16 Jun

The Sustainable Development Goals as a Blueprint for Humanity

Sustainable_Development_Goals_Logo

Image result for clive wilsonClive Wilson is author of “Designing the Purposeful organization – how to inspire business performance beyond boundaries”, and is currently writing “Designing the Purposeful World – the Sustainable Development Goals as a Blueprint for Humanity”

 

 

I was inspired and intrigued when I read Michael Schluter’s Relational Thinking Dialogue “Three Relational Concerns about the Sustainable Development Goals”.  I was inspired by the fact that renowned thinkers such as Michael are evaluating the SDGs from a range of different perspectives.  I was also particularly inspired by the specific assessment of how relationships play out (or not) in the delivery of the goals.  The more people that take the time to explore, consider and discuss such views, the more we will come to realise the power of the goals and what else needs to happen in support of them.

My personal approach to the SDGs is probably different to that of many.  The moment I read the published working group draft of the SDGs in 2014, my heart skipped a beat.  All I saw as I read the paper, was a vision that totally corresponded with my own.  The key here is the word “vision”.  The words in the draft goals provided stimulus to my imagination, the vision was what arose in my mind’s eye.  This is what inspired me.

Naturally, the goals have been worked through and converted into detailed narrative, sub-goals, targets and measures, which are vital to forming a cohesive global programme but as I explain in “Designing the Purposeful Organization”, results are simply the measure of our progress to the vision.  They are rarely what inspires us.  We are principally inspired by four things: a sense of purpose; a compelling vision; a felt sense of success; and the knowledge that our talents are being deployed in support of something meaningful.  In this respect the SDGs worked for me and immediately caused me to commit to supporting and celebrating their delivery in the best way I could.

Working on the hypothesis that there would be others in the world who would be equally inspired, I set out to engage with the world in four principle ways.  I established a branch of the United Nations Association focused on the SDGs; I established a Facebook page to support the SDGs and celebrate progress; I started to write my new book “Designing the Purposeful World”; and I started to engage with groups of people from all walks of life (so far in Europe, the US and Asia).

So far I have engaged with thousands of people aged from seven to seventy and in groups from five to five hundred.  I always begin these workshops with a “mind-journey” to 2030 and ask those involved to envisage the world they would like to see (realistically) in 2030 and be happy to pass to future generations.  The amazing thing is that to date at every workshop, what people see is entirely compatible with the SDGs.  I then (and not before) show them the SDGs and they are always amazed how “their world” fits with the goals.  I then simply ask them which goals particularly resonate and in what way.  This is where individuality plays out.  We all see 2030 differently but always in line with the goals.  They leave inspired to take action which they share before leaving.

The beauty of the goals is that they are far from limiting.  At headline level, they apply to the whole world, not just the developing world, even though some of the targets are clearly oriented that way.  And, whilst the specifics may drive specific actions at the formal programme level for the UN and national governments, they certainly don’t need to constrain other players, such as organisations, communities and individuals.  I encourage people to follow the inspiration that a better world for 2030 provides to them and those around them.  Naturally, if a specific goal inspires them, I’m sure they’ll find out more about the details, but I trust and encourage that they won’t allow this to constrain their imagination and innovation.

It is wonderful that Michael Schluter and his colleagues are emphasising the real need to strengthen and exploit relationships in a plethora of ways to make the world a better place and I wish them every success in doing so.

26 Feb

The debate over Brexit – does distance matter?

Europe for blog

The debate concerning Brexit, whether Britain should leave the EU, has well and truly begun. The Financial Times has published a short debate over the issue, between the Labour politican Peter Mandelson and Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan. During the debate, Daniel Hannan, arguing for Brexit, says that geographical proximity has never mattered less. There is, therefore, no reason why Britain should prioritise trading with those closest i.e. Europe; instead Britain should focus on trading with the rest of the world. With open global markets, rapid transportation and high speed communications, geography simply doesn’t matter that much anymore.

It might be true that geographical proximity has never mattered less but it is not the case that geographical proximity is unimportant. A recent study on ‘The Impact of Venture Capital Monitoring‘ shows just this. The authors show that venture capitalists’ “on-site involvement with their portfolio companies leads to an increase in both innovation and the likelihood of a successful exit”. Specifically, direct flights increase the interaction that venture capitalists have with their portfolio companies and management, helping them to better understand the companies’ activities.

