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The Inner Development Goals Summit 29.4.2022

How can the IDGs support reaching the Sustainable Development Goals in Scotland?

What do the Inner Development Goals mean for sustainable development, and how can they be integrated into Scottish organizations

By Iiris Aliska

On Friday 29.4, the Scottish Leadership Institute (SLI) together with the College Development Network invited a group of Scottish actors in business and education to discuss national approaches to implementing Inner Development Goals. The event was shadowing an Inner Development Summit taking place in Stockholm, and the day integrated live talks from the summit to the in-person discussion.

The day yielded both issues and opportunities in advancing Inner Development Goals in Scotland. The conversation throughout the day was lively, and we quickly found that everyone brought a unique point of view to the discussion. Despite the differences, many excellent ideas surfaced that each participant could take back to their organization to kickstart change.

But what are Inner Development Goals and what can they do for the Sustainable Development Goals?

The Inner Development Goals (IDG) are a set of core capabilities, qualities and skills that accelerate and support reaching collective goals, as well as help reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG). The IDG team in Sweden found that we lack the internal skills to deal with complex societal issues, such as those described in the 17 SDGs. This same pattern is transferred to larger organizations – organizations such as businesses themselves do not have the culture or structure that aligns with sustainable development. Therefore, the commitment to the SDGs on behalf of organizations is often superficial and will not reach or set ambitious sustainability goals. Individuals, organizations and institutions alike can integrate the IDGs into their framework and skillset. The IDG Framework team is currently developing a ‘’field kit’’ for implementing the IDGs internationally, which could be extremely useful in the future.

Essentially, the IDGs could change how we interact with each other to a more kind, intelligent way, while giving us the tools to solve issues both at work and globally.

While the IDGs are not yet that widely spread, they have been adopted in large companies such as IKEA, and even in the Costa Rica state administration to support reaching the SDGs. In Scotland, this could potentially recalibrate both the private and public sectors to align with the SDGs. Ever since the SDGs were published, Scotland has strived to be a forerunner in reaching them. The IDG framework could support this task, by complementing the Scottish National Performance Network, which aims to nationally integrate the SDGs into all parts of life in Scotland.

That being said, the Inner Development Goals have immense potential in supporting reaching the SDGs. However, they also have the potential to boost businesses, employee welfare, and change leadership as we know it. Therefore, adopting the IDGs is not only good for the planet but also for business.

The Conference

We started the day by listening to the opening remarks from Stockholm and hearing from the team behind the IDGs. After getting to know the framework better, we began brainstorming on how we should approach the IDGs, and what we saw as the greatest challenges in our respective sectors.

Many professionals expressed that they would expect students to be the change in large organizations, which struck me as challenging in the current climate. Students often expect organizations to seek workers who do not make waves but profit. As a student, I saw the greatest challenge to be integrating the IDGs into both university curricula to equip students with these skills before entering the workforce, as well as transforming the structure of large organizations to allow such changes. The discussions highlighted how important change in organizational culture is for sustainable development and made everyone eager to get started.

Throughout the day we heard from experts, CEOs and academics of different sectors on how the IDGs can make the change on all fronts, ranging from climate change to better leadership. Our event mirrored this structure, and we built upon each conversation we had to establish a larger strategy and ways the IDGs could be implemented in Scotland.

However, a very specific problem emerged: everyone, and every organization, are very different. When trying to pinpoint a national strategy for implementing the IDGs, we kept circling back to discussing who exactly should be the focus of the IDGs, and where the action should be concentrated. Educational professionals highlighted the importance of integrating the IDGs into the curriculum, to ensure responsible workers and grassroots change in business. Business professionals on the other hand recommended targeting business professionals through marketing the IDGs as an asset.

An Organizational Sustainability Certificate

One solution could be a Scottish organisational sustainability certificate, that demands ascension to a standard of integration of the IDGs into both the organizational structure and employee skillset. This could target all organizations, including universities and institutions. It would also immensely benefit organizations seeking to generate revenue, such as businesses. These organizations were also identified as the most impactful in Scottish quest for sustainability if turned sustainable during the IDG conference.

While all organizations would benefit from an individual evaluation that identifies key points of change, there are some universal practices all organisations could adopt, which would support integrating the IDGs. A certificate encompassing them could therefore erase the issue of who and how, and facilitate the adoption of new, more sustainable organizational practices through the IDGs. Below listed are some ways the IDGs could be integrated into all organisations, through education, change in discourses and increased democracy. These actions also have the capacity to help organisations reach the SDGs.

Sustainability certificates are becoming more and more common. For example, the European Commission encourages all industries to ascend to the EU Ecolabel, which accredits products, organizations and services as responsible and sustainable.

A certificate of organizational sustainability would present the organization itself in a positive light to consumers, which according to consumer studies is extremely attractive. According to the Eurobarometer (2019), over 50% of consumers looked for eco certificates in making consumer choices. Therefore, certificates simultaneously hold the entire market to a higher standard and attract consumers. Sustainability itself is becoming extremely valuable, and a huge asset for both businesses and institutions alike. Some organisations are even seeking labels like the WWF Green Office label to standardise greener practices at the workplace.

Deloitte (2022) found that the largest obstacle preventing UK consumers from making sustainable choices in lack of information (37% of responders). A label could make that information accessible and facilitate more responsible consumerism. A certificate of sustainable practices would communicate that an organisation operates responsibly and effectively both internally and externally, which in turn could attract consumers. The positive brand aspect could act as an incentive for businesses to ascend to sustainability standards in Scotland. This could invite more and more organizations to become more sustainable, boost their business, and increase employee welfare.

Furthermore, it would provide the tools and instructions many organizations lack in their transition to sustainability. The IDG group found that sustainable organisational change is often inhibited by the lack of knowledge by organisations themselves, and the resulting perceived difficulty. A certificate would act as a ready-made blueprint, which could overcome this.

