Week 7: Part II- Lessons and Questions

Part II- Lessons and Questions

The 2015 Summer School conference was held in the Europa Conference Center in Vitoria-Gasteiz.  It is an energy efficient building, using daylighting techniques and green walls and a green roof for energy efficiency.

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The quality and number of participants in the Summer School, 2015 combined for a great variety in viewpoints and a chance to engage with nearly all of these brilliant individuals that had backgrounds in everything ranging from art, policy, project management DMOs, sustainable building, architecture, NGO operations, research, gastronomy and so many other things.  I can’t stress enough how down to earth, interesting, fun and approachable the speakers and participants were, and how insightful and inspiring it was to be able to share my time with them this week.

These are some of the thoughts that presentations and discussions have inspired:

  • There is an interrelatedness but a distinction between tourism and community building and DSC_0326perhaps, in some cases, building up tourism industry is a backwards approach. It seems building a community where it is wonderful to “live, work, play, study and visit” is the best approach.  (thought provoked by conversation and presentations from Petra Stušek, General Manager, Ljubljana Tourism and Alastaire Upton, Director of the Creative Foundation in Folkestone.  Quote from Alastaire’s presentation, which was taken from the town’s mission statement.)DSC_0316
  • A poignant yet almost common sense idea- give people that are already on board with sustainability the tools to implement it. Don’t waste your efforts on those that are unsure or against it.  Let time and evidence guide them down that path. (thought provided by Robert Wimmer, Chairman, GrAT, Center for Appropriate Technology, through conversation and presentation.  He also has taught me how to hold my breath for longer periods of time.  I am certain this will be valuable in the future.)
  • “Promote what is developed. Develop what is demanded.”  Let’s stop promoting these hugely recognizable destinations and sites. Let’s instead promote smaller destinations to spread the opportunities and reduce the negative impacts of mass tourism.  AND market research when engaging in tourism projects is essential.  We can’t just build and hope for success.  We need to analyze demand.  (Eduardo Santander, CEO European Travel Commission).

    Salli Felton from The Travel Foundation
    Salli Felton from The Travel Foundation
  • Success stories are inspirational. But oftentimes these are isolated solutions.  We need to zoom out, take a broader view and start developing solutions on a local level that are holistic and systemically effective.  (from presentation by Salli Felton, Chief Executive of The Travel Foundation.)
  • Projects needs to be driven by local needs. Currently donors are choosing projects poorly and not monitoring their success.  There is too much ‘for show’ decision making happening, and the funding system can fail us.  And as far as monitoring success, numbers alone are not enough.  We need to measure quality of life and qualitative characteristics of projects that have been implemented.  And on top of that, a lessons learned archive for easy access for tourism professionals would be greatly beneficial.  Unfortunately, this is not likely due to a lack of cooperation from consultants- they don’t want to share information as it increases competitiveness. (information from the presentation by Xavier Font, who presented an eye-opening–self-proclaimed ‘cynical’- behind the scenes look at the donor aspect of tourism projects.)

    Cinzia de Marzo discusses ETIS, European Tourism Indicator System for sustainable management
    Cinzia de Marzo discusses ETIS, European Tourism Indicator System for sustainable management
  • It is important that we have access to approachable and user friendly indicators that are also specific enough for a region to be beneficial. I know that with a flood of sustainability criteria, such as labels, certifications and indicator frameworks (Green Globes, LEED, EcoLabel, ETIS, GSTC, Envision, etc) it can actually confuse the industry and consumers.  I like the idea of a governing body that is in charge of all of these and can direct users to what is most suitable.  But of course, I am not crazy about one organization being in charge, as I think it can minimize creativity and actually bottleneck progress.  So, this isn’t something I learned- in fact, it has only made me ask more questions!  A thanks to Cinzia de Marzo for the interesting talk on the ETIS indicators, and the changes being made to the toolkit.  ETIS aligns with the GSTC criteria with some variations specific to Europe. This leads to a big thanks to Luigi Cabrini, Chairman, GSTC, and UNWTO Advisor, who spoke on the GSTC indicators.  It makes me wonder about the work I did with Dr David Randle and the Sea Turtle Conservancy on the wildlife certification for Florida Green Lodging.  It’s very specific to the region, and I think that’s valuable.  But I wonder if it would be effective to create a ‘governing body’ that can provide a foundation, and then the localized additions can be made more easily.  For instance, a beach resort indicators guide, or a golf course guide, or a- you get the picture… just thoughts, thoughts, thoughts… thank you for getting my mental wheels spinning, Luigi and Cinzia!

