16 Jun

The Sustainable Development Goals as a Blueprint for Humanity


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.

15 Jul

More than money: understanding poverty relationally

relational poverty

Poverty is a pervasive and global problem, but it exists in different forms and has many different effects. Something approaching a billion people are hungry worldwide. One in six people have inadequate access to water and a quarter live without electricity. Global inequality is increasing. The richest one percent of people in the world own nearly half of the world’s wealth, and the figure is expected to grow in the coming years.

In higher income countries like the UK, we tend not to experience poverty in the same way as many of those in low-income countries, but it is still a feature of life for many. Charity foodbanks supplied people with emergency food for three days on over a million different occasions in 2014-15, with around 500,000 unique users.

The definition of poverty
Like so many other things, we are used to seeing poverty in terms of its material dimensions. Generally speaking, we understand it as a financial issue: poverty simply involves not having enough money. This may be the most obvious symptom, but poverty is a much broader issue.

Three of the most commonly-used definitions used in the UK today are Absolute Poverty, Relative Poverty and Social Exclusion.

• Absolute poverty is defined as the lack of sufficient resources to meet physical needs for health.
• Relative poverty defines income or resources in relation to the national average. It is concerned with the absence of the material needs to participate fully in daily life.
• Social exclusion is a fairly new term, broadly similar to relative poverty but including both the causes and effects of poverty. It includes many different factors that can drive and result from poverty: unemployment, substandard housing, education, low income, addiction, crime, health and family breakdown.

Relational capital
Social exclusion starts to get to the heart of the matter, but doesn’t go far enough. We would argue that, more than being about money – which is important but really only the symptom of a deeper issue – poverty is ultimately about relationships. Very often this involves global relationships and injustices, or the structural and institutional relationships that create and perpetuate poverty (including government corruption and inefficiency; punitive interest and debt repayment; labour practices, and so on).

In wealthier countries, it is still those people who are most marginalised and who live on the edges of society, who also tend to be poorest financially. This week we heard the news that children brought up in the care system are heavily overrepresented in the prison population. ‘Fewer than 1% of children and young people are in the care of local authorities, but a third of boys and 61% of girls in custody either are in care or have been.’ A comment from one young offender was particularly telling: ‘If I’d had the support around me when I was younger, I would have stayed as smart and sweet and innocent – but it was the fact that I’ve built myself up with so much anger. I’m not used to anyone supporting me.’ Those with a criminal record will be discounted from around half of all job opportunities and just a third of those leaving prison go on into education, training or paid work.

Those with fuller and broader networks of relationships are often able to cope with a setback such as a divorce, redundancy, debt, eviction and so on, that might trap those who do not have the same relational capital in a cycle of poverty. This is neatly illustrated by Mark Granovetter’s 1973 well-known paper, The Strength of Weak Ties. Granovetter’s research demonstrates that opportunities (in this case, for employment) come most often not from our closest circle of relationships, but from the ‘weak ties’ in our social networks – the friend-of-a-friend, acquaintances and contacts who bridge different and otherwise disconnected social groups and therefore offer access to new and useful information. Despite the language of ‘weak’ ties, these bridges are a key element of relational capital, and those without this richness of relational network are at a serious disadvantage.

Guy Brandon works as a researcher for the Jubilee Centre.