My Experience | The Youth Mobilization & Empowerment Conference in Lisbon

Hello, my name is Vinh Le, the Creative Designer and Partner at Level Studio Inc.

In March of 2018, I was able to attend a unique conference in Lisbon, Portugal hosted by The Young Reporters for the Environment (YRE), The Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) & The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). The conference entitled “Youth Mobilization and Empowerment” streamlined the Global Action Programme (GAP) and the Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) Leadership Training. UNESCO launched the Global Action Program on ESD to focus on generating and scaling up ESD action at all levels and in all areas of education as well as sustainable development sectors. I also have to admit that this conference was a life-changing event for me.

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I have participated in 2 previous competitions where I was invited to participate in the Litter Less Mission hosted by Sweden and Portugal to enhance my skills as a sustainable photojournalist. I have graduated within the design field, worked at design firms and am currently following one of my biggest dreams of opening an interior design company in Toronto which I could not have done without the overwhelming support from my business partner, friends and colleagues. However, while tackling one part of my dream of pushing boundaries in my design career, I knew deep down I was not doing enough to live up to the other part of my aspirations by continuing to practice sustainability in my work.

The residential and commercial design industry can be wasteful when it comes to projects. Our industry has changed dramatically over the last few decades with new building techniques that embrace passive energy, efficient materials, and furniture stores that reduce carbon footprints. These are important topics to consider during a design and renovation. Within my company, my partner and I continue to challenge the thought of bridging ideas to incorporate sustainable practices into our interior design business. Our main obstacle with this approach would be that we may push potential clients away because the notion of sustainable design can be “too expensive to implement.” These were my concerns and questions I had going into the conference. I knew there is another way to create a hybrid where interior design and sustainability can work harmoniously together.

The conference brought together 42 other Young Reporters from across the world to come together to learn how to become ‘Change Agents‘ for our world. The conference started and I was reunited with my past YRE friends that I’ve made several years ago during the Litter Less Mission in Sweden and Portugal and introduced me to new faces that would bring lifelong friendships. My emotions were high as I thought I would never see such great people again. 

Throughout the three days at the conference we were taught different education modules that allowed us to learn and understand more about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), systems thinking, conflict transformation, leadership, visioning, communication, facilitation, networking, monitoring and evaluation. Each of these modules were powerful in helping us understand the foundations of Education for Sustainable Development. A few lessons that I would like to talk about is when we covered the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. If you would like to learn more about the 17 Sustainable Development Goals, please check out this video I’ve linked below by @theIIED. This quick 3 minute video will give you a better understanding of why the 17 SDG’s were developed to help our world join together to fight for sustainability for our future generations.

The 17 SDG’s have shown us that there are other systems that play a role to fight for a sustainable world such as No Poverty, Quality Education and Partnerships for the Goals. I was not familiar with some of these until this conference. This module made me understand that our world works in many microsystems that works in a complex macro system.

This led us into the ‘System Thinking’ module which helped me realize that my business can harmonize interior design and sustainability by tackling energy & water consumption, material upcycling and reducing our carbon footprints by sourcing efficiently and locally. The ‘Leadership’ module has given me confidence that we can be leaders in our industry by practicing what is morally right for the environment. Finally, the ‘Networking’ module shined a light on utilizing my network of people and leverage my platform to achieve sustainability. I’ve also learned that the YRE’s passion in fighting for sustainability is what brings us closer together more than ever before. My good friend always said, ‘Once a YRE, Always a YRE.’


The duration of this conference gave me a better understanding of ESD as well as the confidence and empowerment to continue to practice and fight for a sustainable world. At the end of the conference, we focused on internal networking and how we could utilize our own networks through collaborating as a team. At that moment during this lecture, I knew we needed a network platform that could bring us together and continue to inspire and collaborate with each other to come together as a team and empower our local communities. I proposed the idea of creating a workspace called ‘Slack’, a cloud-based team collaboration tool and service that will bring everyone together by creating different topics and channels for any YRE advocate, alumni and directors that can contribute to any discussion. I’ve come to conclude that we all need help from each other and creating this workspace would help us focus on a goal together. I believe if we are going to be ESD leaders, we need to create a healthy support system across the world.

The Youth Mobilization and Empowerment conference was a huge success in my experience. I found the modules that were taught to us were exactly what we needed to learn and become active change agents in our community. As the first group to attend this conference, I feel YRE/ FEE have done a beautiful job in executing each module that lead to many fruitful discussions which I thought were more interesting and powerful. I believe the continuation of this conference on a 2-3 year basis with new/young groups will continue to empower and inspire many more youth advocates across the globe. I would like to personally thank YRE, Blue Flag Association Of Europe (ABAE), FEE and UNESCO for the collaborative effort. This conference is a great example of networking, the art of systems thinking, and leadership working cohesively; when a group of people who share a similar passion come together, they can accomplish great things.

Additional Photos
Photos Taken by ABAE FEE Portugal & Kai Xiang