    Alla Peressolova talks about the Silk Road
    Alla Peressolova talks about the Silk Road
  • Overall there is a great need for locally driven projects, demanding improved methods of stakeholder engagement. Collaboration, cooperation, information sharing, stakeholder engagement and local community involvement create more sustainable projects in terms of achieving a sturdy foundation for support, policy, and objectives setting.  Several presenters touched on this or in one way or another supported this conclusion: Alla Peressolova, Head of the Silk Road Program, UNWTO; Deirdre Shurland, Sr. Consultant at UNEP, Tourism and Environment Programme; Andrea Serpagli, IFAD; and Nerissa del Fierro.  I also had conversations outside of the conference regarding this, and the potential for improvement in identifying tools and techniques for involving stakeholders at all levels is great, and necessary.  I look forward to researching this further.
  • It is imperative that we have international organizations that can lead projects with the objective of environmental, social and economic sustainability. Alla Peressolova discussed the multinational project, the Silk Road.  The level of coordination required to successfully implement a project of that size and complexity, crossing physical, political and cultural borders, is absolutely stunning.  Deirdre Shurland mentioned in her presentation that too many leading institutions can be disastrous to a project, so this shows that it is important to have international organizations guiding these projects to ensure equity for stakeholders and a more holistic view, guided with non-bias.
At the winery, with Deirdre Shurman, UNEP Senior Advisor and Silvia Barbone, Founder of FEST.
At the winery, with Deirdre Shurland, UNEP Senior Advisor and Silvia Barbone, Founder of FEST.
The mixer on the last night, with Silvia Barbone and Luigi Cabrini, GSTC.
The mixer on the last night, with Silvia Barbone and Luigi Cabrini, GSTC.

Anne Maria Mäkelä summed up the conference by giving us two words to remember.  LOVE and KISS.  I will share my take on that.  Overall, people are people, regardless of race, religion, profession, language, status, or preferences.  We mostly all want the same thing- a clean, happy, healthy world, where we can engage with each other and the world with open minds, open arms and open hearts.  Understanding that and acting on that can help us make a better world.  Acting out of LOVE will help us Keep It Sustainably Simple.

For an insider’s view of the activities and field trips of the 2015 Summer School, visit Part I of this blog: Vitoria-Gateiz, in Prose & Pictures.

Feel free to leave comments below to encourage further discussion on the topics.

The resulting Call for Action can soon be found at http://www.festfoundation.eu/.

Week 7: Part I Vitoria-Gasteiz, in Prose & Pictures

 Vitoria-Gasteiz, in Prose & Pictures

Vitoria-Gasteiz Green City, European Green Capital 2012
Vitoria-Gasteiz Green City, European Green Capital 2012

I usually break up these blogs into work and play but I can say that it would be very hard to distinguish between the two this week.  Play was just as exhausting as any work, and work was just as enjoyable as play.  instead I will break it up into 2 separate blogs altogether.  One with a sentimental mind and another with an academic mind.

The Summer School 2015, put on by FEST and Basquetour, took place from Tuesday until Friday this week, in Vitoria-Gasteiz in Basque County Spain.  In short, the presentations were interesting, social activities fun and informative, the food and wine were spectacular, the city astounding and people delightful.

To mix it up and show you just how inspiring this wonderful trip to the European Green City of 2012 was, I’ve mixed prose with pictures and some light explanations of my magnificence-inspired madness.

A Richard Serra installation in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, spain
A Richard Serra installation in the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain

The Guggenheim.  A Matter of Time

Is our path guided by the steel walls of time and

The echoes of another’s whisper?

And when time turns against us, must we walk

back through a memory

Forced now to see it through the eyes of our future?

The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao was the first stop after deboarding at Bilbao airport.  “Permanent” artworks stretched themselves along the first floor. (Deemed permanent, because they will remain there for 20-25 years). Titled “The Matter of Time” the pieces formed a thoughtful collection meant to invoke a rather disorienting spatial and temporal experience.  Viewers enter steel walls of these large structures that change color over time, and curve around and above them.  It is open on the top, but feeling of the walls swelling and curving around you, hearing echoes of those that share the same space but feel it differently, and taking time to really be in that space, was a thought-provoking experience.

The significance of the Guggenheim was that it was a project intended to rejuvenate the industrial city of Bilbao.  That it did, and its unique addition to the town has made it a destination that managed to pay back into the city the cost of its development within a few short years.  It is an interesting study into community development through tourism.

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A Pintxos Meet and Eat

Oh, Pintxos pote, you and all your friends.

