Wednesday, 16 December 2015

New UN Report on Future of Enterprise Zones

A report on the future of Enterprise Zones is launched by the United Nations this week. These zones are popular with some governments, from India to the UK, but they aren’t without criticism, in terms of what they achieve for sustainable development. The report maps out a new way forward where zones can be centres of excellence in corporate sustainability.

IFLAS Founder Professor Bendell co-wrote the report, and is grateful to Dr Tony Miller at UNCTAD and also Vice Chancellor Peter Strike and colleagues at the University of Cumbria for enabling him to do this work.

Professor Bendell wrote an article for the World Economic Forum which summarises the arguments in the UN reportYou can download the report here (pdf). 


The launch of the report is mentioned in a round up of the last Quarter, to conclude the year. Click here to read the full Quarterly from Prof Bendell.

Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Therapeutic leadership?

John Foster

In my paper Leadership after Sustainabilityfor the IFLAS Leading Wellbeing research festival, I discussed the leadership required to combat pathologically deep-embedded forms of denial. This is not just the denial (amazingly, still around) that climate change and other forms of environmental tragedy are real. It extends to what I call activist denial – refusal to accept that if we were going to stop this happening, we’d have started seriously forty years ago, but we didn’t, so we won’t. (Hence, leadership for after sustainability.)

That leadership will have to be charismatic and therapeutic. It cannot simply operate within the assumptions and practices of the ruling ‘sustainability’ paradigm – that would now be to subscribe to embedded denial, not to break out from it. We will need instead the naturally-arising creative powers through which leaders and followers work together to make new things happen in the world. (The natural gift of these capacities is what charisma means.) Only in such dynamic duality will we have even a chance of acting from the levels beneath denial at which we can still hope to engage with the real.

The therapeutic leader

Therapeutic leaders will draw with greater consciousness and intensity on the capacities inherent in any leadership. The crucial characteristic of a leader is that he or she goes out ahead, in speech and action, to articulate and implement an emerging common will. The leader, by what he or she says and does, realises shared purposes in which, unled, the group wouldn’t share because they would not emerge as purposes without the leader’s prompting. Human leadership has an essentially expressive-creative role. The leader’s words and actions, taken up acceptingly by the group, create something real that was not there before. Through creative-expressive agency, those with leadership gifts – insight, articulacy, focus, determination, aptness for responsibility – help us constitute our goals and organise around the pursuit of them.

Charismatic-therapeutic leaders use these gifts neither to impose such goals, nor merely to propose them. Rather they frame aims and approaches which they intuitively recognise as apt for group endorsement, because expressive of what is there but presently inaccessible (often through denial) in the wills of relevant others. Leading into and through the breakdowns of systems, institutions and long-established expectations of control which coming climatic and ecological disruption will bring, they will thus facilitate resilient reconstruction both of life-ways and of self-understanding. Such leaders will be the innovative poets of praxis, opening up insights and re-making possibility for all those with the gifts of followership – powers of recognition, acknowledgement, sincerity in response, critical alertness and disciplined submission when called for.

 Justifying therapeutic leadership

Only such a conception of leadership-and-followership could be adequate to what is coming. Evidently, however, this raises very sharply the problem of how such charismatic-therapeutic leadership is to be justified. It is no good saying that it is justified if it gets us out of denial and through breakdown. Justifications of means by ends are notoriously dangerous, and nowhere more so than in political contexts where cravings for mere power and dominance are always lurking to reframe the ends of any collective action to suit themselves. But then the justification of what the therapeutic leader does has to be intrinsic to the idea of expressive-creative leadership, and about this there is a deep problem.

Put starkly: the leader’s expressive and pragmatic articulacy guides the group by creating its common will; but how, if not to this common will, is leadership to be held properly accountable for what it does? To the extent that the leader is principally responsible for articulating the goals and standards in term of which he or she is to be held accountable, the force of ‘accountability’ drains away. (If someone makes the laws, then the question whether they act legally in doing so cannot arise, and for logical not legal reasons.) But if leadership, however intentionally therapeutic, is unaccountable, or only accountable to itself, does that not imply an unacceptable ceding of initiative, and therefore ultimately of power, to the individual leader?

