First year of Keep It Clean training programs – what have we learned?

2020 has sure been a special year for all of us and you all know the reason I’m talking about. But it has been special to Let’s Do It Foundation for another reason. This year we launched our training programs and had the chance to test them in different contexts and situations. Here’s an overview of what we did this year and what we learned from it. Because teaching is always foremost the opportunity to learn something yourself.

  • A training program can be bilingual, practical, online and onsite all at once! 
  • Local experts give practical value and relatability – our training programs have given us the chance to establish great ties with experts from Bangladesh, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and GAIA Asia Pacific.
  • Waste management in the end is a very practical field – every training should inspire for local change management programs. 
  • We can make things happen online, but we will never underestimate the importance of physical meetings. Hope to see you in 2021 at some of our events! 

The start

Let’s Do It Foundation has been learning and teaching since the beginning. Through organizing cleanups, millions of volunteers have gained different skills and knowledge informally. In 2016 Leaders’ Academies were born to help country leaders coordinate nation-wide cleanups. After the launch of our Keep It Clean Plan in Sept 2018, our focus has more strongly been on circular economy and zero waste. That also meant a new approach to our teaching work. As a nerd of education for sustainable development (known also as ESD) for more than 10 years, I had the pleasure to take up the lead in this work stream within the Let’s Do It Foundation.

The year started with what turned out to be our only fully onsite physical training in 2020. Participants from nine countries in Asia, Europe, LATM and the Middle East took two days to get the basics of zero waste principles and methods. They got hands on at waste audit and safe landfill mock-ups and planned together future possible activities. Plus spent extra half a day for site visits. You can see the short wrap up video of the training here and the gallery here

As a follow up to the training, we asked participants to pick two topics for webinars to get more in depth into topics we didn’t have time to cover at the training. Little did we know that by spring, everybody will be learning online… The chosen topics for webinars were behaviour change and waste policy. We opened the webinars for listening to everybody interested and had altogether over 100 people participating. It also proved a nice way to reconnect with our participants and give support to each other in this challenging year.


The basic skill of sustainability – adapt!

Adaptability and flexibility are one of the key skills addressed within ESD. We all must be ready to face future challenges we might not even know about now. This year has indeed been good practice for that. And so the autumn brought us probably the most interesting project – a hybrid training for camp managers at Cox’s Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh – the largest refugee camp in the world. We had the pleasure to be invited to co-organize it with the European Environmental Bureau by the Danish Refugee Council. The topics we covered were tailored for the refugee camp setting. Special focus was on biowaste management as the most problematic and yet easily manageable waste stream. Danish Refugee Council has already organized a follow up training on more specific biowaste treatment topics onsite. 

All of the trainers from four different countries were connected through Zoom, the participants were together in the same room. With the extra elements of bilingualism (trainers: English, participants: Bangla) and possible internet disconnections (which luckily happened only a few times a day), we came up with a dual-facilitation system. The general planning and setting up the activities were done from Europe, while translation and support for actual learning activities onsite were done by a local expert from World Vision International (who had been also participant at our training back in January).

Trust and creativity

Up until early summer we had the hope to organize physical training events for Trash Hero World in Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia in autumn. These too had to change for fully online sessions. In addition to previously mentioned issues of bilingualism (English, Thai, Indonesian and Malay languages) and instability of internet connections, we also had to think of different skill levels in using online tools and how to transform usually physical tasks into an online world. And so waste items for waste audit exercise became images to be moved around on screen in Google Jamboard environment.

These training events offered moments of learning to trust the process for myself as an educator and facilitator. In physical group work sessions you can see how the groups are doing, if they are active, where are the discussions going etc. In online space this is all hidden, because the groups worked in languages I did not understand and in different virtual spaces. With a great help from Trash Hero team, we relied here on group moderators, who

  1. had already practiced using the online tools and could support the participants in that; and
  2. took the lead in group work and task management. 

The three sets of 2-day training events aimed to give an overview about zero waste principles to Trash Hero clean up activists.  A greater focus was on greenwashing and false solutions. The trainer pool included local experts from Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia and GAIA Asia Pacific to give practical value and relatability. We are already looking forward to new future collaborations to continue with the topics we didn’t manage to cover this time, for example the problem of waste dumping.

The importance of physical meetings

The need for real human contact, learning and practicing things together in the same room, is of course no news to anyone. But perhaps this year it became even more evident. People working in the environmental field often get criticized for travelling too much. 

And yes, while we cannot ignore the environmental impact of flying, we also have to remember that for change to happen, people need to learn new things, be inspired by each other and cooperate. 

And yes, while we have proven that great things can be done online as well, we also need real life meetings, exchange of expertise and skills, practical experiences in real life settings, forming friendships and a sense of common goal.

As the year approaches towards its end, we have just started our new two-year project with our friends and partners in Europe. In our online meetings and discussions, where we envision and plan activities for next year, everyone’s new year wish is to have our training events in 2021 happen physically. I’m sure you will join us in this wish


– Written by Kadri Kalle

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