Such characters! So delightful!

It’s been wonderful to meet you-

Let me introduce you to my appetite!

The first night, after the Guggenheim, we went for a tour around the Old Square and the New Square, to meet other participants of the conference and to stop at 5 pubs for Pintxos Potes- a Basque treat of small appetizers and a drink.  The appetizers ranged from mini sausage burgers to prawns with a chevre cream sauce.  A few of their common drinks are Pica (or Clara) and Txakoli – beer with lemon (or lemonade) and an effervescent white wine from the region.  They also drink a coke and red wine mixture on ice (Kalimotxo).

The New Square (Plaza Nueva)

The two squares are pretty magnificent.  The squares close a little earlier than the streets behind them, I was informed from a newly acquired friend, and the Virgen Blanca Square is overseen by a statue above it. She, the White Virgin, is the Saint of the City.  Below is my ode to her.

The Square

As early morning rises,

a flash of heat lightening outshines a heavy moon.

The insatiable gather

behind the back of their beloved Virgen Blanca,

avoiding her watchful eye.

The view of the Virgen Blanca.
The view of the Virgen Blanca.

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We had the chance to visit salt mines in Alava- Añana Salt Valley (Salinas de Añana).  A completely unique experience, and I am not even sure if an explanation, poetry and photos combined can explain the scene.  I will say however, that a concern right now is not how much salt is available, but for how long the ground water will continue to recharge enough to keep flowing to the surface, bringing the salt with it.  It used to flow at 3 liters per minute and has slowed to 2 liters per minute.  This has not affected the salt production gravely, but warrants an in depth study of why the water is slowing, as it may be an indicator of a geological change that may have further impacts.

a salt encrusted basket
a salt encrusted basket

 The salt mine

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Shining like snow, crusting small ponds

Like an emblem of some early days of spring

It seasons the cool water flowing through clay

And clings to pine railings.

Frozen, fragile flower fragments

Floating on limestone.

These salty snowflakes,

Deliciously decorating the earth.

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We also visited the Alava region for a trip to a winery- Viña Salceda Winery.  Delicious and beautiful!

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We visited the Ataria Interpretation Centre of the Salburua Wetlands, which comprise an important section of Vitoria Gasteiz’s surrounding green belt, in which I learned that there are several invasive species threatening the native species in the area.  A turtle from Florida being one, in fact.  I guess since Florida is full of transplants, the Floridians transplant themselves elsewhere too!

I loved the color of the lichen on these trees
I loved the color of the lichen on these trees

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Now, I know some of you are utterly disappointed, as you expected an “Ode to Wine” from me.  I completely understand, but I can’t share everything with you!

Part II coming soon!

Week 6: Jlag (Inebriated Networkers, Atomium’s Attic, and the Summer School in Spain)

Week 6: Jlag  (Inebriated Networkers, Atomium’s Attic, and the Summer School in Spain)

Play:  On Thursday, I met some friends at Place du Luxembourg, or Place Lux as the locals call it.  It is a square outside of the European Quarter that fills with young interns and professionals looking to network on Thursday evenings.  The business cards flow as freely as the drinks, and many dreams come true here!  (That’s the legend I’ve heard, anyway.)  I was not so lucky to be given a dream job, but I did have some very interesting conversations- I spoke with someone about what street performers add to a tourist destination, and spoke with others about what sustainability means to tourism, countries and the world as a whole.  The place was teeming with business suits and high heels, and a plethora of languages.  Standing in a group of 12 or so, I heard Italian, French, English, and Spanish, oftentimes being thrown around just for some conversational fun and practice.  It was a unique experience.  But best to get out before the sun does!

The entrance to the Atomium
The entrance to the Atomium
Underneath the Atomium
Underneath the Atomium

Saturday: It is the Year of Light, deemed so by UNESCO, and as my job at home is for a lighting company, I thought I would go and view the exhibition at the Atomium on Saturday.  It was alright, and consisted mainly of concepts I am familiar with.  I got the 360 view from the top of the Atomium, which was pretty cool- and the structure itself is very unique.

View from a middle cell in the Atomium
View from a middle cell in the Atomium
A lovely forest opened up into an expansive green park near the Atomium.
A lovely forest opened up into an expansive green park near the Atomium.

