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Learn, Reflect, Empower: SGI and Education for Sustainable Development

By Nobuyuki Asai
Viewing "Seeds of Hope" at the SGM Perak Culture Centre, Malaysia [SGM]

In the 1930s, the Soka Gakkai's founder Tsunesaburo Makiguchi based his radical teaching methods on close study of the relationships between people and their immediate environment. He stressed that individuals should be aware of three levels of citizenship: our local commitments; our national community; and the wider world.

Buddhism also stresses the oneness of life and its environment and the interdependence of all life.

From these roots, the SGI has developed wide-ranging activities to promote environmental protection and sustainable development. Education and awareness-raising are the main focus.

All too often, the more people learn about the complex issues affecting humanity, the more powerless they feel. The kind of education provided by the SGI, in contrast, is designed not only to inform but to inspire hope and action.

To promote Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), SGI President Daisaku Ikeda advocated the following three-point formula in his proposal "The Challenge of Global Empowerment" circulated at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002:

Learn: Everything starts from grasping basic facts. In particular, in the context of sustainable development, we need to learn to empathetically understand the realities of those who suffer, embracing their pain as our own and conscious of our interconnectedness.

Reflect: Together with the provision of accurate information, it's crucial that the ethical values we share are clarified. Information and knowledge alone can leave people wondering what this all means to them, and without a clear sense of what concrete steps they can take.

Empower: Thirdly, people must be empowered with courage and hope if they are to take those first concrete steps.

As Mr. Ikeda remarks, "Education must also inspire the faith that each of us has both the power and the responsibility to effect positive change on a global scale."

The SGI initiated the proposal for the establishment of a UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development in discussion with NGOs in Japan on the occasion of WSSD in 2002. This was eventually adopted by the UN General Assembly and commenced in 2005.

To promote the Decade, the SGI, together with the Earth Charter Initiative, created an awareness-raising exhibition titled "Seeds of Change: The Earth Charter and Human Potential," and this was viewed in 13 languages in 26 countries by over 1.5 million people. In 2010, on the 10th anniversary of the Earth Charter, this was revised to create the "Seeds of Hope: Visions of sustainability, steps toward change" exhibition. This has already been shown in 20 countries.

The exhibition aims to provide a positive message without glossing over difficult realities, showing that sustainability is holistic and not just about the environment. It offers examples of individuals who have made a difference and includes elements for young children.

The exhibition has an accompanying "activity pack" to help explore the ideas contained in the Earth Charter and the exhibition.

In addition, the 2002 educational film A Quiet Revolution, featuring inspiring case studies of how individuals have solved local environmental problems, is still proving a useful tool for ESD.

All these tools follow the "Learn, Reflect, Empower" formula. The SGI has also consistently utilized the Earth Charter as a tool for dialogue and learning, and to help bridge gaps of religion or culture.

In addition to these educational activities, the SGI's local Buddhist activities also contribute to strengthening the bonds of people at the grassroots level, deepening their understanding of the area where they live and adding to their sense of responsibility toward their own community, which is itself a key aspect of sustainability.

There are also countless examples throughout the SGI network of individuals who contribute to sustainability by courageously tackling issues and needs within their local area and workplace. A selection of such stories can be found on the SGI website (www.sgi.org).

Nobuyuki Asai is a program coordinator in the SGI Office of Peace Affairs in Tokyo with responsibility for sustainability issues. He participated in the Earth Charter +10 Conference in Ahmedabad, India, in 2010, and has coordinated SGI’s input to Rio+20. He is a member of the ESD-Japan network.

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