 Leadership’s creativity

The problem of justifying charismatic-therapeutic authority is thus structurally related to a very general problem for understanding human creativity. If creators (of any kind) are unaccountable, acting gratuitously on what is finally nothing more than their own behalf and whim, what they create can have no more claim on our attention than our own equally gratuitous likings and dislikings accord it. But if they are accountable to others, to ‘public opinion’ via sets of established rules and guidelines, something essential about freedom and spontaneity going with the idea of creativity has been lost. And how can the process of creation be held accountable (which seems the only other option) to itself?

This is a genuine not a rhetorical question, and until it is convincingly answered lots of people will go on being nervous about therapeutic leadership. I think the answer has to do with how leaders and followers must collaborate in a mutually-created public space of meaning – a process which in different forms pervades our lives. (See, for a great example, the lessons about co-creativity which Sue Cox, also at the research festival, draws from Argentinian tango.) I am now trying to work out this answer in detail –  any thoughts which this blog may stimulate much appreciated!


John Foster is a freelance writer and philosophy teacher and an Associate Lecturer in the Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion at Lancaster University


You can find the link to this and all submitted papers here at the Leading Wellbeing website, or via the IFLAS Research page here

The views of guest contributors to the IFLAS blog do not necessarily represent those of the University or its staff.

Find out more about the Spring School and other courses run by the Institute for leadership and Sustainability here

May we also take this opportunity to invite you to join the LinkedIn group, our Facebook Group and to follow us on Twitter if you have not already done so.

Thursday, 10 December 2015

Prof James Wilsdon - The Metric Tide: The Video

Prof James Wilsdon 

The Metric Tide: A New Agenda for Responsible Indicators in Research


Back in October, Professor James Wilsdon visited us to deliver an IFLAS Open Lecture at the University of Cumbria campus in Lancaster.

We now present the video of that Open Lecture, recorded and edited by our local film-makers No Routes Found, and introduced by IFLAS founder Professor Jem Bendell.

Citations, journal impact factors, H-indices, even tweets and Facebook likes – there are no end of quantitative measures that can now be used to assess the quality and wider impacts of research. But how robust and reliable are such indicators, and what weight – if any –should we give them in the management of the UK’s research system? 
Over the past year, the Independent Review of the Role of Metrics in Research Assessment and Management has looked in detail at these questions. The review has explored the use of metrics across the full range of academic disciplines, and assessed their potential contribution to processes of research assessment like the REF. It has looked at how universities themselves use metrics, at the rise of league tables and rankings, at the relationship between metrics and issues of equality and diversity, and at the potential for ‘gaming’ that can arise from the use of particular indicators in the funding system.

The review’s final report, The Metric Tide, was published on 9 July 2015. James Wilsdon, who chaired the review, will outline its findings, and propose a more responsible agenda for the use of metrics in research management and policy.

Find out more about the Spring School and other courses run by the Institute for leadership and Sustainability here

May we also take this opportunity to invite you to join the LinkedIn group, our Facebook Group and to follow us on Twitter if you have not already done so.


Tuesday, 1 December 2015

How do we really see the world?

Katalin Illes

Volkswagens misconduct reminds me of the importance of keeping ethical dilemmas and questions about virtues and right morality in the forefront of our minds. The more corrupt the environment the more vital it is to have clarity in our own heads and hearts about our own values, responsibilities and behaviours. It is vital to be conscious and honest about how we see the world.
If we believe that the world is dangerous, volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous then we are driven by our fears and our survival instincts. This world view focuses on winning and justifies cutting corners, cheating and telling lies.
If we believe that the Earth is our home, that we share this address with a few billion other human beings then we develop a sense of connectedness to others and a responsibility for our environment.  We start seeing examples of virtuous behaviour, unity, care and agility around us. With this mindset we focus on what is good in the world and use our energy and creativity to make improvements to support the well-being of all.
It is easy to condemn and project our frustration and disappointment onto the car manufacturer. They let us down and deliberately cheated not only us but our already troubled and fragile environment as well. Some of you who read  Jeremy Clarksons views on this matter in the Sunday Times on the 27th of September  might agree with him and suggest that cheating is not a big deal, (according to Clarkson we all do it) so stop tutting and chuckle at VW instead. He believes that cheating is part of life and VW was just unlucky because it was caught with its trousers down.
It is easy both to condemn and to dismiss the worlds biggest car manufacturers deliberate act of rigging emissions tests in its diesel cars. The disaster VW finds itself in looks as murky as the scandals that stained the reputation of the banking industry. By installing defeat device software into  its VW and Audi diesel cars to deliberately fool testers into thinking they polluted far less than they do, has wiped £22bn from the companys value in a few days.
Trust has been lost on different levels and it is too soon to tell whether Volkswagen can ever regain its past good reputation.