Afterwards, I walked the park nearby- a large forest and rolling wide open spaces, and I stumbled upon a musical festival (seeing a common theme yet?).  It was almost a protest, but expressed via loud electronic beats coming from at least a dozen different vehicles, speaker setups, and stands, with lots of dreadlocks, hand-rolled cigarettes, bare feet and endless swaying, jumping, dancing.  I bought myself a beer for 2 euros, and walked around the park, listening to all the different types of beats, and watched all the gentle activists protest through dance and bass.  They were protesting the fees required when personal groups want to have a gathering.  I suppose I should have asked if they paid the governing body in order to have this protest- when the thought crossed my mind, I finished my beer and moved on.

Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg.  (The Basilica of the Sacred heart in Koekelberg)
Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg. (The Basilica of the Sacred heart in Koekelberg)

Sunday, I went to the market again.  It’s so great, because I am very fatigued lately, (I think just because I have been so busy) but I don’t have to get too motivated to go out to the market, because it is right outside my door.  I feel very lucky!   I was able to pick up some new shirts, as I am going to Spain next week for a conference.  (The clothes washers here tends to leave my clothes looking quite drab, so I need a few presentable outfits for the conference).  In the evening I took my camera for a walk, and visited Park Elizabeth and the Basilique that is within a 10 minute walk from me.  I have not been there yet, and I can’t believe it!  It is another sprawling park, with lots of green grass and seems to be a popular place for kids to play soccer and lovers to sit quietly.  It was very impressive- I couldn’t believe how large the Basilica was!

Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg
Basilique Nationale du Sacré-Cœur à Koekelberg

Work:

I am finalizing my first case study, and beginning a second, and my discussion with the project manager was very fruitful.  We have been corresponding and fine-tuning the first case study, and I am happy to say that it is going well, especially for my first attempt.  I was given some good reference material from Dr. Dorsey for forming qualitative case studies, so that has proven useful.

This upcoming week, I go to Basque County, Spain.  I am very much looking forward to this trip for several reasons:

  • Wine.  That shouldn’t be first, but, come on… Spanish winery tour!
  • The “Summer School” Conference. This is going to be a very informative, fun, interesting and helpful conference for me.  The conference will be somewhat small; it is focused on sustainable tourism; I will recognize some people there and I will meet some people that are likely to help me with my research from this point forward.  There are lots of activities outside the conference planned (such as the winery tour) so there will be an opportunity to engage with people outside of the stiff indoor environment.  I very much look forward to that.
  • I get to see Spain! I hear this particular area is beautiful, and with the extra activities planned, I will have an opportunity to see outside the city of Bilbao, and into the country side, a wetlands reserve, vineyard location and also see some city sights, as there are several tourist sites within a brief walk.
  • I love food, and love trying new food, and this region is supposed to have some special traditional dishes.  We are also going to be exposed to these throughout the conference and social activities.  The great thing about this event is that it is not only just to exchange information through presentations and discussions, but also it is highlighting a tourist destination (Basque County), so the organizers thought it was important to combine the event with activities, food and experiences that really show the culture and heritage of the region.  I love this.  I love this field.
  • Meeting other certified PM4SD PMs. The Summer School is mainly set up for those that have taken the course, so I will get to meet and interact with people that are qualified PM4SD professionals, and see where their work is taking them.  I have so many questions on how they are utilizing the program in the field!

I am looking forward to reporting back on how the Summer School for PM4SD goes.

I love that life is an open-air classroom.  I imagine I will forever see it this way.  I know, and love, that I will always be a student, but hope that along the way if there is someone that can learn from me, I can play the role of a teacher as well.

Week 5: Jlag (The Umayyad Route and a View on Sustainable Development)

Week 5: JLag

Play:

Brusfete du misique iconsels is full of things to do on the weekends.  This weekend was another music fest: Fête du Musique.  Friday night was a small gathering just ten minutes walking from my apartment.  I went with my roommate, and had a great time.  It was sadly pretty cold, so when the sun began to hide behind the taller buildings, and the shadows liberally stretched themselves across the cobblestone streets, I started to head home.  I ran into an English speaking German girl outside of a pub on my way, and I asked if she knew where the next venue was, and we ended up talking about politics and education around Europe compared to the United States.  She did not want another Bush in the White House.  I’ll leave it there.

