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oikos Alumnus Clemens Mader On How oikos Impacted his Life

“There are moments in life in which, after some years, you look back and wonder how life would have run if you would have acted differently. What were good and bad decisions? Well, to engage with oikos was surely a good one. During a disco party in Austria a friend who was active in oikos London told me about oikos, and half a year later, in autumn 2001 together with a colleague, we took part in an international oikos meeting in Bled (Slovenia), organised by oikos Ljubljana. There we experienced this oikos spirit that convinced us to found a new chapter at the University of Graz. Soon we were a team of five to start first projects, and I think oikos was most fruitful for us to learn about what sustainability really means and how the understanding of sustainability can move people to engage personally for a better future for society. At the University of Graz we were very lucky with the university management and got support from the vice president for research and knowledge transfer. This partnership leveraged our activities from single workshops to university wide initiatives like a sustainability library, or developing the first university sustainability report in 2005.


I graduated in 2004 in human geography and wrote my diploma thesis on the integration of sustainability into universities and their role in different regions. So for sure oikos has had an impact on that. Fin 2004/2005 I was elected president of oikos International and moved to St.Gallen where I experienced pleasures of international cooperation more directly. I supported chapters in their foundation process, organised international meetings, travelled to London for sponsors meetings, and exchanged with friends from across Europe and abroad to talk about strategies to integrate sustainability into their curricula or university operations. I learnt a lot about how universities work, cultural differences and impact opportunities. Friendships from that time still last and it’s wonderful to still be in touch today and meet when travelling on different occasions with oikos Alumni who are very often sustainability professionals. We still learn a lot from each other by exchanging and following up on each others’ careers and professional experiences in industry, NGOs, start ups, consulting, public policy, working at local, national or international scale.


After my „oikos career“ I continued to work in the field of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). In 2006 I came back to Graz to work on my PhD focusing on main principles of Sustainability Processes, and established so called Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development in Graz and Cairo. In 2012 I became a Visiting Professor for Environment and Sustainability in the Region at Leuphana University of Lüneburg and since 2014 I am working at the Sustainability Team of University of Zurich where I established a professional training programme for university educators on ESD. Last year I also was elected president of the COPERNICUS Alliance, the European Network on Higher Education for Sustainable Development.


So looking back, I think it’s quite obvious how oikos actually shaped my career and personal development. oikos has become one of the biggest student organisations that integrates sustainability into universities. In the course of the UNESCO Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development, as well as the Agenda 2030 by UN promoting the Sustainable Development Goals, oikos can make essential contributions by scaling down global ambitions of sustainable development to the local level, as well as bringing the experience and practice of local initiatives to global relevance. oikos students as well as Alumni together make a group of not only informed and involved people but active change agents making a difference.



PS: I haven’t personally named any of the many colleagues and friends who are essential part of this story. But I like to thank all and look further to future common engagements.”