26. Oktober 2021

“We need inner work to reach the Sustainable Development Goals”

The Inner Development Goals aim to put a spotlight on personal skills needed for transformation. Copyright: IDG.

26.10.2021 — Berlin, Deutschland

We may be lacking crucial personal skills to tackle complex societal issues. In this interview, the CEO of the Inner Development Goals initiative discusses why inner work is needed to achieve a more sustainable global society.

As we explore different dimensions of failure in international cooperation, we may need to shift our attention to what is going on inside of us. Jan Artem Henriksson is leading the way in this regard. The Swedish-Ukrainian leadership trainer and education professional is the CEO of an initiative called the Inner Development Goals, which was founded by the Ekskäret Foundation, 29K and The New Division.

The ambition is to use personal and organizational development to build the transformative skills needed for a sustainable society. Partners such as Ashoka, the Stockholm School of Economics, Spotify and IKEA support the initiative.

I met Jan via Zoom on a recent cloudy day and here is what he said:

Waleria Schüle: Jan, having Inner Development Goals (IDGs) to complement the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) sounds quite adventurous. Tell me more about it.

Jan Artem Henriksson: We’ve co-created a framework of skills and qualities that are needed to successfully work with complex societal issues, in particular those identified in the UN’s Agenda 2030. The purpose of the IDGs is to draw attention to the fact that inner skills are needed for such a transformation. Both people and organisations will need to change and develop if we are to co-create a more sustainable global society.

If we are to change society, we can’t do it by just focusing outward. We have to look inward and take responsibility ourselves. It does not stop there, of course, but we have to build our own skills — and then apply these for systems change.

The Inner Development Goals lay out 23 skills and qualities, organised in 5 clusters. Copyright: IDG.

Schüle: How did you come up with this imitative?

Henriksson: The initial spark came during a gathering of thought leaders in the field of adult development in Sweden in 2019. We all agreed that there seems to be a blind spot in our efforts to create a sustainable global society.

We wrote a manifesto saying that we will never be able to face the global challenges unless we work systemically with personal development. We wrote that we collectively lack the inner skills and capacities that are needed to address the challenges at hand. Most politicians, for instance, are not getting the leadership training and the capacity building they would need to successfully deal with their responsibilities.

We are addressing sustainability issues as technical problems when we know very well that we are in fact facing an adaptive problem. And if it is adaptive it means it include all of us, our motivation and skills to collaborate and change.

Our manifesto was published in a Swedish newspaper in 2019 and sparked a wide conversation. Many more people were asking questions — ‚What type of inner development is needed then, can you please specify?‘

We acknowledged that adult development theory is not very accessible to people outside the field. That’s how the idea was born to create a framework that simplifies inner growth and makes it easier to relate to.

Schüle: What happened next?

Henriksson: We formalized the Inner Development Goals. The first phase was dedicated to composing an inventory of abilities and inner qualities that are essential for sustainable development. We identified what personal skills are needed to fulfil the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

This was the task at hand. We challenged ourselves to simplify the complexity of inner growth just like the UN broke down the concept of sustainable development to 17 goals. We wanted to co-create a framework that would show what type of inner growth is actually needed.

In this first phase, we engaged more than a thousand people, including researchers, managers, leadership development experts, and sustainability experts who are working with the Sustainable Development Goals. They contributed through consultations, conferences and two bigger surveys.

Schüle: So what is new about the IDGs — if you compare them with other leadership or adult development frameworks?

Henriksson: What is truly special is that we worked with collective sense-making. The IDGs were not developed by only one or a few experts but by more than a thousand people — with two independent researchers coding and integrating the input of several reference groups. We succeeded in creating a framework that is truly co-created but included also many well-known scientists.

We connected sustainability and systems change professionals with people who work on HR and leadership development. We believe that these two communities need to collaborate much closer.

Schüle: Can you give me a concrete example of a skill that is needed for effective systems change?

Henriksson: System change requires effective communication and mediation between diverse perspectives. Hence, one of the key skills we identified is the ability to critically reflect your own values and worldview and make decisions from an inner compass. Adult development theory shows that only about one third of all adults are well integrated when it comes to that.

Schüle: This group of more than a thousand people who developed the IDGs, did they come up with skills you were not expecting at all?

Henriksson: I think people will find different skills surprising. Appreciation and gratitude came up high on the list: Many researchers and experts said that if we are to reach the SDGs, we need to be in touch with our appreciation of each other, of ourselves, of nature.

That was a good reminder to me, personally. Realizing how many of these wise people emphasized these qualities. The logic is that we need to practice gratitude to be able to stay optimistic and to have perseverance in navigating these very complex processes.

Schüle: What’s next? How do you put the IDGs into practice?

Henriksson: We want to build an IDGs partners‘ network globally to continue exploring the intersection of human development and sustainability. UNDP just became an official partner and we have interest from several governments and international organizations.

But even more importantly, we will create and share a field-book of tools and methods that hopefully can inspire more people to work with inner development in order to accelerate the sustainability work. We want people to bring the IDGs to their management teams as a starting point for a deeper dialogue: What inner skills do we need to grow and develop individually and collectively? And we hope that organisations, consultants and thought leaders will reflect on the IDGs and work with them systemically for a more sustainable future.

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