Saturday night I went with my roommate to a friend’s house.  They invited me to break Ramadan with them.  They explained to me the significance of this month, how fasting during the daylight hours contributes to their sense of empathy and connections with the poor.  They are to feel what the less fortunate experience daily- fatigue and hunger. They are encouraged to give to charity, feed the hungry, and Ramadanbe in the moment, finding gratitude for their place in the world.  It was a lovely dinner, with many delicious dishes, and lasted for hours, until after 1AM.  (Of course, the sun goes down here so late that they must wait until around 10:30pm to eat!)  They are delightful, very open, kind, and welcoming, and I felt like I had made immediate friends.

flower market jetteSunday, I walked out of my door and across the street and was in a very large market.  It was amazing.   I loved Anderlecht market, which I wrote about before, but this one was a little more approachable, still had plenty of things, and was literally outside my apartment.  Clothing, electronics, food vendors, accessories, luggage, jewelry, meats, cheeses, olives, produce, and amazing lengths of flowers and plants.  I had a lot of fun exploring the market, and next Sunday will arrive earlier!DSC_0234

That night, I went with a different friend to a different venue of Fête du Musique.  The first band was a little too lulling for the large venue, but the second band was energetic and had the crowd dancing and clapping along.  I enjoyed my first (I pause-I am almost ashamed to say it) Belgian waffle.  It was delicious.  It’s probably a good thing I didn’t try them before, because, I would have been eating them this whole time…

Work:

The work part of my internship has definitely kept me busy.  I am here to research and learn about capacity building, understand the PM4SD material and develop case studies that support its use as a capacity building tool.  I am pleased to say that last week was successful in identifying 2 more than likely possibilities and I have begun to assemble the information and write the rough drafts for the two projects.  This is a great way for me to interact with some professionals in the field, and have a chance to ask them some questions, pertaining both to their application of the PM4SD material as well as the field itself.  I am interested to know how professionals feel about the direction of sustainability, and what some challenges and barriers are to it reaching its goals.  I get the feeling that Europe experiences a unique situation when it comes to getting funding from the Commission.  It’s also been implied that the management of projects is pretty poor, and many European Commission funded projects (in terms of sustainable tourism, anyway) seem to be stuck in a cycle of ‘apply for funds, get funds, use funds until they are gone, fail.’  Like most things, I am afraid, plans to action seems to be a difficult thing to realize, and there is no sustainability, both in terms of longevity and triple bottom line sustainability.  (I realize longevity can be considered a part of sustainability, but I differentiate the two here, because longevity is just  that- a very precise part of sustainability, and when there is trouble in achieving long term success with projects, something has most certainly gone wrong in the three areas that are required to achieve ‘sustainability’.)

Umayyad site in Anjar, a mid-country stop on the itinerary.
Umayyad site in Anjar, a mid-country stop on the itinerary.

I am working with an agency that is striving to create a tourism itinerary in Lebanon based on the shared history of numerous destinations.  The itinerary is founded on the Umayyad, a Muslim Dynasty that formed after the death of Muhammed.  There are a few cultural sites in Lebanon that the project is striving to highlight, in hopes of addressing the lopsided tourism season.  This unbalanced year of tourism influx creates hardship for the locals that are employed in the tourism industry.  A way to even out the tourism schedule was to create tourism revolving around something other than the “sun and sea” aspect that the Mediterranean is known for- in this case history and cultural heritage sites that are often overlooked.

The Heliopolis in Baalbek, another destination away from the coast on the itinerary.  These are estimated at 900 years old.  They are UNESCO Heritage sites.  Photos retrieved from the Umayyad Route website: http://umayyad.eu/
The Heliopolis in Baalbek, another destination away from the coast on the itinerary. These are estimated at 9000 years old. They are UNESCO Heritage sites. Photos retrieved from the Umayyad Route website: http://umayyad.eu/

The project faced some difficulties early on, such as defining the final product, nomenclature debates and sensitivity surrounding the Umayyad dynasty, as there was reluctance to create an itinerary based on the infamous dynasty in the region.  (It was responsible for the murder of one of their Saints.)  I am happy to say, it is evident that the use of some PM4SD tools were instrumental in overcoming these barriers, creating an action plan and moving the project over the motivational gorge that had previously stalled its progression.  I will be analyzing this further in my case study.

I believe PM4SD management techniques have the potential to transform projects, but in order for it to be a success, I think we need real backing for its implementation. I believe we need higher level buy-in, in order to change the way projects are managed, and patience and realism to do them properly.

I think that most of our colleagues can agree with me on this point.  Development can no longer be swift and careless.  Development must be carefully planned.  It must be considerate of external factors.  It must be aware of its consequences and benefits.  It must be analyzed with care.  It must be sustainable.  Development must be built on the knowledge of the past, with an eye to the future, and a 360 view of the present.

Week 4: Jlag

Week 4:

Can it be that I am nearly halfway through my internship?  What a very busy week this was.

Play:

My play came at the end of the week, so this will be chronologically misplaced.  However, after a long, intense week of studying and training, I took a bus to Amsterdam to visit some friends.