So regular face to face communication between venture capitalists and their portfolio companies led to increased innovation. In an earlier blog we focused on cluster initiatives to show the link between face to face communication and innovation. The important point there, as in the case of the venture capitalists, is that the innovation is a result of the greater communication possible in face to face encounters.

The fact that direct flights increase interaction is clearly because of the reduced time it takes. It is also the case that the closer two countries are, the shorter the flight between the two. Therefore, geographical proximity is not irrelevant.

While open global markets, rapid transportation and high speed communications mean that it is easy to do business with anyone in the world, it is not true that physical distance is irrelevant or unimportant. Distance is still important because face to face communication is so important. Physical encounters lead to greater connectedness; high levels of directness lead to good quality communication. Whatever one’s views about Brexit, physical proximity still matters, because physical proximity affects relational proximity.

Joshua Hemmings works for the Relational Thinking Network in marketing and communications.

Image: Blank_map_of_Europe_(polar_stereographic_projection)
_cropped.svg: Ssolbergjderivative work: Dbachmann (talk) – Blank_map_of_Europe_(polar_stereographic_projection)
_cropped.svg, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14871393

12 Nov

Fraternal Politics

Corbyn

by Danny Kruger –

There is a spectre haunting Europe, and indeed the US: the spectre of antiism. Anti-austerity, anti-capitalism, anti-elites, anti-politics itself, antiism is engaging young and old, people from all backgrounds, in a surge of protest against the way things are.

But what is interesting – and quite depressing – is how this new spirit in our politics is alighting on such old ideas.

Podemos in Spain, Syriza in Greece, Bernie Sanders in the US, and here our own Jeremy Corbyn, are all generating huge excitement for ideas that were current in the 1960s and 70s. The nationalization of key industries and public services, the redistribution of wealth, high levels of universal benefit entitlements: antiism may find its expression in negativity and protest, but it is really a positive claim that central government can bring about equality.

The belief in greater state power for the sake of equality is one half of our binary politics. For 40 years the contrary idea – the idea of the free market and personal, rather than social, responsibility – has ruled unchallenged. We are seeing a counteraction among a significant subset of people, but, in my view, it is the wrong counteraction.

There is a better alternative – or really a correlative – to free markets than antiism or egalitarianism. I call it fraternity – the neglected brother of the French revolutionary trio liberty, equality and fraternity.

If liberty is the philosophy of the market, and equality the philosophy of the state, fraternity is the philosophy of society – the space between the market and the state, the space of families and communities and associations.

Fraternity hasn’t had much of a look-in over the years since 1789. The fight of our era has been between liberty and equality – between free markets on the one hand and a redistributive, egalitarian state on the other.

Insofar as either side thought about society, they each accused the other of damaging it, and claimed their philosophy protected and enhanced it. Liberals – or Conservatives in Western politics – said the state crowded out independent associations, undermined the family and damaged the roots of civil life. They said more personal freedom would make these things safer and stronger. For their part, egalitarians said the free market harmed society by reducing human relationships to the cash nexus, and the state protected it by creating a space free from the market.

There is something binary in our brains that can only accommodate two rival ideas. But there is a third idea – a principle of politics that goes beyond the right’s fixation with the free market and the left’s fixation with the state.

The idea of fraternity – where the primary focus of our attention is the quality of relationships – is the great untapped political idea of our time. It opens up a huge new field of action, or a way of doing policy, particularly welfare policy.

Let me outline what a ‘relational’ or ‘fraternal’ political platform might look like.

First, it is local. There is no justification for vast national or regional public systems except the justification of scale itself – that it is easier and cheaper to organise that way. This is the true voice of the system, considering its convenience ahead of the quality of experience of the people it serves.

So healthcare, education, welfare – all the pillars of the welfare state need to be handed to local institutions. Taxation needs to be localised to create a meaningful relationship between the people paying for a service, the people organising it and the people receiving it.

