The Talloires Network: Building a Global Movement of Engaged Universities

STROUD, Susan ; BABCOCK, Elizabeth (200)

As the Talloires Declaration states, institutions of higher education “do not exist in isolation from society, nor from the communities in which they are located. Instead, they carry a unique obligation to listen, understand, and contribute to social transformation and development”. In this article, Susan E. Stroud and Elizabeth Babcock explain how the Talloires Network of universities helps to promote the civic roles and social responsibilities of their member institutions as well as to deepen engagement with local and global communities.

A revolution is underway in higher education on all continents—a movement to recognize the university’s role in educating students for lives of civic engagement and social responsibility and to provide students with opportunities to gain the skills necessary to assume these roles.  And beyond this focus on students, universities are increasingly working with local communities to develop partnerships that involve the mutual transfer of knowledge, providing benefits to both partners in the relationship.

There are outstanding examples of this work being done every day. In Tanzania, the University of Dar es Salaam runs a program called TUSEME, a Swahili expression which means “let us speak out,’ aimed at empowering girls to overcome their inhibitions and voice their concerns in public. Girls work with university students in the Department of Fine and Performing Arts, learning the skills necessary to clearly and powerfully express their views in any forum.
At Tufts University in Boston, Massachusetts, the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service works to educate active citizens, instilling civic values in students across campus. Students learn that their own academic work and service activities do not exist in separate spheres and that they have the power to impact society as a whole. Ifeyinwa Mora ('04) noted: "Through my work as a University College Scholar, I began to understand that all children's issues are interconnected in the larger societal context.”
At the American University in Cairo, the John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy and Civic Engagement provides English and Arabic literacy courses to AUC’s maintenance personnel, security guards, lab assistants and drivers. Students, faculty, staff and alumni gain volunteer experience as teachers and learn the importance of engaging actively with important issues facing their communities, while at the same time helping AUC staff acquire language skills that will last a lifetime and improve their employment prospects.
These universities and 47 others make up the current membership of The Talloires Network. The member institutions of the Talloires Network understand that now is a key moment in history for higher education, as the worldwide student population will double to 200 million by 2030. Critical global needs are also on the rise, which means we can anticipate increased pressure on higher education institutions to apply their resources to these needs. Universities today should face these challenges head on and grasp the opportunities for increasing global cooperation to amplify the impact of their efforts.
The Talloires Network emerged from a conference convened in 2005 by Tufts University President Lawrence Bacow at Tufts University’s European Center in Talloires, France.  Participants included 29 university presidents, rectors, and vice chancellors from 23 countries. They gathered for the first international meeting of heads of higher education institutions devoted to strengthening the civic roles and social responsibilities of higher education. They drafted the Talloires Declaration, a consensus vision for the direction of civic engagement in higher education. The Talloires Network was formed to promote action around the principles of the Declaration.
The Declaration asserts that institutions of higher education “do not exist in isolation from society, nor from the communities in which [they] are located. Instead, [they] carry a unique obligation to listen, understand, and contribute to social transformation and development.” The Declaration lays out both a set of values and a framework for putting those values into action.
Since 2005, the Talloires Network has continued to grow and invites new membership at any time. The members of the network agree to promote the civic roles and social responsibilities of their institutions as well as to deepen engagement with local and global communities. Members take part in individual and shared activities and come together at regional and global meetings to highlight their work and to exchange best practices.
Members also participate in a common Global Project on Literacy. The Global Project contributes to UNESCO’s Education for All campaign under the Millennium Development Goals. Literacy is defined broadly to include reading instruction, numeracy, and political, financial, health, and technological literacy. Many higher education institutions already engage in partnerships to enhance access to education across the globe, whether through building basic reading skills or training people to use technology. The Talloires Network facilitates the exchange of experience and information and enables members to expand their work in the field collectively.
The Global Project is an especially important initiative as it has the potential to demonstrate the collective efforts of higher education institutions on a singular issue of importance in communities in developing as well as developed parts of the world. The scope is broad enough to engage all of the member institutions of the Talloires Network, and the diversity of projects only strengthens the effort as a whole—responses to the project have ranged from expanding tutoring services in local communities to supporting computer literacy centers.
One particularly innovative example is the Universidad Veracruzana’s Vasconcelos Project, which brings information technology to schools and their communities in some of the poorest villages in that state of Mexico. Using a fleet of 15 buses equipped with computer labs, students and alumni travel to communities and carry out trainings for students, teachers, and community members. The buses are equipped with 15 laptop computers, an Encyclomedia Screen, a data projector, self-directing satellite antenna, surround sound, remote access camera, DVD and VHS players, education software, air conditioning, an emergency power plant, and a set of reference books.
The Talloires Network also actively seeks student involvement in its programs. We are currently developing a student leadership initiative which seeks to identify key student leaders at each member university and provide them with the tools and opportunities to inspire other students to get involved. The Talloires Network is providing travel grants to students to attend the upcoming Clinton Global Initiative University conference in New Orleans, Louisiana in March 2008, hosted by former US President Clinton. Students will make a public commitment to tackle issues such as climate change, global poverty, public health and human rights. They will meet and be inspired by students from around the world and take what they have learned back to their communities and campuses. The students from Talloires Network member institutions are committed to work on efforts to improve literacy.
Belonging to the Talloires Network provides institutions with a number of benefits, including:
-   Connection to an international community of peers
-   Access to the most innovative examples of programs, projects, research and tools
-   Knowledge-sharing of teaching techniques grounded in experiential learning
-   Guidance for an institutional self-assessment and planning process centered on civic engagement
-   Opportunity for joint initiatives, including regional events and conferences
-   Access to a shared global platform, through a website, blog and communications tools
We aspire for diversity in both our membership and our approach to civic engagement. The truly international nature of the Network allows us to connect people and ideas around the globe. We value the mutual exchange of knowledge and seek to be responsive to the membership. There is no fee to join.
The Talloires Network seeks to expand and strengthen this engaged higher education movement in the hope that the enormous human potential in universities across the world can be harnessed to address some of the most pressing issues in society. We invite you to join us.
For more information about the Talloires Network, visit our website at:
Or email the Talloires Network Coordinator, Elizabeth Babcock, at

About the author

Susan E. Stroud, Executive Director

Talloires Network

Susan Stroud is the founder and Executive Director of Innovations in Civic Participation. She is also the Co-Director of the Global Service Institute, an organization dedicated to increasing worldwide knowledge and understanding of service. She was the founding director of Campus Compact, a national coalition of university presidents, and the Swearer Center for Public Service at Brown University. She is the founding president of the International Council on National Youth Policy and a senior fellow of the University College of Citizenship and Public Service at Tufts University.

Elizabeth Babcock, Coordinator

Talloires Network 

Elizabeth holds an M.A. in Latin American Studies from the University of Chicago and a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Florida. She was the Executive Director of the Civic Knowledge Project at the University of Chicago, working to increase quality educational and cultural programming and knowledge exchange between the university and its neighboring communities. In this position, she worked on a MacArthur funded mapping project of community cultural organizations, leading to the creation of a new university-based support network for these organizations.

Thursday, February 21, 2008


  • UNESCO. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
  • The Catalan Association of Public Universities (ACUP)

Sponsored by

  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry of Business and Employment. Department of Research and Universities
  • Generalitat de Catalunya. Ministry for Foreign Action and Open Government