Be the change 09

1. Sustainability and global citizenship: connections between ‘here’ and ‘there’

Perhaps you will recognise one of the following examples:

In the area where your partner organisation has launched a project to help local farmers acquire a plot of land, a multinational corporation comes and buys up all the land from the government in order to put in a mining installation. The local farmers hardly get a say in this, let alone compensation. Components for mobile phones are produced through the mining installations, which you can then buy in your home country.

The director of your partner organisation would like to come to your home country to pursue a fundraising course for a number of months. The financing for this has been settled thanks to a gift from a local company. Flights and accommodation have been booked – but then it suddenly appears that the director will not be granted a visa. The embassy of your country is afraid that he will become an illegal asylum seeker and that he doesn’t have enough income to support himself. Your work will bear the brunt of the economic situation in his country and of the European immigration policy.

Last year, with the help of volunteers, your partner organisation in Bangladesh renovated a school for blind children. You are all very proud of the beautiful new classrooms and the modern Braille printer. Unfortunately, the school is hit by a cyclone in the summer and suffers from subsequent flooding. Due to climate change Bangladesh is particularly vulnerable to this sort of disaster. Would this be a reason for you not to use your car at home?

What we do in Europe is connected to what happens in the rest of the world. Trade agreements, tax evasion, greenhouse gas emissions, EU guidelines, strict immigration policy, profit margins of large companies and what we consume here all have a direct or indirect influence on the lives and opportunities of people from countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. We are not always aware of these types of influences, or sometimes we choose to ignore them.

As a global citizen, you can commit yourself to sustainability and social responsibility. With the projects that your foundation supports, you get a look at the world beyond your home country, something which might otherwise pass people by. For your supporters, world problems may seem vast and far away: but you can bring these closer to home by communicating about things that we as European people can change ‘here’ in order to make a substantial difference ‘there’. In this chapter, you will read how you can involve your supporters in your projects and project country in a simple and effective way: address them as global citizens.

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2. Setting to work with sustainability

As a small-scale charity, you can do your best for sustainability in a variety of ways. For instance, this might mean that you take a critical look at your own lifestyle and the goods/services you buy. In Section 4 below, you will find a number of good ideas to help you get started. Research from the National Commission for International Cooperation and Sustainable Development (NCDO, 2013-2014) (in Dutch only) shows that Dutch people who are involved in small-scale charities (both actively as well as indirectly, as a donor) score higher in nine dimensions of ‘global citizenship’ than the average Dutch person.

People involved in charitable initiatives score visibly better when it comes to mobility, recycling, and consumption behaviour. For example, they throw away less food that is still good, and donate goods like clothing, shoes, and computers much more often. (NCDO, 2014)

Take advantage of this fact by forming a bond with your potential or existing donors on the basis of your collective values and interest in sustainable living! If, as an organisation, you show that you are committed to sustainability, you will build up an image of involvement in what is taking place around the world. You will show that you have a vision and objective that reach beyond the donation of money or the completion of a single project. Donors will then value your dedication and will experience greater and prolonged involvement in your work and that of your partner organisation.

Speak with the members of your foundation/initiative about how you wish to contribute yourself. Compose a handout about the things that you do in order to be consistent in terms of your mission and vision, and display this on your website. For instance, show that you use as many organic products as possible at events that you organise; that you have a bank account with a sustainable bank; or that you ensure that your events are always easily accessible by public transport. Aside from this, consider things you can do in the project country: how will you deal with fraud and how can you support the local economy as much as possible?

In addition, pay active attention to the sustainability of your project or projects. Build on the knowledge and capacity of people so that they can shortly continue with their own work once you are gone. You will also make the project more sustainable and less dependent by engaging in fundraising in the partner country.

See the chapter Fundraising for tips.

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3. Communicating about sustainability

Aside from working in a more sustainable way yourself, you can also encourage others to do so by means of communicating through your foundation or initiative. Make people aware that their actions and choices have consequences for the world around them, and explain how some choices concretely influence the objectives of your project.

For example:

  • Place the document you’ve written on sustainability in a prominent position on your website to show that you consider consistency to be important.
  • Draw attention to global problems encountered by people within the project you support. Poor harvest due to climate change? Difficulty selling products because a European company has infiltrated the market with cheap products? Polluted water because industries are dumping waste? Put out a call to action! Ask people to sign a petition or to cease buying products from a particular brand, and especially explain why you are doing this.


