is how oikos was born – a local association in St. Gallen that would go on to make its mark on the university, raising awareness of the need for incorporating sustainability into its curriculum.
For the first decade of its existence, oikos had brought change to higher education at the local level, which brought in admirers for oikos’ work beyond the campus. It raised the question if such a feat could be successfully replicated and applied at other universities and the idea of oikos going international started brewing among the members. Alexander Barkawi, the President of oikos at the time, carried this vision and it was his effort that brought on board other members to take on such a challenging task.
Georg Birkner, who was part of the process, writes “During the […] year, our aim was to build up a number of local student groups at the best universities of Europe that should have the common aim of changing the way students of Economics and Management were being taught.”. This not only included forming new organizations but also convincing existing ones to join the oikos network.
Following a year of hard work in creating an international network, new organizations – oikos Chapters had been formed in Prague, Cologne, and Vienna, while from Stockholm ‘Megha’ was the first existing group that joined the oikos network. Together with the hosting St. Gallen team, they came together to form oikos International as an umbrella organization in December of 1998!
Birkner writes “On this occasion they gave oikos International its own structure, statutes, budget, voting processes, Executive Board, President, Advisory Board and meeting schedule.” One can only imagine the difficulty of challenges and hardships the founding members had faced creating an international organization from scratch, making it ever more inspiring journey!
Creating a global network
But such valiant effort had proved to be the best decision they could’ve made! Among the first chapters joining were Ljubljana and Warsaw and over the next decade and a half dozens of chapters initially around Europe, and in time in Asia, Africa and North America. This development of oikos International had seen our network grow globally and over that time thousands of students had gone through local oikos chapters, many of them afterwards contributing as alumni.
However, as new chapters open, some go inactive and close down, which is a natural cycle of many student organizations. oikos International has had a role in supporting and reactivating some of these chapters, however, these efforts are very reliant on having individuals or a group at the campuses. Despite this, our Community keeps flourishing!
The ever-going evolution of oikos
We are proud of the hundreds of changemakers working on local and international projects at any time. As an organization, oikos International has been continually evolving over its 25 years of existence. With time, our efforts in transforming higher education have spread out beyond just economics and management, reflecting the diverse educational backgrounds of our members. Along with it, fostering responsible leadership and supporting the development of future leaders has become one of our core goals.
Today, one thing remains unchanged compared to day 1 – the commitment to innovation, visionary thinking and courage have been the traits oikos International leadership never lacks! And this at the same time makes oikos unique. We are not just a network of students, but a student-led network! We hear and amplify the voices of students globally, both within our chapters and beyond. Ours is a network in which students take the lead and create the impact that in many ways touches upon the lives of thousands.
This is why we celebrate the 25 years behind us – it is a celebration of all the hard work and dedication many of oikees have put into driving the change to make the world more sustainable! We can look back on this quarter of a century, on everything we’ve done as a community with great pride, and take out of that the strength and motivation to take even more action as we remain driven by our common mission and vision, together!
If you wish to learn more on the early years of oikos International, you can read the Georg Birkner paper cited in the article here.