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Building social force through co-learning

By Julia Wesely, Adriana Allen, Yolande Hendler and Irene Fuertes

On 19th September 2021, pedagogues around the world celebrated the 100th anniversary of Paulo Freire and his ground-breaking work on critical pedagogy, which has fundamentally reshaped our understanding of the relations between teachers, learners, knowledge and action. The Pedagogy of the Oppressed is to date, one of the most cited and translated books in the social sciences, resonating globally in its objective to foreground the politics and morals of how we learn together to activate social change.

Over the past months, members of the Habitat International Coalition (HIC) and Julia Wesely and Adriana Allen from the KNOW WP5 have been working together to pursue these emancipatory objectives by facilitating the collective development and exchange of pedagogic practices for the defence of human rights related to habitat across the global South.

How and what can we learn from the cooperativist movement to transform the commodification of land and property? How can advocacy on habitat-related rights remain grounded while entering critical dialogue with local and national governments and UN bodies? How can gender-responsive planning and budgeting processes be mobilised to challenge patterns of patriarchy in rural and urban contexts? These are some of the challenging questions that we are tackling together as team through a series of cross-regional co-learning spaces open to all HIC Members, friends and allies to build social force through co-learning.

The co-learning spaces build on numerous precedents in the history of HIC, developed by Members as well as regionally and cross-regionally, the latter including the HIC-Academy and many other spaces and tools developed to exchange knowledge practices. In addition, many HIC Members already work through emancipatory pedagogies that are a means of inspiration and learning in action for civil society organisations, social movements, and others defending habitat-related rights. To this end, we have been working together with HIC Members from the Latin American region to reflect on the pedagogic principles and practices embedded in their schools – a collaboration which will culminate in a documentary collectively produced by 10 of these schools.

What co-learning spaces aim to contribute and expand from these precedents, is the aspect of cross-regional learning to build social force especially between Members in Latin America, Middle East and North Africa, and Africa. At the same time, the initiative brings to the fore the strategic role that emancipatory pedagogies play in activating social change. Learning - together with advocacy - is one of the Coalition’s core activities to build its collective muscle as a global network in order to effect systemic change. The three upcoming co-learning spaces, which will be supported by the KNOW-WP5 over the coming months, focus on three strategic priorities identified by HIC Members:

Feminist Approaches to Habitat;

Land Rights; and

Multi-level Advocacy.

From the perspective of the KNOW WP5 team, the collaboration with a cross-regional, multi-actor network like HIC provides a fruitful ground to document and better understand the emergence and traveling of ideas and practices on habitat-related struggles, and to support and shape networked pedagogies that tackle inequalities and injustices at scale.

Co-learning is an iterative and long-term process

Each co-learning space will be hosted through online live sessions and a range of offline opportunities to discuss and reflect collectively on specific debates within feminist approaches to habitat, land rights and multi-level advocacy, which are pertinent to the work of HIC Members and allies (see Figure 1). The specific format of each co-learning space, its learning objectives, expected outcomes and materials, will be developed over the coming weeks and months.

Figure 1. Jamboard developed by HIC Members during a workshop to define priorities for the co-learning space on feminist approaches.

As shown in Figure 2, these co-learning spaces are conceived as a long-term strategic process, in which planning, design, implementation, consolidation and legacy stages are themselves moments for mutual learning and collectivising action.

Figure 2. Life cycle of a co-learning space.

These stages are developed by a team composed of 12 HIC facilitators from the three aforementioned regions, and a support team of staff from HIC and KNOW. You can learn more about the team in this video:

As we move along this process, we are guided by many key contributors to the field of critical pedagogy, among them Freire, of course, who reminds us that “whoever teaches learns in the act of teaching, and whoever learns teaches in the act of learning”.


For more information and to keep up-to-date with the co-learning spaces, visit the dedicated website:


Further links and resources:

Cover image credit: Irene Fuertes, HIC, 2021



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