Identifying and fostering sustainable development competencies: combining lessons from non-Western and Western contexts

Yared Nigussie Demssie

Research output: Thesisinternal PhD, WU


Humanity is facing environmental, social, and economic challenges, including climate change, inequality, and poverty. Different initiatives, such as the sustainable development goals (SDGs) of the United Nations and the Paris Agreement are introduced to deal with these challenges. Furthermore, several researchers conducted studies to identify sustainability competencies (SCs), i.e., integrated knowledge, skills, and attitudes required to contribute to a more sustainable future. These studies are typically conducted based on Western worldviews. As a result, the existing SC frameworks are not comprehensive enough to include non-Western worldviews, contexts, and related indigenous knowledge (IK). 

This dissertation argues that sustainability challenges are complex and that the collaboration of several stakeholders and the use of diverse worldviews are required to address them. For sustainability challenges to be effectively addressed at the global level, integrating non-Western perspectives in the development of SCs is essential. The 2021 UNESCO report ‘Reimagining our futures together: A new social contract for education’ strongly advocates the inclusion of IK in education worldwide. The dissertation articulated the SCs that are specifically needed in this respect and assessed teaching methods by which they can be developed in higher education.

The studies in this dissertation focused on identifying competencies that facilitate efforts toward a more sustainable future and exploring different means of fostering these competencies. Accordingly, the first study identified SCs for the Ethiopian context, as a country with different socioeconomic characteristics than Western contexts. The other studies focus on fostering SCs of higher education students, future sustainability change agents. These studies explored the potential contributions of using IK with modern education in Ethiopia. The studies also proposed education design principles of integrating IK with modern higher education systems. 

One of the studies on enhancing SCs explored the contributions of multiple learning approaches in a real-world environment to fostering the systems thinking competence of learners. 

The findings of this dissertation contribute to theoretical discourses on sustainable development, competence, SCs, education for sustainable development, the constructivist learning literature, and IK.

The findings also have societal implications related to the SDGs, education and training in sustainable development, the role of stakeholders, including policymakers, teachers, and students.


Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
Awarding Institution
  • Wageningen University
  • Mulder, M., Promotor
  • Biemans, Harm, Co-promotor
  • Wesselink, Renate, Co-promotor
Award date7 Dec 2021
Place of PublicationWageningen
Print ISBNs9789463958820
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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