While I was visiting Malaysia about 5 years ago, I met a Dutch family and their Malay friend.  We’ve stayed in touch, here and there, but it turns out that the Malaysian lives in Holland now, not too far from the Dutch family.  Anyway, we were able to meet in Amsterdam on Saturday, and I stayed at the family’s home, in Week an Zee, a beautiful little beach village.  Travelling is so amazing.  It’s been 5 years since I have seen these girls and we didn’t skip a beat.  We had a wonderful time exploring the city on foot and on boat through its numerous man made canals.  An odd, open and touristy city, it was quite the experience.

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Pictured below are the ‘dancing houses’, houses whose wooden stability poles are rotting, as they are exposed to water then air.  Because of this, and shifting ground, the houses also shift and can become crooked.  Below that is the Amsterdam Royal palace, used for official receptions.  Quite a large and impressive building.

dancing buildings  IMG_0078

However, I loved seeing the smaller town of Week an Zee, which I guess is quite a destination in the summer.  On Saturday night we went to her local pub, where her friend bartends, and I got to meet the locals, who all, to my surprise, spoke English and had no problem accommodating me in my native tongue.  That might be the biggest surprise on my trip so far- how natural and easy second, even third or fourth languages seem to come to Europeans.  My roommate speaks four, quite casually!  It’s very impressive, and at times, can make me feel inadequate.  On Sunday, the weather wasn’t great, but they had a little flea market in the center of the city and we walked the designated path through the dunes to have lunch at a restaurant owned by her cousin, right on the beach.  I can see how this small area would be a summer attraction, as it’s quaint enough to encourage peace and relaxation but has a long, beautiful beach and only a slight sea breeze.

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The Netherlands utilize wind power throughout the country.  My poor host must have thought my fascination with the wind farm and scattered windmills was odd.  But she was accommodating and took me directly to them to see how huge they are and hear the swish of the blades.  Very impressive and massive!

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Work:

Ah, the week I have been looking forward to and dreading simultaneously.  The Project Management for Sustainable Development training course.  The course is broken into two parts.  A foundation course, where you are evaluated on your understanding of the concepts, language and organization of the project management tools.  This is three days of intensive cramming.  It is followed by (and this is optional) the Practitioners’ course, which tests your ability to apply the concepts in a scenario that is given.  These two days are even more intense, and really stretch your mind through activities of concept application.  The test itself is 2 ½ hours long and that wasn’t long enough!  I definitely found myself stressed for time toward the end.

The course is interesting, as it is based on PRINCE2 management principles- the European equivalent of our PMI project management certification.  The difference with this is that it is tailored to sustainable tourism projects.  As I was learning the material, however, I see it is just an all-around good management tool that can be applied to any project.  This particular training program focuses on the longevity of a project and realizing benefits after the operation and development of a project has occurred.  It also introduces the sustainability indicators provided by the Global Sustainable Tourism Council and European Tourism Indicator System (ETIS).  In fact, we had a representative from ETIS in the course and she says they are revamping the system this year, hopefully rolling out an upgraded system and online portal soon.

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Now that I have taken the course and am certified (Yay!) I can truly dig into the main reason for my stay here in Belgium: evaluating the course for capacity building techniques and identifying projects that have applied the techniques to see how effective they are.  Research, writing, writing, research, interviewing, research, writing.

Which, thank goodness I can do from home, because all of last week’s intensity has given me a cold. I stayed home today, and am lucky enough to have Salem overseeing my work as I prepare more for my case study.  Very helpful, indeed.

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It’s the start of yet another busy week!

Week 3: Jlag

Week 3:

Play

Well, this week was pretty amazing in some aspects and pretty awful in others.  As far as ‘play’ goes- there was not much of it!  I did have an opportunity to venture to the park near my (first) apartment.  This park is massive, but I only had a chance to visit one small section, as I got a late start and had to head back to meet friends out on the town.  The pictures below prove there’s a little bit of nature everywhere.  The first gloriously large tree is in the massive park, but the rest, like the bird and her beautiful mansion of a nest, were found in the same small plot of grass in the median of a popular avenue.

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I met my colleague, Stella, and a few of her roommates near St. Catherine’s cathedral, a huge church in the center of the city.  During the summer months, the place fills up with outside food and drink stalls, and people find chairs and tables to sit at or grab a drink and a snack at one of the numerous vendors and sit on the ground or curb in large groups.  It’s very festive, and everyone is friendly and pleasant.

