Trapeze performances, spoken word poetry, dance and awe-inspiring music set the stage for an immersive experience at the ‘Connecting the Dots’ Summit in Stockholm in mid-October. 1200 participants came to the Cirkus Arena (plus 7000 online) to explore the Inner Development Goals (IDGs). The IDG framework has been designed to bolster the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by focussing on inter- and intrapersonal skills and leadership capabilities vital for progress. 

The summit happened at the half-way point to 2030, the deadline for achieving the SDGs, and we are far behind in our efforts to create the just and thriving world we set out to accomplish. I was keen to discover whether this framework might be able to guide us towards a more sustainable future. 

Elevating beyond the rational paradigm 

The issue is not a knowing gap. We know what the problem is, we know what the solutions are, but we are not implementing them. So the problem is the knowing-doing gap.

Otto Scharmer, Senior Lecturer at MIT and Founding Chair of the Presencing Institute 

The IDG framework recognises that genuine progress transcends a mere rational approach (thinking). To achieve a liveable future we need to attune into who we are (being), nurture our abilities to connect to others (relating), and join forces (collaborating) to engage in transformative actions (acting) required to create positive change. 

1. Being: Relationship to Self, 2. Thinking: Cognitive skills, 3. Relating to others and the world, 4: Collaborating: Social skills, 5: Acting: driving change

To my delight, the summit aligned with the essence of IDGs, and the experience extended beyond the cognitive realm. In addition to thought-provoking presentations, it provided opportunities to immerse yourself into these concepts and explore inner dimensions through poetry, music, spaces for meditation, connections with nature and collaborations with others.  

If we can change the way we see, then we can change the world we see.

Erik Fernholm, Co-initiator of the IDGs 

As the days unfolded, a recurring theme resonated powerfully: the pressing need to examine and reconsider our deeply entrenched assumptions and identities that underpin our systems. (Yikes!) The root cause of our challenges lies in the way humans have designed life. Think about the fact that fossil fuels leading to the climate breakdown are subsidised with USD 13 million a minute — double of what the world spends on education. And that 93c of every dollar earned since the GFC has benefitted the highest-earning 10% in Australia. These are not natural phenomena – they are outcomes of design choices made by people. 

Investigating our underlying assumptions 

The idea that our systems are rooted in ideals from our past reappeared throughout the day. While the Enlightenment era brought advances in science and philosophy, it also instituted colonisation, resource exploitation and human dominance over nature. Our ingrained concepts of identity have contributed to a system marked by poverty, inequities and the environmental crisis.

Re-evaluating our values and perspectives was central to most presentations. There were two thought leaders who caught my attention in particular, as their presentations eloquently encapsulated common themes and offered practical insights into leading the change. 

Out of the fish tank, into the open sea 

The first was biologist and systems thinker Phoebe Tickell, who created the Moral Imaginations movement to inspire imagination activism. Usually, we focus on trying to improve what is broken in our system which is limiting. Her analogy was that we are in a fish tank and are trying to imagine how we can get more flakes and an improved tank, when really we could be imagining a completely different system: the vast open sea.

This might sound daunting, not only because making a fresh start can be intimidating, but also because many of us haven’t been training our imagination muscle. Moral imaginations create contexts that allow these mind shifts to happen and provides tools that give participants the ability to see, feel and think about the world in new ways. Everything that has been achieved started with imagining it first – even if it seemed impossible like landing on the moon.

Learning is at the heart of this journey 

We need to make sure that we are not just admiring aspirations but that we are equipping people and large organisations with the tools to actually realise those aspirations.

Bob Kegan 

Another critical aspect in shaping a new narrative is continuous learning. Kirstin Dunlop, CEO of Climate KIC, shared insights from her collaboration with 112 European cities in their pursuit of achieving net-zero emissions by 2030.

When transforming systems and humanity amidst the rapid climate-induced changes, there are no rigid rules. Each city has unique requirements and dynamics. Adding to the complexity is the collective trauma that is innate to working within climate action. Kirstin emphasised the necessity of creating spaces to address the underlying currents in order to fostering emotional, social, collective, political and economic resilience. Her experiences of working within these intricacies tell a story of deep learning about how to understand and support change of complex systems. Learning, she says, is the single greatest capability we have to transform ourselves in time. 

Final thoughts 

Attending the summit in Stockholm felt invigorating. When working in the sustainability space, you feel the resistance to change and the hope for one magical innovation that will save us. But the conference confirmed that it really comes down to us: the people. And, together, we can envision a far better life than the one we are in and more importantly, the one we are sailing towards. 

Although still new and in the process of being cocreated, the IDGs are a great starting point for building the skills we need to navigate today’s complexities and adapt to the changes the climate breakdown brings. It’s encouraging to see that universities are already including them in their programs and graduate attributes.  

I am wondering how each of us in our own contexts can consider our role in the system and the bigger picture. Are there opportunities to further nurture these relational capabilities in teaching and learning? And can we create spaces for open conversations that inspire new ways of seeing the world? Open sea, here we come! 

  • What a great picture you painted of the summit. Your final thoughts on considering our role in systems is salient for every aspect of our lives. Great to see a quote from Bob Kegan making it onto the LX blog💚.

  • Thank you Christina for a fantastic synopsis of the summit as well as your thoughts on the IDGs and what is required of all of us, as individuals and as part of the greater collective, to imagine and embrace open waters and seek a better future for our wonderful planet.

  • How fascinating, Christina. I missed the online sessions due to timezone difficulties. I’d love to know if more areas at UTS are looking into the IDGs.

Join the discussion