Universities and Climate Resilient Communities in the Western Balkans and the EU (1FUTURE project and beyond)

Sergey Dmitriev
6 min readJul 28, 2023

While exploring grass-root ecology-aware communities, regenerative permaculture initiatives, and sustainable rural tourism in the Balkans, I’ve been monitoring if any strong commitment, research and education in these fields could be found in local universities, especially with international collaboration.

Finally, I’ve found one and I’m curious about it. The newly started (from 2023 to 2026) ERASMUS+ capacity building joint project called 1FUTURE (see also its LinkedIn page). It is designed to lead climate action in higher education institutions in the region and connect different stakeholders for building climate-resilient communities. With 3 Albanian Universities as well as universities in Montenegro, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and North Macedonia, Lund University (Sweden), Iuav University of Venezia (Italy), University of Novi Sad (Serbia), and Eberswalde University for Sustainable Development (Germany) it aims to:

  • establish knowledge hubs for climate and sustainability,
  • raise the related awareness of staff and student community,
  • and increase synergies between academia, business sector and government.
University of Tirana

The project’s pre-kick off meeting was just on March 2023, and the leading partner is the University of Tirana (with its Faculty of Economy as the coordination body). The kick-off meeting was held on May 3rd and 4th and its report has all the slides presented by the project’s participants.

To get into a better understanding of how this multi-party project is structured and who will do what it really requires a couple of days to read the documents and slides. Here is what I’ve discovered up to this moment and what I want to highlight for my friends, colleagues, subscribers, and myself.

A few pictures from the 1FUTURE overview slides:

Click to enlarge the picture

It’s not only universities that participate:

  • Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Tirana
  • Institute for Nature Conservation in Albania
  • Albanian National Agency of Scientific Research and Innovation
  • Chamber of Engineers of Montenegro
  • Organization Construction Science and Practice (Montenegro)
  • Association for Risk Management (BiH)
  • Chamber of Economy of Bosnia and Herzegovina

The 1FUTURE project network was established in 2018. The partnership is composed of Higher Education Institutions of the EU and WB region, business and professional associations, and non-profit organizations and is supported by government institutions in their role as associated partners.

During my long-lasting Balkan field trip in 2022–23, the most networking and collaboration that I’ve done was in Albania, Montenegro, and Serbia, so I mention here what I see for now for universities in these countries.

At the University of Montenegro, it is Faculty of Civil Engineering that is 1FUTURE participant with Prof. dr Miloš Knežević (CV) who is experienced both in academia and industry (see his slides).

The Disaster Risk Reduction Center represents the University of Novi Sad in Serbia with Prof. dr Mirjana Laban and Assist. Prof. dr Suzana Draganic who delivered their presentation.

The whole 1FUTURE project coordinator is Associated Prof. and researcher Elona Pojani at the University of Tirana. Elona works in the fields of finance, environmental economics and management, and environmental taxation (CV).

From the EU, I would highlight two academic institutions.

As I already knew about Eberwalde University and its Biosphere Reserve Institute (BRI), I’m interested in how my activities could be aligned with 1FUTURE. From the Eberswalde part key contacts are Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Strasdas and Franziska Rottig (both work in the area of responsible and sustainable tourism). Eberwalde University also has another cooperation project on sustainable tourism with the University of Tirana (see a brief note about it by Prof. Dr. Claudia C. Broezel).

It’s always great to have Sweden Universities in partnerships. At the end of 2021, I started negotiations about the pilot project with a director of the Master’s Programme in Sustainable Destination Development at Uppsala University. As it was supposed to be a cross-border project with partners in the Russian Federation, it’s obvious that we didn’t go far with it. As stated in Henrik Hassel’s slides from Lund’s Divison of Risk Management and Societal Safety, there are the following ”hubs” at the university related to 1Future:

Šumska 1 — a 3-generation permaculture and outreach project in Serbia started as a homestay in nature and growing further as the Forest School and the Forest University, Photo from the project’s Facebook page.

I believe such a strong consortium could really make a difference, although I feel there could be a gap with communities (industries are at least represented by professional associations and chambers). At the EU level, it could be ECOLISE — the European network for community-led initiatives on climate change and sustainability. At the Western Balkan’s scope, I would mention the Balkan Green initiative for responsible tourism, the proto-associations (e.g. SEEEN — South East European Ecovillage Network) that lead to forming the Balkans Ecovillage Network as a part of GEN Europe. At the national level, I know e.g. in Montenegro about Rural Tourism Association, and environmental NGO Env.Pro and MSJA which also pay attention to working with youth and local communities. In Serbia I was visiting such places and initiatives as Sumska 1 Forest School with their work towards the Forest Univeristy and ‘To Symbiocene’ (Ka simbiocenu) series.

And just in June 2023 at the Belgrade University of Arts as a part of the conference ‘In from the margins — Sharing footnotes of subaltern knowledge and practices’ together with Eva Milovanović (co-founder at “Zeleno doba”, Serbia) and Igor Polsky (member in Deep Adaptation Forum, writer and principal in the SchoolGarden Compass in Montenegro) we gathered a walk-and-talk named ‘Ecovillages as Living Labs for Academia and Artists to Pave the Road to Symbyocenic Collaborations’, that I see an initial event on the way to the Symbiocenic Environment Framework, an approach to forge cooperation between

  • universities and schools
  • intentional rural communities (ecovillages, permaculture initiatives, kin domains, monasteries, …)
  • indigenous people societies
  • nature reserves.

In the long-term vision, it’s not just about deeply interconnected joint projects and programs. It’s to create and grow the framework for the new type of territories UNESCO biosphere reserves that host small communities and/or organisations with the goal of ecosystem restoration and adaptation to climate change with academic and applied research, citizen science, community-based schooling and/or unschooling, and media outreach.