Who is responsible for such a colossal mistake? Was it only a handful of individuals who invented a software and decided to install it into 11 million vehicles without authorisation?  Or was the cheating part of the overall, secret strategy agreed by senior position holders to support financial gains and enhance the companys global position? There is no point speculating. Volkswagen promised to do a thorough investigation and time will tell what shall be revealed and what information will get into the public domain about the cheating, the lies and the failure of leadership.
We could consider the various position holders at VW and analyse how well or not they demonstrated leadership. However, I find it much more meaningful if we take this case as an opportunity for self-reflection and self-examination. How well do we measure up? Do we cut corners and focus mainly on our own survival, our personal gain and advantage? Do we take responsibility for our actions and the actions of colleagues around us?  Do we appreciate the contribution of others and help them grow?  When we make decisions do we consider the wellbeing of all (even if we do not know them personally)? Do we think about the long-term impact of our actions on the environment and on the life of future generations?

A lot will change in Volkswagen in the months and years to come. It is important to remember that change does not happen in the abstract.  Lasting change requests a new outlook and personal commitment to a different kind of behaviour.  I propose that we can change when we have our own insight through experiences, questions and reflection. When we understand why the behavioural change is important for us personally. If we want lasting change we need to change our mindset and align our beliefs to the new behaviour. We need to master the new behaviour and own it by generating a personal version of the knowledge and apply it habitually. We are ready to help the change process of others only when we embody and live the new behaviour.
The search for good leaders, the desire for personal wellbeing, the search for meaning and how to live a good life have been with us throughout the ages. The wisdom traditions give us clear guidance on how to live and lead well.  Aristotle for example defines virtues as conscious habits that we do. We learn them through education and role models and when we continuously practice them they become an integral part of who we are (Aristotle, Nichomachean ethics, Bk. 2.5). His ideas from 2,500 years ago resonate well with the neuroscience supported process of successful behavioural change.

 Trusted leaders are the guardians of the values of the organisation. They release the energy of people and enlarge the human and intellectual capital of the employees. In a trusting environment when we are committed to our shared purpose we play active roles both as leaders and as followers.  Authentic leaders know themselves and this helps them to be effective and moral (Walumbwa et al. 2008) and lead by example.

There is growing evidence that the materialistic model of mainstream business does not produce true wellbeing for people and actually undermines wellbeing. Outmoded mental models have produced an intellectual bankruptcy: the bankruptcy of mainstream economic thought(Scharmer, O. Kaufer, K. 2013. p. 11).  By advocating economic action on the basis of money-making, and by justifying success in terms of profits made, the materialistic business model encourages the irresponsible behaviour of economic actors, contributes to ecological destruction and disregards the interests of future generations. The presupposed and still widely used rational management model is in fact highly irrational if it produces non-rational outcomes for society, nature and future generations.   What we observe is a disconnect between reality and awareness: between an eco-system-centric global economy and an ego-centric awareness of institutional decision makers. 
Unless we take personal responsibility and develop a character that habitually follows ethical behaviour, unless we find the courage to continuously remind others of our connectedness and collective responsibility for considering the wellbeing of others, we do not have the moral right either to condemn or to support the cheaters of the world.

Aristotle. 1985. Nichomachean ethics. Hackett publishing Co.

 Scharmer, O. and Kaufer, K. 2013. Leading from the Emerging Future, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. San Francisco 

Walumbwa, F.O, Avolio, B.J., Gardner, W.L., Wernsing, T.S. and Peterson, S.J. 2008. Authentic Leadership: Development and Validation of a Theory based Measure. Journal of Management 34 (1): 89-126

You can find the link to this and all submitted papers here at the Leading Wellbeing website, or via the IFLAS Research page here

The views of guest contributors to the IFLAS blog do not necessarily represent those of the University or its staff.