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Saint Catherine’s Cathedral

On Sunday I moved apartments- I couldn’t handle one more day of a soaked bathroom with no light.  I got in touch with the organization I rented the first apartment through to alert them that the issues with the leaking still had not been resolved.  I had lost electricity for over 24 hours as well, meaning I had to throw out all of the food in my fridge (you know how we, as sustainable folks, HATE to waste) and I was on edge that at any moment, something else was going to break!  Luckily, the rental agency was completely understanding and my landlord was cooperative, so the transition went smoothly- I was able to get out of my contract with the other place and move immediately into another.  I have a roommate now, who is absolutely delightful- loves to laugh, is incredibly genuine and has made me feel so at home and comfortable.  The energy here is great.  AND she has a kitty!  Meet Salem!

kitty in a bag  …Or not… He appears to have more important things to do…

Work:

This week was the EDD15 Conference.  This was my first conference in the sustainability realm, and I must say it was very enjoyable.  The European Development Days for the European Year of Development focused on the eradication of poverty.  Common themes were culture, sustainable agriculture, human rights, education and sustainable tourism and development, with a large focus on Africa.  FEST joined forces with Africa Diaspora Network and Louis Michel Minister of State, Member of the European Parliament, to discuss why culture should be a part of the development goals for the next fifteen years.  The session was quite popular, with all the chairs filled and several people standing in the back of the room- the discussion even went over the time that was allotted (this was possible, as we had the last time slot of the day).

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“Culture: The Forgotten Lifeblood of Development” a panel and discussion by FEST and ADN.  The audience, and guest speaker, Louis Michel.

I met some great people with vision, motivation and hope for the future.  It’s always invigorating to be surrounded by people that believe in sustainability and are working toward action to further its agenda.  I heard discussions on sustainable agriculture, valuation for ecosystem services, culture as a vehicle for development through tourism, and sustainable development of African countries.  All in all, a successful, interesting week.

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As far as the internship objectives, I have chosen a few case studies and have familiarized myself with some of the capacity building criteria in the PM4SD training material.  Week 4 marks the week of training, with 5 days of training and 2 tests.  Countdown to Intensity!

Week 2: Jlag Brussels

Week 2, Jlag in Brussels

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A short week, as the country had Monday off as well, which conveniently was the same day that my ceiling began leaking.  Long story short, this is the 7th day of it, and several people have been alerted, but nothing has been done.  I am crossing my fingers that something happens today with it.  Cable tv has stopped working and my internet has become unreliable.  TV I can do without, but my internet is highly valuable as a means of entertainment, communication, information and mapping! It’s been a mildly frustrating week, but it has encouraged me to get out of the flat, at least.

I went to Anderlecht Market on Sunday.  It was so busy, and there was more produce there than I could have imagined.  It was overwhelming to try to choose a vendor.  But finally I did and got some eggplant, string beans, lettuce, tomatoes, and red peppers for under 5 euros.  I was quite pleased.  The route there was easy, and there were so many clothing vendors, household items, luggage, etc.  Here in Brussels, most stores are closed on Sunday.  So there are big markets around the city on Sunday morning.  It’s quite the event, with beer and food trucks and people hollering their low sales prices.  Even though it was raining and chilly, many people came out.  I get the sense that this is the weekly produce shopping for many families.  Because of that, it’s all business!  And because of that I was unable to get a very good photo.  There’s no stopping for tourists!  There’s bargain fruit out there!

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 1) At Anderlecht Market.                            2) The entrance to Anderlecht Abattoir, guarded by bulls. (retrieved from the Anderlecht market website)

Work:

I have been making progress in the material for PM4SD.  It is very management focused, which is good for me, as I have some knowledge of the sustainable tourism aspect, but less so in terms of project management.  I have reached out to several practitioners with the preliminary survey and am looking forward to receiving and evaluating the results.

I am on to the next step while I wait.  I have laid out the case study design and am beginning to anticipate the interview questions and the data collection that will be required for the research.  I understand that no project will be the same and we are flexible in the techniques of PM4SD that we are evaluating, so each case study will offer very different information.  However, I have created a general layout that should be applicable to most, and help demonstrate the capacity building abilities of the program.

This upcoming week will be interesting, as the EDD15 Conference takes place Wednesday and Thursday.  Our organization is mainly involved in the African Diaspora discussion.  There will be a few speakers in our session, and then the audience will be broken into groups for discussion.  The topic will revolve around how culture can empower communities and sustainable tourism can offer authentic heritage and cultural experiences.  It will pull in the concept of stakeholder engagement, policy and local community involvement.