Second, a fraternal policy would empower the community beyond the public sector. What I know from working with prisoners, ex-offenders and youth at risk is the central importance of relationships in any kind of social work. The how and the who matters more than the what: the precise content of the rehab programme or training course or even health treatment often counts for less than the manner of its delivery and the connection between the person giving and the person receiving it.

Government often struggles to facilitate the human connections that make services work, and make society strong. Its pursuit of efficiency, its concern for the equal allocation of limited resources, and its reliance on a purely fiscal measure of effectiveness (the cost of an input rather than the value of an outcome) mean the relational element is usually sacrificed. Contracts for home visiting services for the elderly, restricting visits to the 10 minutes it takes to perform the tasks required, stands as a type for publicly-managed services in general.

In terms of delivery, a ‘fraternal’ politics would engage the full panoply of private and social sector players who are available – and would emerge – for social action: the charities and churches and social enterprises who operate with a mix of sacrifice and self-interest, and – especially when co-ordinated through the mechanisms of ‘collective action’ – bring coherence and humanity to the often dysfunctional systems of support surrounding vulnerable people.

This goes for the economy too. Business is part of the social sector.  We need businesses which do what the state cannot: harness people’s ambition for growth and progress, and make use of the energy of enterprise. But the business we need is not in the form of great faceless plc’s whose only obligation is to make profit for faceless investors on the other side of the world. We need government to support local charities and social businesses which operate with a social and environmental purpose as well as a profitable one.

Third, a fraternal politics would focus on prevention not cure. We have a state set up to fix problems. Instead, we need to stop problems developing in the first place, or getting worse once started. This means investing more earlier, and spending less later – and deliberately investing in projects and systems that support relationships within families and neighbourhoods. The Government’s new Family Test – considering the impact of policy in family life – is a useful step, but it is negative and reactive. We also need positive steps to promote family and neighbourhood connections, using everything from tax to planning to public service design.

Fourth – perhaps most controversially and more importantly – a fraternal politics would be explicitly moral in its discourse.

The challenge here is immense, because any moral language is fraught with judgment. And our politics is perverted by a misunderstanding of judgment – specifically, the difference between judgment as moral discernment, and the ugly habit of judging others.

As we all know in our personal lives, relationships allow judgment without judging. We can say to our loved one ‘you’re wrong’, or even ‘you’re doing wrong’ without making a sweeping generalisation about their character. We can show judgment, without judging. This is possible in love – perhaps it is one of the definitions of love – but it seems an impossible task in politics.

Any judgment of conduct, any disagreement with another’s argument or worldview, is received as a moral affront, and often intended as such – people who do or think differently are bad people.

And so we get this terrible political discourse –the echoing shouts of castigation as the left judge ‘bankers’ and the right judge ‘benefit claimants’; and all the value of their arguments is lost in the judgment they are making of the other side.

Instead we need a loving – if tough – conversation in which the behaviour of bankers and benefit claimants can be analysed, but the value of the human beings in question is not in doubt.

That seems impossible with our current politics. And that is a big shame, because we do need judgment in our national life. We do need politicians to be able to say things like ‘it’s best when parents stay together’ – without that being an attack on parents who do not do so. It should be possible to assert a general idea  – the value of traditional family life for instance – without it coming across as a totalitarian assertion of the only way to live, and the moral annihilation of everyone who lives or thinks differently.

Society does that, of course – we do that, in our private spheres: we exhort our friends to save their marriages while completely sympathising when they cannot.

We need a politics which reflects that decent moral attitude. Politics which is values-led, which has the permission of the public to talk in moral terms without moralising, without judging people but lovingly arguing for the right and the good.

If we put relationships first, we discover a whole new vision of good government, and a whole new mission for our country.

I want to end with this thought which, I confess, intoxicates me, but it has yet to break into the mainstream. It is about what I think the mission of Britain might be in the world in this century. Our country famously lost its role in the world, its sense of purpose, when it lost its empire. I think the purpose of Britain in the 21st century is to model the politics of relationships – to become the best place in the world to live, and give witness to the good life that other countries might admire and even emulate.

One reason I am intoxicated by this idea is how absurd it is. Britain seems a long way from the best place to live. We have some of the unhappiest children, the most unstable families, the grimmest environments in the world. We have all the problems of the modern world, from inequality and generational poverty to extremism – leading to terrorism – and a popular culture which is often crass and directly destructive of human wellbeing.

