From 21 to 24 April, our Community had the pleasure to be hosted by the Graz chapter of oikos for this year’s edition of the International Chapter Conference(ICC), which took place in the Austrian city. Over the course of four days the sessions would cover a wide range of topics focusing on bringing changes to systems around us. Deeply rooted throughout this year’s ICC was belief that small people could make a change and hope of coming together to collaborate and drive the change. There were plenty of opportunities to learn, challenge our perspectives and ideas, exchange and connect with active members and alumni from the international oikos Community. In this article, we look back to the Conference and take away the most important parts of it.
The day one of the ICC was traditionally centered around oikos International. On this day we had the opportunity to present to our Community, as well as external – local and international students taking part at the conference. The Conference opened up with a few words from oikos Co-presidents Sophie Charrois and Darija Miletic, welcoming everyone and presenting the agenda for the day. It was truly a large Community gathering, with plenty of chapters represented by both – members attending the full conference along with those partaking in the LEAP YOUth onsite Kick-off Meeting which had also taken place in Graz in the three days leading up to the conference.
Naturally, the oikos International day of each conference is the place for networking and connecting with fellow oikees, exchanging about each other’s ideas and projects, sharing inspiring stories and building up the community feeling. It is also an important platform for oikos International to present our initiatives and opportunities in which oikos chapter members can take part, along with tools and developments we specially designed for the chapters. We had a diverse audience of oikees, coming from different chapters and with varying amounts of experience. Whether they’re long-time members or had just joined their local chapter, each of them could take back home new learnings to apply in local projects and activities.
Day two of the ICC kicked off with a scavenger hunt in the morning. The four-hour walk around the city of Graz, finding local sustainable businesses and getting to know the city a bit better were so captivating that even the rainy weather couldn’t wash away the good mood and energy among participants. A well planned route with an incredible selection of stores had seen oikees pay a visit and learn about natural cosmetics, fair fashion, social workshop, secondhand, bike rental and zero-waste groceries. There were plenty of things to take away from all of the stores, but the highlight for most was printing their own oikos shirt to take home as a souvenir.
After the exciting morning, we came together for an opening ceremony which took place later in the day, with the hosts from oikos Graz officially kicking off the main part of the Conference. The ceremony was honored by a speech from a Graz city official as the city provided support to the organizing team, along with a speech of an alumni member – the founder of the local chapter Clemens Mader, which marked the 20-year anniversary of oikos Graz. Clemens took us on a journey back in time and showed us how things were back in the day and how the chapter, but also the international network has changed and evolved over the last two decades.
Following the ceremony, Ana Pribil addressed the all-important connection between the climate crisis and our psychology in a workshop around Climate Anxiety. This aspect of the climate crisis that is not explored too often was very eye opening, creating discussions among participants and reflecting on our own habits.
Day three of the Conference was all about our surroundings, opening up with a set of 8 workshops on a variety of topics which participants got to choose from. With plenty of interaction and addressing interesting points, the workshops provided a great energy to start the day with.
Later that day we were joined by Weitzer Wood Solutions which presented the growing importance of wood and it’s many applications in the modern world. Being in Graz, in Styria – often called the Green Heart of Austria, it had a special place in the agenda as a local product, but also as a means of offsetting the carbon footprint through a more wide spread of wood in construction. With a motto Wood is high-tech, wood is lightweight, the session explored the innovative side to constructing with wood, especially in the car industry, along with its benefits in regards to reducing emissions, energy efficiency and reducing costs.
Following this sessions, participants split into groups for the World Cafe where they could sit down for a coffee and discuss on a few selected topics related to sustainability. At the same time, an Alumni Homecoming took place as a venue for active oikees to get to network and exchange experiences with alumni from Graz and a few other chapters. This space was very insightful for our International Team as we got an overview of the organizational challenges and experiences faced in the past, but also as a way of contributing to out own HOMEcoming project.
We finished off the day with an evening of oikos Talk, with a panel discussion on the topic Policy making, or policy faking? Which featured Kornelia Vogl, the SDG Ambassador for Graz, Jakob Schwarz, a Green Party MP in Austria and Dr. Ralph Aschemann, University of Graz. The discussion was very engaging, with many participants joining in with questions and pointing out some critical issues and challenges from perspectives of different backgrounds.
On the final day we got to see another interesting panel discussion with Gerald Babel-Sutter, Urban Future; Hannah Wundsam, AustranStartups’ Phil Wilfinger, Fridays for Future Austria and Vanessa Roi, Das Liebig. All four of these System changers shared their individual stories about how they’ve identified certain issues and shaped their work in a way to tackle them and contribute in part to driving the change in the world around them. Coming from four different backgrounds, they gave us insights into their world and experiences which drove the discussion further with the engagement of the audience.
In the following session, we were graced with the opportunity to hear Rob Hopkins – something of a ‘celebrity’ in the world of climate activism. Rob joined us online via video call, but his motivation and energy translated so well into the Conference venue that it was easy to forget he was hundreds of miles away. Together with Rob, we reimagined the future in which, despite the setbacks there is still hope to make the change to live in a more sustainable world. The session left us inspired and it set up the mood for the closing activity of the day and the entire conference – planting together in a local university community garden.
No doubt the Conference left a long lasting impression on all of us. It was the biggest gathering of the oikos Community since 2019 and we were happy to see changemakers coming together and engaging from even the most distant corners of our network. There’s plenty of praise to give to the organizing team of oikos Graz who have put an incredible amount of effort over the past months to create a captivating program, find amazing venues and feature many inspiring speakers.
On behalf of oikos International we would like to give our gratitude to the team and extend it to all the members of our Community who made the experience ever more fulfilling with their presence!