Find out more about the Spring School and other courses run by the Institute for leadership and Sustainability here

May we also take this opportunity to invite you to join the LinkedIn group, our Facebook Group and to follow us on Twitter if you have not already done so.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

NOT ONE ROUTE TO MARKET: Funmi Iyanda Investiture Address

Funmilola Iyanda has been awarded an Honorary Fellowship by the University of Cumbria, due to her leadership in media, gender equality and global citizenship, and her collaboration with the University’s Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (

The following text is from her Investiture Address, Carlisle Cathedral, UK, 25th November 2016.

“Vice-Chancellor, University Staff, Distinguished Guests, Graduates, Ladies and Gentlemen, family and friends, thank you so much for those kind words and indeed for this wonderful honour.
I’m very grateful, not just for this invitation to be an Honorary Fellow, but to be invited to share it with so many gifted individuals that it’s been my pleasure to meet today.

This fellowship is important to me because my father always wanted me to be a medical doctor, since that wasn’t happening l thought l’d get a doctorate to please him but l never got round to it so perhaps he’d posthumously accept this in lieu. Also l have never worn a graduation gown, so it was on my bucket list. This lovely university is close to my heart because it has educated some of the people dearest to me, accepted my country men and women with warmth and provided me great opportunities to share my rather skewed world view. I am excited at the prospects of future opportunities for mis-education that this fellowship will mean.  Now let me share a few stories with you because stories are nice.

Nothing ever went the way I planned, well almost nothing. I had planned to torment my mother with teenager angst, but she died before I turned ten, ruining that excellent plan. At the beginning of this year I planned a major cinema project, a new TV show and a fashion school but then I fell very sick, ruining that senseless plan.

Last week my over-thinking 14 year old daughter Morenike asked if I thought there was an afterlife. I told her I doubted it but feel that, in much the same way our current existence makes little rational sense and we cope without prior prep, so will we cope in an afterlife without further prep from here on were such an afterlife to exist.

It must be my week of pointless questions because my friend John Maclean, the kindest misanthrope in the world, also asked how I have been able to do so many outstanding things despite limitations and setbacks. Because I like to confound him with Nigerian idioms, I told him the saying, “when in soup, lick it,” because I knew the idea of licking soup off one’s body would undo his tidy mind.
Growing up, I was an impoverished skinny girl with fat dreams. Naturally there was a lot of frustration but there was also a lot of going to markets because well my mother was dead and I was the oldest and only female child so I did most of the cooking. I developed a love for markets and a dislike for my aunt who always responded to all my frustrations with a non-committal “ona kan o woja” (there is no one route into the market). I could be discussing quantum physics with her and at my most perplexed point, she´d say but “Aduke ona kan o woja.”

It took years for me to understand that she was trying to teach me to repudiate ideology and dogma in favour of adaptability, functionality and multiplicity.

In my culture, getting good education is non-negotiable so l was determined to go to university.  I worked 3 jobs from age 15 to save up for university. When l walked into the lush fields of the prestigious university of Ibadan in Nigeria, l kissed the grass and shed tears. Four years later when l walked out, l didn’t even bother to collect my certificate. In my second year of university l had also walked out of the church of my youth. Granted l was tired of the virginity requirement, being unaware that l could have lied about that like many wiser than me had. I walked out really because l was no longer convinced about the infallibility of the one way, the true way, the only way.
I had begun to discover that for many things there are many ways, particularly for markets.

I like markets, it is a place of human interaction, of pride in one’s product and hopefully fair exchange of products for needs.

Good markets have clear functional rules that allow fair and equitable exchange. When kingdoms seek to overtake another, they break their markets and militarily surround them. Breaking markets is symbolic of a suspension of respect for negotiation, interaction and fairness. A conviction that one’s way is best and others are best following that one way. You may recognise that principle in modern foreign diplomacy as “our interests”.

I hated school but loved education, I wanted to know things and discover things not be told things.
I wanted to be a writer but I didn’t see  how writers got paid , since I hated asking anyone for money, I decided I’d be a journalist but my father wanted me to be a doctor because well, everybody’s father wanted them to be a doctor, also my father wished he was a doctor.

He said doctors made money and were respected; journalists just get blown up or become impoverished.

My father ate his words before he died five years ago, not because I didn’t get blown up, but because he liked to eat and words are nice.

