15 August 2020
Sandra Boni

Bridge 47 works with many organizations throughout Europe at various levels with the aim of mobilizing them, through GCE, to contribute effectively to global justice and eradication of poverty. This includes several local grassroot partners, such as the popular universities throughout Spain. 

On May 14, the Iberian Knowledge Exchange Partnership held a webinar with Fundacion Etea and SinergiasED in order to discuss global citizenship education (GCE). We were able to interview Ms. Sandra Boni (S) on her presentation about rethinking Sustainable Development Goals. 

Interviewer: Christian Bardales (C), Project Assistant, Knowledge Exchange Partnerships Team, EADI.

C: Can you tell me a little about your background and how did you got involved in development?

S: I have a degree in law and a PhD in human rights and democracy and I was involved with some social organizations in the field of development before joining the university. When I joined the university, I became a part-time lecturer on development issues. After that, a professor. I think I'm linked more in the academic perspective. I'm teaching development and researching development, but I also have strong links with social organizations, development organizations and some public authorities. For example, I’ve carried projects with the local municipal authority of Valencia, the regional government of Valencia, and the Spanish Agency for Development Cooperation. My degree is from the Complutense, which is a university in Madrid. My PhD is in the University of Valencia and I’m actually a professor at the Polytechnical University of Valencia. It is two different universities; University of Valencia is more humanistic, focusing on social sciences and health. The technical one is engineering and this kind of thing. My university is the technical university of Valencia. My family is half Italian and half Spanish, but I grew up mainly in Madrid and then moved to Valencia later on.

C: What are Spanish popular universities and how have you incorporated GCE into your curriculum there?

S: Popular universities are like schools for older people granted by the local government. It's not a proper university, but a continuing education program for people who normally couldn’t go to school, are unemployed, are patients, or have lots of free time and what to spend time learning. We don’t want to teach our development studies master students only on the university campus, we want to go beyond the campus because we want to incorporate the curriculum into other places in Valencia. We try to work in neighborhoods and build these with local neighborhood actors. In this specific neighborhood, the popular university was one of the more active actors, very dynamic with lots of links with other social organizations, so it was a very good partner to build this curriculum outside our university. Inside university, we also try to innovate and illustrate different ways of teaching. We are really committed to work with this global and local perspective. Our master's program has a global curriculum, our students have an internship program connected with Latin American and other countries, but also, we try to link this global education with local problems and activities in Valencia. We talk about development problems and we use development theories and approaches, but we want to link the local issues and try to explore it with our students, how local problems in a neighborhood are connected with migration or how a community vegetable garden has to do with global issues. This is what we try to do when we connect the local and the global.

I think it's different from other masters, at least in Spain, normally the global curriculum is there and maybe the global connections through internships or other teachers, but connecting local narratives to global problems is weaker.

C: How do you think the UN’s sustainable development goals could be better implemented?

S: Instead of having a list of SDGs with indicators, why don’t we think about it in a different way? We have some SDGs which indicate the direction of our transformation connected to the end of poverty, climate change, addressing inequality, et al. Then we have some that are the areas or sectors that need to be transformed. You can transform education, energy, seas, cities, etc.

Then you have two at the top, the conditions that we need for this transformation, peace and partnerships. At the center lies development education strategies or processes. For the master's program, I consider development education strategies or initiatives, connecting the local and global. I need alliances, I need connections with the local actors. I want to transform the educational actors, to push transformation at the university level, the education sector, and SDG 4. I also want to transform the city by bringing this initiative into the city and the local neighborhoods. If I understand SDGs in that way and I connect these SDGs to my developmental education approach, we can better understand the potential of SDGs to achieve transformation. What I’m proposing is a different way of looking at the SDGs and it's not only me.

C: What are your thoughts on how to measure the impact of innovative development education or GCE on the achievement of the SDGs?

S: The first answer is to do good qualitative research. It’s very easy to think of doing qualitative research, but it has its own methods so you have to do it well. The second question is more about the politics of this. The main center of power in the development sector, the world bank or UNDP or big international agencies, are chaired by economists and they tend to use quantitative methods. This is another kind of problem. Of course, I think that if we want to measure SDGs and the performance of development education innovation connected to SDGs, you can measure them qualitatively or quantitatively. Of course, qualitative may be less comparable, but you can have a different kind of information that is interesting to see, analyze, and measure with different indicators. But for one thing, you need to do good qualitative research, that needs to be stressed and reinforced. The development sector is informed more by economists, but they need to open up to other kinds of measurements that are relevant to understand development. What’s happening now with COVID, how do you understand what's happening now at the level of communities? For instance, which is important in lots of community experiences in developing countries, people help each other. This is not so easy to measure using quantitative methods. Quantitative measures probably can’t reach this information in observations of COVID affected communities. This is a big challenge.

C: What else do those involved in GCE research need to consider?

S: You can produce qualitative research using interviews, observation, and focus groups. There are a lot of methodologies to conduct research. I wouldn’t call it qualitative, but participatory is another kind of research that's even less recognized by the academic community. The problem for me is not the methods, the problem is which kind of methods have more credibility in the development community in terms of power. Who has the power, who decides what kind of knowledge is valued or good? You look at who’s leading the world bank or who’s behind the big development journals and you see economists mainly and economists tend to not give importance to these different methods. I think a relevant issue in development is who produces the knowledge and if you think that local people are entitled to produce relevant knowledge. It's an issue of justice, who has the right to produce knowledge. This kind of knowledge can be captured using quantitative methods, but in many cases, you need to use qualitative methods to grade this knowledge and to give this knowledge something to say in development debates.

C: You mention participatory methods, is this a way to get more local input into the research?

S: Yeah, participatory methods are normally easier. You can explain yourself using photos or themes. You don’t need to be an expert in a mathematical model to be part of a participatory method research. I’m not saying everything should be participatory, not at all, because this is complex and many times participatory doesn’t automatically mean a real participatory research. But for sure, using other methods is easier to engage local people outside of normal academia. There are a lot of issues behind this.

C: Finally, how has the Bridge 47 Knowledge Exchange Partnership impacted your work and the GCE sector?

S: I think we did a good number of webinars, interacted and connected with people from Latin America and Portugal. The webinar was a good exercise to share what we were doing and some knowledge and thoughts while building a community between us and with people from other parts of America, and Spain, and Portugal. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to see each other and have a more personal interaction like in Lisbon. I had a good experience, I shared what I’m thinking, I know other perspectives and it has reinforced the network between us.


This interview was edited by Wayne Tobin, Communications Officer.

About the Author

Sandra Boni

Sandra Boni is a Professor at the Polytechnical University of Valencia and holds a PhD in Human Rights and Democracy.

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