This is also the week before my training, so there is a lot to do.  The tasks that await are: reviewing my project timeline and updating where needed; studying for the PM4SD; preparing for the EDD15 session, where I will be involved in discussions as well as photography for the event, and checking back with practitioners for the survey results.   Since I don’t have much field work yet, and it is all office work, I will spare you boring pictures of my computer and training material.  Week 3 promises a more interactive experience.

Week 1: Jlag in Brussels

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Arrived in Brussels on Sunday and was able to acclimate myself to the area, find the best public transportation route to my office.  I found out that Brussels is not warm, and in fact is not even cool, but is just plain cold (Floridian).  My one checked luggage and one carryon of spring clothing will not be sufficient, but gives me an excuse to get familiar with the shopping areas!

Brussels’ old architecture, to an American, is impressive.  A walk in any direction for any short amount of time will turn up a surprisingly interesting sight of an old church, building, museum or just unique facades on residential or commercial edifices.20150521_131814

There are loads of hidden gems such as statues, small parks, fountains and unique pieces of art scattered around the city.  My apartment is a block away from a 10,000 acre forest, but not far from the city center.  It’s a lovely spot, with convenient transportation and easy access to nature. (Picture right: The Atomium- a well known site in Brussels)

I also am enjoying a three day weekend, so I spent Saturday on a tour from Ghent to Bruges- also old, beautiful towns that I am happy to have seen within the first week of my experience abroad.

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(Bruges: The Belfort Clock Tower and a horse drawn carriage on the cobblestone streets)

Work

My internship host organization, Jlag Europe, is also located between two large parks.  Brussels is one of the greenest cities in Europe because of its scattered natural areas.  It’s quite beautiful.  It’s nice because most of the buildings have massive windows and use natural daylighting.  They claim it is because they have such an appreciation for the rare sunshine, and don’t want to miss it when it appears.  So, I am lucky to have my desk set up near a large window, despite the proclivity for heavy honking it appears Belgians have.

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Anyway, the first few days of the internship have been extremely productive, as the outline for the research is taking shape, I have further defined capacity building for the purposes of this study, and some specific capacity building techniques within PM4SD have been identified.  I have developed a preliminary survey that will be disseminated to practitioners in order to help identify which project(s) will be suitable for further research.  I am also reviewing a little bit of the material or the PM4SD training.  Not only will I be researching this program throughout the internship, but will also be striving to earn a Practitioner’s certification, which will empower me to apply the tools within the program to sustainable tourism projects, and perhaps even become a trainer.

I have learned a little about the goals of the organization as well, and although it may appear Europe centric at first, the intention is to become an internationally recognized and utilized program for global sustainable tourism efforts.  Perhaps Florida would be a great location for the next satellite office?  My mind is turning with opportunities to expand to the Caribbean, even, from there.

EDD15:  I am registered for a conference on development and culture.  This takes place the 3rd and 4th of June, and my advisor, Silvia Barbone, will be speaking.  European Development Days aims to improve global equity by 2030, with a special focus on gender and sustainable development.  This is extremely important and an issue that is very interesting to me. I will expand on this as I learn more and once the conference arrives.

Overview

My graduate studies have lead me to Brussels, Belgium, to intern with Jlag Europe and FEST, jlagagencies devoted to sustainable development.  The purpose of my internship is to evaluate Jlag’s Project Management for Sustainable Development (PM4SD™) training materials and identify its potential as a tool for capacity building within sustainable projects.

PM4SD™ is a project management training system with a goal to improve the sustainability of tourism projects.  I will study for the Practitioner certification, a course that instructs practitioners on how to manage sustainable tourism projects through stakeholder engagement, results-driven action and other important techniques, including capacity building efforts.fest

Capacity building is on the international agenda.  In 1992, at the Earth Summit held in Rio de Janeiro, the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development drafted the details of Agenda 21, a voluntary action plan for all levels of government to guide sustainable development.  Within the document, Chapter 27 was devoted to the definition and exploration of capacity building and its importance in achieving sustainable development goals.  Since then, capacity building has been recognized by numerous global conventions as an important factor in achieving sustainable development.

My internship with Jlag has the overall goal of identifying the capacity building techniques embedded in the PM4SD™  training, and demonstrating how the program can be a useful tool for this purpose.  In order to do this, I will take the course and exam, familiarize myself with the capacity building techniques the program offers, and reach out to PM4SD™ certified professionals to build a case study for different projects that have successfully utilized PM4SD™ capacity building techniques.  Working with practitioners that have employed the training material in real life scenarios will give realistic insight into the effectiveness of the program as a capacity building tool.

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