So as a journalist, I saw and reviewed the world. Recently a friend asked me what I thought about modern civilisation and I answered that we may have made magical technological leaps but I doubt that we have a civilisation. More importantly I have begun to think that a lot of what we know may not have been completely unknown to past generations; I am alarmingly beginning to suspect they chose not to unleash some of that knowledge because they recognised our interest must align with the earth’s interest.

I have always thought that the greatest tragedy of civilisations lost around the world to slavery, colonization and oppression is deprivation of our modern civilization of alternative political, cultural and economic thought and systems, some of which were very sophisticated.

My mind boggles when l listen to my friend Dr Bibi Bakare-Yusuf talk about the documented seven different pre-colonial forms of marriages in Yoruba culture. A culture evolved enough to be gender neutral without sloganizing.

So as I stand today in this gorgeous cathedral, suffused with a sense of history, of wonder and respect for those who have gone before us. Monuments like this emphasize how great our individual capacity is within the limit of our role in a never ending continuum of human endeavour.

The challenge with a winner takes all, one way to the market, best way to be approach is that it leaves too many behind and gives those lucky enough to fall within a narrow accepted box an over inflated sense of importance and a genuine lack of ability to solve unknown problems. Everyone ends up playing a role rather than living a life whether it is in marriages, parliament or academia. This does not make for responsive, adaptive and happy living. We are best when we are intelligent forces at play.  Responsive, adaptive, artistic, functional and magical.
We are at a time of unknown problems with leaders schooled to solve known problems without the education to be robust in world view and a distracting pressure to perform to the lights rather than function in spaces of wisdom and introspection.

This is however not as scary as it may sound because when things no longer respond to plan, no matter how we posture or fight, it may be that we are in a large vat of soup with nothing but ourselves. It may be time to start licking that soup, not a very aesthetically pleasing solution, certainly not meant for TV but l bet it’ll be great on you-tube after all there is no one way to the market.

What is the point of education if smart people can’t find those alternative routes to the market?

That is my challenge to a new generation of leaders, thinkers and doers.”

Ms Iyanda spoke to a packed Cathedral of graduating students and their families. Many of the students graduated from degrees with IFLAS, some offered in partnership with the Robert Kennedy College. Ms Iyanda was hosted by senior members of the University, including Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Strike, and Funmi's fellow Young Global Leader (World Economic Forum), Professor Jem Bendell

There has been a great media and social media response to the honour and speech. To discuss the themes in this speech, join the Sustainable Leaders group on LinkedIn.

Follow us on twitter for more updates on leadership and sustainability.

A video of this lecture and the ceremonies will be available soon. 

Funmi Iyanda celebrates after her speech, with colleagues of the University, including Vice Chancellor Professor Peter Strike (2nd right) and Professor Jem Bendell (1st right). 

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

System Leadership Development in Children’s Centres in the UK

Kaz Stuart and Megan Wilcox

There are 82 children’s centres in Hertfordshire, organised into 29 groups, serving a total under-fives population of 76,560, of whom, over 14% live in poverty compared to 20.7% of under-fives nationally. Children’s centres are complicated places delivering a wide variety of services in partnership with other agencies for families who often have complex needs. They are innately complex and systemic sites of practice.

 In 2014, Megan Wilcox, from Herts for Learning, who is responsible for the professional development of children’s centre staff in Hertfordshire, decided to fund support for these leaders. She commissioned me to design and deliver a 9 day leadership development programme, ‘Future Leaders’, with 24 heads of children’s centres from across Hertfordshire.

 We planned the programme using system leadership and distributed leadership as central concepts, bolstered with an associated wide set of tools and skills. We collected data and wrote a case study because we were interested in how effective the programme was, and because we wanted to raise the profile of leadership in children’s centres.  

 Literature on work in children’s services documented the difficulties of working in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous context but did little to support the practical daily actions of leaders working in this space. System and distributed leadership were well documented conceptual forms of leadership, but mostly written about from a school perspective. We wanted to see how well these translated into children’s centres, and so a project was born. The programme was a combination of theoretical inputs, discussion of practice, analysis of practice in the light of theory and theory in the light of practice, reflection and practical activities.

20 of the 24 leaders completed a pre and post needs analysis against seven different aspects of leadership. Despite the leaders’ very high initial scores of 71% - 76%, there were positive gains across all seven areas of leadership for the group. The increases ranged between 8% and 12% with a mean 10% increase. This is a striking increase in leadership skill in a group already performing at a high level, demonstrating that the action research approach and practical tools did support leadership development.