But we, in Britain, also have an idea – deep down, almost out of sight – of how to live, of how to achieve a settlement between the demands of the community and the privacy of the individual, about the limits of the state and the right to be different, about the role of culture in unifying us, about how communities – geographical or ethnic or religious – form and hold together, without becoming cut off or hostile to the rest of society.

In our habit of forming institutions – like Oxbridge colleges, founded by individuals but created for community, run as independent fiefdoms but within the larger kingdom of the university – we have a model for civic life which is both productive and peaceful.

This is the inheritance of the Christian tradition which dominated our politics for so long, and which gave us the two great ideas which still inform the British worldview: that we are free, independent and responsible, and that we all have equal, total worth no matter our talents or our condition. Freedom and equality – those two principles proclaimed by the godless tribunes of right and left – are Christian in their origin and it is the Christian heritage which is their best defence.

And between and beyond liberty and equality, visible as it were through the arch they form, gleams that greater principle, fraternity. People living together in peace, in solidarity, in communities of difference and identity.

So this is the challenge for us. It does not need to be framed as a Christian mission – in fact it should not, in my view. It is a natural human mission and one that, by our habits and history, the British are well suited for.

Can our politics admit this – can the people in power turn their minds to building the sort of state described earlier: local, communitarian, preventative, values-led?

I think that Jeremy Corbyn could be the best thing to happen to Britain for a long time. Not because I agree with him, but because I do not – and I think a lot of other people do not agree with him either. I do not mean those people who would never vote Labour or who distrust everything about the Labour party.

I mean people who are – or were – attracted to Corbyn precisely because he seems to represent a new style of politics – authentic and brave, with a concern for people and communities and a strong and cogent critique of the way that capitalism works.

They will find, I hope and believe, that Corbyn’s actual policies do not reflect that attractive style of politics. Certainly, he is a mould breaker politically – he has caused an earthquake – but his politics are about keeping everything the same, or rather returning them to how they were before Mrs Thatcher came along. He is a statist – an ardent advocate of equality and a believer in the monopoly model of government centralism. He has nothing to say to the community beyond the public sector, and no sense of the informal social capital that is latent in society itself.

There is another idea, and either the Conservatives will claim it or the disappointed legions of Labour activists will do so, and find a new vehicle to carry it. It is the idea of fraternity, of relational politics.

It is a prize waiting to be picked up but it will take a new form of political activity, some new expression of the spirit which is propelling the old left to prominence across Europe and America. Reheated radicalism is not it. A new politics of fraternity might be.

Danny Kruger was chief speechwriter to David Cameron MP as Leader of the Opposition. From 2008-2015 he led Only Connect, a charity working with prisoners and young people at risk of offending. He is now chief executive of the West London Zone, a collective impact project bringing together charities, businesses and government to support children and young people aged 0-25. This article is based on a talk he held at the 2015 Relational Thinking International Conference in September.

Photo: Jeremy Corbyn speaking in 2010. By Chris Beckett from Flickr.

Relational Thinking is a movement that is not affiliated to any political party. On this website we publish articles and opinion pieces that  align with our values. If you like to respond, why not leave a comment here?

21 Oct

Watch: Relational Thinking – What’s the big idea?

Michael Schluter

The Relational Thinking International Conference last month provided a great opportunity for leaders in business, the non-profit and public services sector to come together to explore the concept of Relational Thinking in their particular fields. The first full day of the conference began with a talk by Dr Michael Schluter CBE, the founder of the Relational Thinking movement, explaining the big idea.

 

05 May

Do relationships matter in the election?

Polling_station_6_may_2010

CAMBRIDGE – In two days time, the people of the United Kingdom head to the polls to vote in the general election. The election has, understandably, dominated the media over the last few months. The newspapers and airwaves have been full of politicians and parties making promises about what they will do should they be elected on May 7th. Whether it is pay rises, taxes or economic stability, the promises that have been made, in the hope of securing votes, have been around issues of finance. Judging by the way it has dominated political discourse, it is the issue that politicians see as the most important issues for the British electorate.

