Oct 27, 2021

The Greatest Accelerator for Reaching the SDGs - Report on the Event Convened by TWCF & Ekskäret Foundation

A panel of esteemed policymakers, researchers, and funders, convened by Templeton World Charity Foundation and Ekskäret Foundation, joined for a discussion on the science of human flourishing and how the field can aid in reaching the 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

By Templeton Staff

A panel of esteemed policymakers, researchers, and funders, convened by Templeton World Charity Foundation and Ekskäret Foundation, joined for a discussion on the science of human flourishing and how the field can aid in reaching the U.N.'s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

In this video, event host Reena Ninan, Founder of Good Trouble Productions introduces Templeton World Charity Foundation (TWCF) President Andrew Serazin, D.Phil, and Jan Artem Henrikkson, CEO of the Inner Development Goals Initiative. Together, they reflect on the origins of their work in the field of human flourishing and offer insights into their collaboration moving forward.

  • Dr. Serazin shares an overview of Templeton World Charity's commitment to uniting "cutting-edge research with practitioners and policymakers" to address global challenges. See this video for a closer look.
  • Henrikkson gives us a brief introduction to the IDGs — a framework of the capabilities, qualities, and skills that are needed to successfully reach the Sustainable Development Goals — and describes what kinds of attitudes, thinking, and growth this framework or "inner compass" embodies. The IDGs represent a dialogue, says Henrikkson, created to "explore which are the categories we need to grow in in order to have the capability of working together," to use character-building skills to transform society.

The first panel discussion centers on how character-based strengths can accelerate reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. Attendees included Andrew Bovarnick, Global Head, Food and Agricultural Commodity Systems: Nature, Climate & Energy, UN Development ProgramSara Farley, Managing Director, Integrated Operations, Food Initiative, Rockefeller FoundationAndreas Schleicher, Director for Education and Skills and Special Advisor to the Secretary-General; OECD, Nisha Ligon, Co-Founder and CEO of Ubongo; and Anjali Sarker, Program Manager, Oxford Character Project, Global Leadership Challenge.

Highlights from this panel's discussion:

  • Bovarnick refers to this quote from environmental lawyer and advocate, Gus Speth: "I used to think the top global environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with 30 years of good science we could address these problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed, and apathy, and to deal with these we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don't know how to do that." Bovarnick agrees, and muses "if we really want to change behavior and practice, I would actually go one step further and maybe take a more positive spin...what we see is that people want to pursue being happy, but they rely so much on external material growth. What we really need to do is start helping people bring in character development and inner growth and we believe that that is going to change the way people behave with regard to food systems."
  • Applying inner, character-based traits such as empathy, compassion and deep listening to systems leadership could improve to make room for voices of those " who do not have it now." It's key, says Farley, to ask "the question what any of us exogenous to a system really can and should do to those intrinsic or indigenous to a system."

More notes from this group:

  • Schleicher addresses how the virtues, values, and strengths that drive human flourishing impact learning and education. He points out that school closures during the pandemic has made clear the difference between a holistic approach to learning, undertaken with an emphasis on traits such as resilience and interaction with a community, and learning by rote memorization, or being "spoon-fed by your teacher with little chunks of knowledge." He shares that "education is no longer just about teaching people something -- it is really about developing a reliable compass and the tools to navigate with confidence through the world in which we live. Success in education now is about building curiosity, opening minds. It's about compassion, opening hearts. It's about courage, being able to mobilize cognitive, social and emotional resources. [These resources] are going to be the best weapons against the biggest threats in our times."
  • Ligon talks about how her organization is transforming education beyond traditional curriculum and systems, using "edutainment" to develop social skills and emotional learning for kids in Africa.
  • Sarker discusses how developing and practicing character strengths, such as those outlined in the IDGs, can shrink the gap between vision and action when it comes to reaching the Sustainable Development Goals. "These virtues actually enable people to see possibilities that they haven't seen before, so then they actually start seeing things differently and behaving differently and make decisions differently," she says. Encouraging these strengths can enable us to act collectively, and take action not just for "our own flourishing, but for the flourishing of the people around you."

The event continued with a second panel, building on the discussion of how character-based strengths can be a key to addressing difficult challenges like building equitable food systems and improving educational outcomes. Reena Ninan was joined by Susanne Waidzunas, Global Supply Chain Operations Manager at IKEANiklas Adalberth, Founder of the Norrsken Foundation; Elyas Felfoul, the Director of Policy Development & Partnerships at the Qatar Foundation; and Luis Casals, a partner at Baker Mckenzie Madrid SLP.

Key takeaways from this panel:

  • Waidzunas believes in "the importance of investing in ourselves as leaders," and also in encouraging inner development of "our people in order to make us all thrive and really drive the actions we need in order to reach the
    the very ambitious goals that we have." She shares the short and sweet maxim "Think big, start small, act fast." as an approach to taking action towards achieving the SDGs and working collectively.
  • Adalbeth talks about reducing egocentrism. The app he's developed offers evidenced interventions that anyone can do to develop character strengths like self-compassion, human connection and sharing.
  • To move from "local to global solutions," Fefoul says, "bring the best minds together from the public and the private sector, from philanthropists to celebrities, people in really different communities."
    really in different communities
  • "Facilitating change within organizations and helping companies become better corporate citizens," is what Caslas emphasizes. He's looking toward human flourishing becoming a mainstream idea for companies, businesses, and organizations.

The program concluded with a message of hope from Mary Robinson, former President of Ireland, and Chair of The Elders. A line taken from her speech: "We need to champion the virtues of solidarity compassion and forgiveness in the face of human misery and desperation, always adhering to the principles of shared humanity so wonderfully captured in the African concept of Ubuntu, which roughly translates as I am because you are."

A spirited chat session fueled new connections and provided a space to share ideas. Highlights from this discussion are included here:

  • "UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said in March 2021 that collaboration is key for achieving the SDGs, but processes and industry is not enough: we need first a mindset change." - Isabel Rimanoczy
  • "Completely agree with this discussion. In an analysis of barriers to transformation of the global food system, we identified several ‘socio-cultural’ obstacles, including belief in techno-fixes, limited collective identity, systems justification and abdication of responsibility."- Tom Oliver
  • "As a clinical psychologist, mental health advisor and researcher, I fully support that knowledge from psychology, behavioral sciences, mental health, socio-emotional skills and awareness and compassion practices are important pieces in the overall puzzles of driving sustainable change,  and meeting the SDGs. A mix of in-person and digital content, practices and solutions would be ideal." - Lene Søvold

Read TWCF's white paper, Harnessing the Science of Human Flourishing to Accelerate Sustainable Development, to learn more about human flourishing and the role you can play.

Review the ideas in the Grand Challenges for Human Flourishes Ideas Database to learn more and see if you could help bring one of the proposals to fruition.