 The leaders all thought that the outcomes had been met and rated the course content highly for relevance, appropriateness, quality and pace. It would seem that taking a needs led approach was a key factor in the success of the programme.

 The leaders commented they had learned from the combination of theory and practice. For example when asked what helped them to learn leaders said:

·         Linking theory to practice deepening my knowledge of system leadership.

To some extent the process of being away from work also created learning for them, as did networking with other colleagues:

·         Time to come away from the centre and revisit or learn new ideas

·         The input and support from the group has been brilliant and enhanced my learning greatly.

The tools and models that we used were cited as particularly useful:

·         I felt very positive about having new tools and models to refer to

·         The tools you are sharing with us and the opportunities you are providing for us have given some of us our positivity back

Providing underpinning skills was vitally important to the successful enactment of system and distributed leadership. As indeed was good quality facilitation of learning and development:

·         Facilitator was great, interesting, thought provoking, inspirational - content bang on!

A further unexpected outcome from the programme was the validation that the heads of centres reported as a result of the programme:

·         I appreciate how hard you both worked to make it work for us all but mostly I wanted to say thank you for validating us.

Finally, a cost benefit analysis showed that there was a 6.6:1 cost benefit ratio or £6.60 of cost benefit for every £1 invested.

 We sincerely hope that:

·         Leadership in children’s centres gains more attention as a niche area of leadership nationally and internationally.

·         Models used in other settings are transferred and tested out in children’s centres in the UK and elsewhere.

·         System and distributed leadership concepts are underpinned with practical tools and techniques of leadership and management.

·         High levels of facilitation and an action inquiry approach are used to deliver programmes to staff working in complex contexts such as children’s centres.

 I was really struck by some key concepts at the wellbeing festival and how they resonated with my experience of delivering this programme:

·         Respect and value: respecting one another was a key theme in many of the conference workshops, and was inherent in the festival itself. This resonated with the needs of the leaders of children’s centres to feel respect from the Local Authority, partners and other agencies in the children’s workforce.

·         Love: I was really struck by the common occurrence of love as a theme in plenaries and workshops. This made me consider how the leaders of children’s centres gave out love consistently to staff and families and were in need of getting some back.

·         Burn out: the festival sessions on managing the wellbeing of people who support the wellbeing of others really resonated. Thee leaders were working in complex situations needed their wellbeing supporting if they were to survive their demanding lives.

·         Connection: connection within and across organisations, across agendas and nations was championed at the festival. Connecting isolated heads of centres in a supportive learning process really helped them to reconnect.

·         Sustainability: one of the festival themes: man cannot live on air alone, and children’s centre leadership cannot be sustained without support. We are delighted to be able to now run a second cohort of the Future Leaders programme for deputy heads of services.
You can find the link to this and all submitted papers here at the Leading Wellbeing website, or via the IFLAS Research page here
 The views of guest contributors to the IFLAS blog do not necessarily represent those of the University or its staff.
Find out more about the Spring School and other courses run by the Institute for leadership and Sustainability here
May we also take this opportunity to invite you to join the LinkedIn group, our Facebook Group and to follow us on Twitter if you have not already done so.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Lighting fires or lightning rod? Marketing the Global Goals

How do we make the UN’s 17 goals for sustainable development the ‘to-do list for people and planet’?

Richard Curtis and his Project Everyone team have a plan.
‘….The more famous these global goals are, and the more widely they are understood by everyone….. the more politicians will take them seriously, finance them properly, refer to them frequently and make them work…’ (Project Everyone, 2015)

So how do you make them famous? How do you share the Global Goals with seven billion people?