These issues are all incredibly important, but missing has been any real discussion about the things that matter most: relationships. Indeed, material wealth is a poor indicator of true well-being. Surveys and studies repeatedly show that it is our relationships with those closest to us that we believe makes life worth living. Pledges focused entirely on financial matters reduce people to merely financial beings, when of course we are more than that.

In the interview below, Michael Schluter, the founder of the Relational Thinking Network, talks about the importance of relationships in life in general and specifically their importance in business. The interview took place in 2010 for ABC radio’s ‘Life Matters’ program. The book referred to is The Relational Manager, and can be purchased from us here.

Image: “Polling station 6 may 2010″ by secretlondon123 – originally posted to Flickr as Polling station

03 Apr

Cost of Family Failure in the UK: £47 billion and still rising

Family

On Valentine’s Day the Relationships Foundation, one of our member organisations, released its updated Cost of Family Failure Index in the UK, and can announce that family breakdown now costs the UK taxpayer £47bn per year. That’s £1,546 per taxpayer! However, the Index doesn’t even begin to take into account the often intense pain and suffering felt by those experiencing family failure – the broken hearts and the broken dreams. But it does show that family breakdown not only has this terrible human cost in terms of the emotional toll on all members of the family, but also an enormous financial cost to society as the taxpayer picks up the pieces.

Commenting on the figures, the Relationships Foundation’s Executive Director, Michael Trend, said:

“In the past year the government made some progress by introducing a Family Test of policy, which we welcomed, but which – especially in an election year – needs to be promoted and protected with vigour. The fact remains that the cost of family failure remains much too high.

“Our view is that if you sideline family policy you court systemic failure. If we as a country want to see real progress in improving wellbeing, increasing children’s life chances, higher educational attainment, less crime and reduced welfare dependency we need to take what this Index is telling us seriously. All political parties need a long term strategy to support the modern family.”

Only when people begin to take this cost seriously will they recognise how important relationships are to general wellbeing and happiness.

The full report can be read here.

16 Jan

Relational Living (2): World Peace

World Peace (2)

CAMBRIDGE – By Simon Fowler –

“Social Networks are fundamentally connected to goodness, and what the world needs now is more connections.” – Nicholas Christakis

“I believe that the more time we spend choosing to run the deep inner-peace circuitry of our right hemispheres, the more peace we’ll project into the world, and the more peaceful our world will be.” – Jill Bolte Taylor

“When people of all different persuasions come together working side be side for a common goal, differences melt away and we learn amity and we learn to live together and to get to know one another.” – Karen Armstrong

I have a contrarian side to me, and whenever I see hyberbole like this my snarky side switches on. Besides, I’m wikid tired right now so I’m not in my usual upbeat and bright-side mood.

Relational Proximity® Dimension #5 is ‘Overlap’: Our sense of connectedness and relationship is greater to the degree we have things in common or share a common purpose or identity. A good relationship has a direction to it, something that is common between the members that holds it together.

There’s rarely been a TED (www.ted.com) talk I didn’t enjoy and which didn’t fascinate me. It’s a great platform, wonderfully presented, and the technology, the discovery or the personal experience is invariably gripping and exciting. And what they’ve done to spread the ideas and concept is excellent. It has been accused and defended of elitism. Personally, I think it’s a fantastic way to make use of rich people’s money and to spread great ideas. If anything, however, the problem is that the speakers just can’t seem to help overstating their point. With an audience paying six grand a pop, just 20 minutes to pour out your life’s work, the spotlights … I can’t say I wouldn’t do the same.

But I also think they and their audience actually might believe their overstatement. Unfortunately the overstatement takes the talks from being mostly excellent, scientifically grounded and true-to-life to, well, amazingly utopian wishful thinking. (I speak as an idealist myself).

Jill Bolte Taylor’s amazing description of watching her own brain have a stroke (truly, jaw-droppingly amazing) ends with an apparent choice between left brain individualism or right-brain universal life-force. My emotional & violent right brain freaks me out sometimes. And what part of the brain is the ‘we’ that’s doing the choosing anyway? Nicholas Christakis asserts that connections will solve the world’s problems. Connections like the Stazi had? Like the world banking system had?

