skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

The importance of lifelong learning in Sustainability Leadership

16 December 2022 – Dr Tanja Collavo, Course Director for the Master’s in Sustainability Leadership, discusses the importance of lifelong learning and its relationship to the new Master’s in Sustainability Leadership Flexible Route, launching in September 2023. Knowledge - of best practice, of issues to be tackled, of their underlying root causes, and of existing solutions - is fundamental to realise positive social and environmental impact.

A few months ago, I was invited by the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange to deliver a talk on the importance of lifelong learning as guest speaker for the launch of their Certificate in Social Sector Management. As I was preparing the content for the talk, I suddenly realised why I am so excited to be working on the launch of the Master’s (MSt) in Sustainability Leadership Flexible Route.

I have been a believer in and contributor to lifelong learning opportunities for over a decade now. Knowledge - of best practice, of issues to be tackled, of their underlying root causes, and of existing solutions - is fundamental to realise positive social and environmental impact. It helps to minimise the unavoidable negative spillover effects that almost any organisational activity or programme produces, as well as reducing the likelihood of failure of innovative organisations and initiatives (which tends to be quite high!). It enables the ability to learn from past mistakes and to assess current challenges and opportunities in a more rational and data-driven way. Similarly, it is needed to develop a credible theory of change, i.e. a credible explanation of why a certain idea can be expected to deliver some desired social and/or environmental impact. Lifelong learning can be seen as key to realising progress and development across different social and environmental dimensions, rather than mostly in economic terms only.

Lifelong learning, however, has also amazing positive effects at the individual level. Humans are naturally prone to be curious and to be striving for innovation and improvement. If it wasn’t for these characteristics, we would not be where we are in terms of technological development and scientific knowledge, nor would humanity have produced the amazing works of art and architectural wonders that have been now familiar to many around the world for centuries or even millennia. Lifelong learning enables us to keep exploring new fields and to challenge our beliefs and habits, no matter our age, background or profession, and, in this way, to keep fulfilling our desire to advance our knowledge and to improve both our life and that of others.

I think it is because of these societal and individual benefits, which are now widely recognised, that the demand for lifelong learning has been on a constant rise in the last few years, even more so in the field of sustainability. Sustainability is a growing concern in many sectors and countries, and an area of knowledge that is being developed and improved daily as more and more people and organisations try to devise solutions to combine economic growth with positive social and environmental impact, and the reduction of carbon emissions. As such, it is a field that keeps evolving and offering new incentives to stay up to date with what the latest best practice is to create value for multiple stakeholders.

This is why, a programme like the MSt in Sustainability Leadership Flexible Route is both a product of our time and a lifelong learning project that suits people interested in driving sustainability-related change. By spreading studying over a period of 5 to 10 years, it achieves three core benefits:

  1. By reducing the weekly study commitments required to complete the course compared to a traditional 2-years part-time masters, this makes it easier for students to continue working and developing their career while studying. In this way, students can keep on putting into practice what they are learning on a daily basis and, in turn, keep informing academic knowledge through their practice and outcomes.
  2. It enables students to keep on hearing about the latest theories and knowledge on sustainability over a longer period of time, thus helping them to stay abreast of the latest developments in a field that is constantly evolving.
  3. Its partition into three different stages allows students to join at least three different cohorts of peers driving sustainability-related change in many sectors and countries, thus multiplying opportunities for networking, inspiration, knowledge sharing, and cross-fertilisation of ideas.

My experience with lifelong learning makes me confident that this new programme is an important opportunity for many professionals to become lifelong change makers and, for me as a researcher and educator, both to empower others to realise impact, and to translate their successes and unavoidable failures into knowledge that can keep growing the impact generated by others for years to come. I can’t wait to start this journey with the first cohort of amazing leaders at the starting blocks.

Find out more about the MSt in Sustainability Leadership Flexible Route here. New students may now apply for the Postgraduate Certificate or Diploma to begin their flexible route journey, with applications closing 2 March 2023. Alumni or current students of the Postgraduate Certificate (2008 onwards) are eligible to apply to complete the flexible route via the Postgraduate Diploma and then Stage 3, with applications for the Diploma closing 16 May 2023. Applications for the fixed route Master’s in Sustainability Leadership close 31 January 2023.

About the author

Tanja acts as Course Director for the Master’s in Sustainability Leadership, Flexible Route and for the Postgraduate Certificate (Organisational Stream) and Postgraduate Diploma in Sustainable Business. She has taught and tutored courses in social entrepreneurship, strategy, general management and collaborations, and has knowledge of design and systems thinking as processes to develop sustainable solutions to complex social and environmental issues.


The opinions expressed here are those of the authors and do not represent an official position of CISL, the University of Cambridge, or any of its individual business partners or clients.


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

Email | +44 (0) 7845652839