Programme Overview

Sustainability Activism

The next edition of this course will take place in summer 2023.

Exploring Social Change
at the Intersection of Human Rights and the Environment


Brief description

Are you interested in learning about the concepts, tools and ways of working that drive activism on sustainability challenges today? Do you want to learn from people working at the forefront of human rights and environmental change? Do you wish to get a deeper insight from cutting-edge analysis?

“Sustainability activism” on topics such as climate change, human rights and environmental protection plays a key role in national and global change making processes across the world. This Summer School addresses the changing realities, conditions and practices of sustainability activism and social change bringing together both social science and activist analysis and perspectives.  

The Summer School is a new format established by the Faculty of Social Sciences and the Environmental Governance and Territorial Development Institute in collaboration with Right Livelihood and the University of Zürich. The first session will be held in Geneva from June 7 to 11, 2022. The target audience includes both MA and PhD-level university students interested in sustainability activism as well as a small number of places with scholarships for grassroots activists who are interested in deepening their understanding and practice (university enrolment not a requirement). 

The course aims to introduce students and young activists to recent thinking around sustainability activism and civic spaces at both global and local levels. This includes case-study learning together with renowned activist and Right Livelihood Laureate Dr. Vandana Shiva, university lecturers from Geneva and Zürich together with actors from international Geneva. 


3 Learning objectives of the Summer School  

  1. Deepen understanding of roles, spaces and practices of activism in reaching societal change in both local and global sustainability contexts  
  2. Learn from the activism, scholarship and experience of Vandana Shiva with a deep-dive into specific success factors, challenges, theories of change and tools 
  3. Engage participants in a process of reflection upon their own action and research; encourage and equip participants to adapt concepts, tools and experiences into own spheres of analysis and practice;  


The course in a nutshell 

The course offers a unique to deepen the understanding of contemporary forms of activism in the fields of environmentalism, sustainable development, and human rights from both a theoretical perspective as well as with hands-on insights and real-time case studies. The course combines training with Right Livelihood Laureate Vandana Shiva and practitioners from the international Geneva community alongside scholars from the Universities of Geneva and Zurich. 

The first part of the session is dedicated to learning from the activism and experiences of Vandana Shiva, world renowned Indian activist and scholar. A full day is dedicated to hands-on learning with Vandana Shiva building on her personal experiences, organizational perspectives and conceptual ideas. The kinds of topics covered include sustainability, eco-social transformation, earth democracy and eco-feminism.  

The second part addresses advocacy in the United Nations ranging from the recently adopted right to a healthy environment, the business and human rights field. Bringing together scholars and activists, we explore and learn from multiple engagements with the human rights arena globally as well as environmental activism. 

The third part dives into topics of civic spaces, activism and security. We also seek to deepen our understanding democratic participation and activism in the Swiss context with lectures from both scholars and activists working to explore and enhance new arenas for sustainability action. 

Participants will throughout the process be invited to reflect upon their own forms of sustainability activism and interests with specific moments to secure feedback on their own plans and activities. 


Target group(s) 

The Summer School is open to both advanced students of all disciplines, sustainability professionals as well as grassroots activists. A number of scholarships are available for Zürich students and activists (free tuition/ accommodation/ transportation). For more information, contact the organizers. ach participant will be requested to develop a brief personal description of their interest or activities in the field of sustainability issues as part of their letter of motivation.


Professionals : CHF 1,000

External students : CHF 800

University of Geneva and University of Zürich students : CHF 200

Note: Limited number of scholarships (including course and housing fees) available.
Registration deadline: 15 April 2022.

No need to submit a reference letter for this course.


Dr. Peter Bille Larsen
Geneva School of Social Sciences
University of Geneva

Senior lecturer and researcher, joined the University of Geneva in September, 2018. He has a strong interest in critical theory, environmental anthropology and political ecology. His work addresses the intersection between environmental conservation, politics and social equity concerns, including work in the fields of cultural heritage, environmental governance, international human rights standards and sustainable development.  Primary fieldwork sites include the Peruvian Amazon, Viet Nam and global level organizations and processes. He works extensively with international organizations, NGOs and community-based organizations through collaborative efforts and policy-oriented action research. Active in multiple science policy arenas, he is currently a member of the Swiss Commission for UNESCO presiding a recent initiative on UNESCO-related human rights dialogues as well the Interface Commission of the Swiss Anthropological Association (

Current research focusses on sub-regional environmental governance and transboundary conservation in Southeast Asia, heritage and development in Vietnam as well as the changing conditions of environmental civil society and environmental defenders (Boninchi Foundation, IUCN, GSPI, SNF). He teaches sustainable development and biodiversity governance in the Master of Environmental Sciences, a course on the social and environmental dilemmas in contemporary capitalism Master's program in Innovation, Human Development and Sustainability and a course on sustainability standards and social regulation in the Masters of "Standardization, Social Regulation and Sustainable Development". Recent books include World heritage and human rights (Earthscan), Post-frontier resource governance (Palgrave) and World heritage and sustainable development (Routledge).


Dr. Aline Steinbrecher
Right Livelihoods Centre
University of Zurich

Aline Steinbrecher Frei is a private lecturer for Modern Age at the University of Zurich. After studying General History and Education, she earned her doctorate at the University of Zurich with a dissertation about handling insanity in the early modern age. In 2017, she attained her habilitation with a work about the relationship of human beings and dogs in the long 18th Century. She has been an assistant and research associate at the Historical Department for a long time. Most recently, she was a fellow at the Zukunftskolleg of the University of Constance. She lectured and researched at the Wellcome Institute of London, at the Historical Department in Constance, at the Historical Seminar in Munich and at the Medical History Department in Basel and Freiburg.


Alexander Repenning
Right Livelihood Foundation 

Striving to transcend societal, academic, cultural, political boundaries and dedicated to build a just and sustainable society. Working in political education, social-science research and workshop facilitation, engaged as a writer and activist in the area of climate justice and global learning.


Dr. Vandana Shiva, Navdanya
Rights Livelihood* Laureate Key Instructor

Prof. Dr. Vandana Shiva trained as a Physicist. In 1982 she founded an independent institute, the Research Foundation for Science, Technology and Ecology in Dehra Dun which is dedicated to high quality and independent research to address the most significant ecological and social issues of our times. In 1991 she founded Navdanya, a national movement to protect the diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seeds. Prof. Dr Shiva has contributed in fundamental ways to changing the practice and paradigms of agriculture and food. Her books, ‘The Violence of Green Revolution’ and ‘Monocultures of the Mind’, have become basic challenges to the dominant paradigm of non-sustainable, reductionist agricultural practices. Prof. Dr Shiva is a Founding Board Member of many important organizations such as the International Forum on Globalisation and Diverse Women for Diversity. Time Magazine identified her as an environmental hero in 2003. She received the Right Livelihood Award in 1993 and the 2010 Sydney Peace Prize. She is a Founding Member of the World Future Council.



*Right Livelihood is a courage-powered community for social change. Established in 1980, the Right Livelihood Award recognizes the actions of brave visionaries committed to peace, justice and sustainability for all. Since 1980, 186 Laureates from 73 countries have received the distinction to date. The work of the Right Livelihood Foundation goes beyond only presenting the Award: they provide these change-makers with long-term support.