And Karen Armstrong’s talk seems grounded neither in anthropology nor anything like a robust theology. The ending actually I agree with (“get to know each other” would presumably comes first – I’m sure it wasn’t her best line, she looked exhausted). But the ‘common purpose’? It’s the “Compassion Charter” signed up to by 46,179 compassionate people so far. Sorry if you’re a fan but isn’t the problem uncompassionate people?? And I don’t want differences between me and others to go away, I want them transcended. I’m not saying we couldn’t do with more love, but not even the Ten Commandments prevented human ingenuity for evil. A group of people simply agreeing to be more compassion isn’t, I’m desperately sad to say, going to solve our deepest problems. I totally commit to be being more compassionate. Then another day happens. As Solzenitsyn said, “the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either, but right through every human heart, and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. Even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained; and even in the best of all hearts, there remains a small corner of evil.”

I love and appreciate the longing for peace and goodness and love in these people and in their statements. The confirmation of relational proximity found in these social science, neuroscience and and humanistic statements I wholeheartedly welcome. But, firstly, mere ‘relational proximity’, socially networked togetherness, isn’t the whole answer; it just points the finger more acutely on the problem.

The five dimensions of Relational Proximity® (Touch, Time, Breadth, Overlap, and Balance) are nothing without love and commitment, and love and commitment can barely consist without them. That’s why Relational Proximity® I think is so powerful, and so much more powerful than nebulous ‘social networks’. If used to examine our lives, I think it reveals the reality of our choices and our relationships. Secondly, the understanding that these connections are FOR something is crucial. What is the common purpose or ‘overlap’? Christakis says in his video that our global human network is a super-organism, it has a life of its own. I think world peace and compassion are good goals, but I actually think they’re penultimate; they’re derivative of something bigger, something, perhaps Someone more creative and dynamic and Personal.

And that is way too much thinking for one night. Find some time to see all three videos mentioned in this blog and let me know what you think?

In the series Relational Living, Simon Fowler explores what Relational Thinking means in our day-to-day lives. The articles appeared earlier on his personal blog and are republished with his permission. The first in this series was published on 9 January.


19 Dec

Call for projects on well-being

Well-being, girls talking

LAUSANNE/CAMBRIDGE – What is the connection between people’s (experience of ) well-being and their relationships? This is a question that can be explored by those who are interested in a Call for Projects on well-being by the Indo-Swiss Joint Research Programme in the Social Sciences.

Proposals can cover a range of topics: From the study of concepts of well-being as a multidimensional conception and its (potential) application in India and/or Switzerland to research on factors and processes determining wellbeing. And from analysis of public policy and its effects on well-being in India and/or Switzerland to projects on flows and linkages between India and Switzerland, for example, migration, tourism, capital, commodity and resource flows, and their implications for wellbeing of different social groups in the two countries.

The Swiss State Secretariat for Education, Research and Innovation runs a series of bilateral programmes to promote research cooperation with a number of priority countries, India being one of them. The École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) is in charge of this program. This is the second bilateral Call for Projects

For those interested, more information can be found on this website. And if you decide to respond to this call and would like to explore the subject from a Relational Thinking point of view, please do let us know!

16 Oct

Building a case for relational reform in education

shutterstock_111027338 Cropped

Rob Loe, the Education Research Director for  Relational Research and Director of the Relational Schools Project, is writing today about the need for a more relational approach to education on the website of the Britisch Education and Research Assocation (BERA):

“I would contend that the development of any society comes through the maturing process of its members to reflect the directions a society wishes to take, and thus to influence how resources like land, capital, and human resources (arguably, society’s greatest resource) are deployed in the future. The concept of a Relational school is not a recent innovation. The philosopher John Macmurray argued that: “The first priority in education – if by education we mean learning to be human – is learning to live in personal relation to other people…I call this the first priority because failure in this is fundamental failure, which cannot be compensated for by success in other field”.
In Britain, however, it could be argued that “success in other fields” has preoccupied those framing educational policy, which has both economic and cultural imperatives. Models of schooling increasingly reflect the end-use to which learners will be put in which “the economic and political context can easily subvert the primary educational purpose”, he says.

Read the whole article here.