The need to engage everyone was clearly the agenda of the UN. On 25 September 2015, the Guardian headline read ‘Global goals received with rapture in New York – now comes the hard part’ quoting UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, “…we need action from everyone, everywhere. Seventeen Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are our guide …they are a to-do list for people and planet, and a blueprint for success…"

This message was endorsed by Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, Secretary General of Civicus, the global civil society alliance ‘….most importantly, the SDGs are intended to be owned by people…. the SDGs need to become the people’s agenda and only then will they have a chance of changing the behaviours we need, from individuals reducing their consumption to governments fearing the political price for not meeting their commitments….’ (Guardian, 27 September 2015)

So the message from both these Secretary Generals is loud and clear - if the global goals are going to be successful they need to engage people and be owned by them as a motivating force. This is the ultimate challenge but it is not a new one. Simon Dresner in 2002 wrote in his book ‘The principles of Sustainability’ whilst sadly acknowledging the unavoidable reflexivity of the world he was very clear that ‘…sustainability is a global problem requiring global coordination of action’.  From its conception in the early 1980s, the Green movement itself was based on the need for ‘grassroots’ action with the principled omission of centralised decision-making.  Action that involves everyone; cue Project Everyone.

It was also clear form the UN messages that the Sustainable Development Goals had to become the people’s agenda and although this could be viewed as a widespread responsibility they are certainly not going to get onto anybody’s agenda if there is limited awareness. Cue the mass promotion tools of advertising.  According to Philip Kotler, one of the most eminent theorists of marketing, to enable companies to inform consumers ‘…they must skillfully use the mass-promotion tools of advertising, sales promotion and public relations…’

Both Richard Curtis and Sir John Hegarty are global leaders - they are eminently well placed to accept the challenge. But to engage seven billion people in seven days surely requires a lightning rod? Is the ‘…. short, dynamic and snappy explanation of the global goals...’ they have created with the help of a Llama and posse of chattering baboons the lightning rod that will start an ambitious mass communication that will inform the world and create a ripple effect to drive sustainable solutions? Does it have the significant powers of persuasion that will drive the action needed? Is this the right scope of messaging at this stage in the communication cycle to be successful? Can advertising play a role in determining consumer behaviour in the context of sustainable development?

We put this to the test by inviting two experts in mass communications to review Richard Curtis ‘short, dynamic and snappy explanation of the goals’   

Our discussion quickly revealed that the purpose of mass awareness of the global goals was clearly central to the communication that Richard Curtis had created and the payoff ‘Tell Everyone’ built on the message. But equally quickly, our discussion turned to ‘how do you put this into action and is awareness itself sufficient as a goal.’ Tell everyone seemed empty without a more specific call to action. Is the importance of ensuring that everyone is aware enough to put pressure on government? The role of commercial communication in building awareness is certainly an important step in helping people to make decisions and become more receptive. But does awareness of the goals alone without understanding have a role? Without pragmatism and direction, does awareness alone have relevance? Without the application, is the communication too high level?

One of the experts also highlighted the concern ‘that if you make people feel like they’ve “done good” by retweeting something or some other ‘nebulous action’, it may actually be worse than doing nothing because of the opportunity cost of not doing something meaningful instead’. He referred to a recent study that showed that people who brought reusable shopping bags to the grocery store bought more organic food – but more junk food as well. Reusable Bags Make People Buy Organic - and Junk. The idea being that “you do good and then you treat yourself to a cookie”

Richard Curtis is certainly leading the way with his communication in the sense of being the first piece of communication that builds awareness of the goals but is it an example of leadership? Is leadership more than building awareness? The communication experts both agreed that to follow the leader they needed to know where the leader was going. They felt that leadership was about motivating people towards goals but is the global nature of the campaign potentially a barrier? The communication was bringing the goals into focus but it did not bring a local perspective that placed you at the centre of the advertising concept. Would there be a better response with local relevance? Do calls to action by their nature need to be locally applicable?

Sir John Hegarty, the creator of the advertisement, explained in a recent interview on that the key objective of the communication was to ‘….create positivity around a plan…’ (BBC World News, July 2015). So maybe this was never intended to be a lightning rod but the lighting of a fire to start a wild fire. Richard Curtis, Cannes said recently at the Lions Festival of Creativity, July 2015 that if you ‘…aim for the stars…’ you may ‘…. just get over the trees…’. Building awareness could get you over the trees but by creating deeper understanding, and a plan that brings out the role that individuals can play, might we reach the stars?


This blog was contributed by a friend of the Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS). You can see some of the IFLAS festival participants discuss leadership and the importance of story telling, including Indian Actor and Director Nandita Das, philosopher Charles Eisenstein, Futerra founder Ed Gillespie, and IFLAS Founder Jem BendellYou can discuss it on our Sustainable Leaders group, or come join us in April 2016 at our Spring School, where we explore these issues in depth.