  • Provide a new sustainability tip on a regular basis, such as through your Facebook page or in a newsletter. If people are curious about your tip, they may click through to your website, and in this way you will be killing two birds with one stone. Moreover, you will give people the feeling that they can do something themselves to address inequality and problems in the world!
  • Identify specifically what people here and people there can mean for one another, and establish contact between these groups. For instance, a donor that installs solar panels in your home country would also be able to give very good advice to a hospital in Niger. In contrast, a Fair Trade importer in Europe might be eager to purchase scarves from a company in Nepal. The creation of direct connections between people allows them to understand one another, and become involved in each other’s fortunes. In the long term, this could lead to new sustainable initiatives!


‘Development aid’ no longer solely concerns aid from here to there. In the coming ten years, ‘we’ and ‘they’ will grow increasingly together, and will need to work together to tackle global issues. It is not without reason that the Millennium Development Goals are changing in 2015 to become Sustainable Development Goals, which focus on the connectedness between all countries. That is why ‘reframing’ is so important; we stand together before the task of convincing the world that we need each other and that every vote counts.

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4. How can you contribute to a better world?

Charities are at the forefront when it comes to sustainable living and working. Complete a brief checklist here to see if you can achieve even more and to perhaps also inspire others!

‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’ is a widely-known slogan. For instance, you can pay attention to your energy consumption, the things that you buy, how you fly, and if your workplace is carbon-neutral. You can make certain choices as an individual, but also as a foundation or business.


  • How much energy do you use in a day? With a ‘smart’ meter or thermostat, you can track exactly what you consume, which appliances consume the most, and you can control when appliances turn on or off in order to conserve consumption.
  • What is the source of your power? Do you buy green energy or conventional energy? Power can be generated by coal, gas, and biomass, but also by windmills or solar panels. Watch out for biomass by the way: it’s possible that the agricultural land in developing countries is being snatched up by companies that produce organic crops for the European energy market. Several (country-specific) hallmarks may indicate whether your energy comes from a sustainable and renewable source.


  • Turn off the light and the heating if you are not in the room. For every 16 seconds that you have the light off, you save energy. Going to the kitchen briefly for a cup of tea? Turn off the light in the living room! Use LED bulbs instead of incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs. Search for useful apps that allow you to turn the heat on and off, even when you aren’t at home.
  • Insulate your house or office. Wild Geese Foundation has insulated its roof with grass so that the office retains as much warmth as possible. For example, you can have a thermal scan done of your house: where do you consume the most energy?


  • Buy products with a hallmark that indicates that they were produced in an environmentally-conscious and sustainable manner. Sample hallmarks are EU-certified Organic Food, and the MSC or ASC hallmark for fish. Products such as flowers, toilet paper, or wood for furniture can also have a hallmark.
  • How much does the maker of the product earn and what were his or her working conditions? Look for Fair Trade products, UTZ, or clothing from organic cotton.
  • Eat less meat. In the meat indicator below, you can see exactly how much your piece of meat or meat substitute taxes the animal (left) or the environment (right).
(bron Stichting Varkens in Nood, 2009)

From top to bottom: Quorn, Tofu, vegetarian burger, Valess, organic beef mince, organic veal, beef mince, organic chicken, organic lamb, lamb, organic pork, veal, chicken, organic beef, pork, rabbit, turkey, beef (source: Stichting Varkens in Nood, 2009)

  • Print double-sided sheets, and put two pages on one side.
  • Purchase products from local suppliers. These have less distance to travel and also may not have needed to be transported frozen. Aside from this, you can best buy fruits and vegetables that are in season, and thus don’t need to be imported from far abroad.
  • Don’t throw away your food. A third of food that is produced ends up in the garbage bin: a waste, of course. If you buy groceries or cook, think about the exact amount you will need. You can store any leftovers in a container in your fridge and eat them for your next lunch, or make a soup from them!


  • Organise meetings near a train station. This way, people do not need to come by car.
  • Take the train more often yourself, or share your car with multiple people via a carpool/ ridesharing initiative such as or


  • Fly carbon neutral to your project country, by compensating for your flight through Greenseat, Trees for all or any comparable initiative.
  • Work from home occasionally. You can sleep in, and you will also conserve fuel for your car.

Corporate Social Responsibility

  • Do you have your own company? Pay additional attention to the products and services that you consume. For example, you can drink Fair Trade coffee, encourage employees to print less and/or calculate your carbon footprint. You can find plenty of information online.
  • With which bank do you have an open account? Some banks invest in weapons, and others have shares in companies that make use of child labour. Use the Fair Finance Guide International to check which bank fits with your ideals.

Links to useful websites:

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