But how can the IDGs be integrated into an organization and employee skillset?

The IDG skills and qualities are spread across five categories that all represent different skills and qualities needed to deal with complex societal issues. With 23 skills altogether, many of them concentrate on emotional intelligence, learning to collaborate better, and how to take steps to drive change. While these skills might seem obvious to some, they are not common practice. Furthermore, they are conventionally soft qualities, as opposed to hard qualities that have traditionally been idolized in the workplace.

This can be understood through the lens of Feminist Discourse Analysis (FDA). According to FDA, language is a tool that is used to perpetuate and construct patriarchal norms and spaces. It also recognizes that qualities are constructed as feminine (soft) or masculine (hard) through language. FDA has shown that organisations use language to evaluate the value of employees’ qualities, by assorting those having hard qualities as valuable whereas softer qualities are seen as undesirable. Workplaces and large organisations are traditionally masculine spaces that have equally masculine discourses. The appreciation of softer qualities in an employee has increased with time but organisations still maintain unneutral language that constructs hard qualities as more valuable than soft ones. This language is perpetuated by masculine workplace discourses.

Therefore, what should be understood about the IDGs is that traditionally they have been seen as unfavourable and weak qualities. They place quality of performance over competitiveness and purpose over profit. Despite newer studies that show that person-centred organisations perform better, the older competitive model is deeply rooted in organizational structures through discourses and practice. Especially ideals of empathy, collaboration, and global benefit go against traditional values of sternness, dominance and strict hierarchy. Similarly placing purpose before maximizing profit goes against the basic competitive instinct.

Mindshift through language

Therefore, as much as the IDGs are about learning new skills, they demand comprehensive unlearning of what we know about leadership, business and reaching goals. There must be a mind shift about what the aims and values of businesses and organizations are. This demands a change in discourse, which could be the first aspect of the certificate. The Report On Organizational Discourses produced by a collaboration of Nordic universities astutely points out that discourses construct organizations as a unique entities, as well as dictate both internal and external relations and practices. Therefore, they must echo the values and capacities set out by the IDGs. Often especially large organisations hold discourses encouraging ‘’hard’’ qualities in an employee.

Discourses over what is valued in an organization are formed through the day-to-day interactions, organisational culture and goals the organisation sets for itself. It is also the key to how discourses can be changed. To change discourses, the organization must change its language to neutral, in everyday interactions, training, and written documents. Furthermore, the language must frame actions, practices and skills expressed in the IDGs in a positive light. This is opposed to organizations and employees using language that frame qualities such as steamroller leadership and overworking in a positive light.

To help achieve this shift, a mission statement, or a ‘’purpose line’’ in the organization's constitution could help. This could include expressing the values the organisation holds, and how the organisation relates to the SDGs and IDGs, or where it sees itself in ten years. This idea was also floated around at the conference. It could support the shift in discourse and mindset and help realign the organization with the IDGs and SDGs. An issue identified by the IDG group was that despite superficial commitment, most organizations are adjacent in their structure to the SDGs, which prevents meaningful action. A mission statement could match the organisation to its goal more effectively.

Re-education and unlearning

Education and training pinpoint and perpetuate the skills listed in the IDG report and help organisations integrate them into the employee skillset. Identifying why these skills are needed and how they can change the workplace is equally as important. Finally, employees should learn how to use these skills, as well as gain access to resources to develop them.

Research shows that individuals who have autonomy to solve problems, as well as the resources to learn constantly through their work perform and feel better. While the IDG skills can boost sustainability and help reach the SDGs, they also lift, and support stable economies as was found in Åke Lundvall’s research to Discretionary Learning Jobs in Europe. According to the study these skills boost innovation and kickstart change in organisations, which makes them more resilient and innovative in the changing world. This includes challenges posed by climate change and scarcity. Therefore, IDG education in companies can be a real asset in driving the SDGs.

In terms of a certificate, organisations could go through training explaining what the IDGs are, how they can be used, and why the organisational change is taking place. As was mentioned, the IDGs are not traditionally attractive qualities for an employee. Therefore, unlearning the old skills, and learning how to use the new ones is imperative for change.

Change comes from both grassroots, and from the top down. Employees themselves must embody and use these skills, which should be supported by integrating them to the values and goals of the organisation, as well as educating management on sustainable leadership. To further enforce adaptation, organizations could adopt incentives for those members of the team and management who attain and exceptionally support reaching the new goals. Incentives could encourage employees practice more sustainable working habits, as well as learn new skills.


Finally, the IDGs could further be internalized through increased democracy inside an organization. This type of ability to influence, communicate and collaborate is a skill promoted by the IDGs but also helps spread and perpetuate them. Continuous studies show that democratic practices make organizations more durable and self-sustaining, as each member gains agency and purpose inside the organization.

Increased responsibility for self and the workplace could help support change in the workplace. Similarly increased responsibility over self could boost innovation and allow employees to push for change in the workplace. As was discussed in the conference, the rigid organisational structure and hierarchical culture prevents grassroot change. Increased democracy could change that, and help organisations become more resilient in the face of change.

Democracy also demands transparency in decision-making and organisational structure. Employees should have access to influence major decisions, research organisational policies and know the motivations behind actions.

Democracy should not only take place in the form of open-door policies, or but through forums of conversation where ideas can be exchanged. Access could also be increased through digital channels provided social media tools and online forums. Democratization could facilitate adopting more sustainable practices with the IDGs, and boost change and innovation towards reaching the SDGs.

The Inner Development Goals in Scotland

These ideas are just some among many that could be implemented in organizations to support the adaptation of the IDGs. Each organization has unique features and practices, and therefore unique avenues to pursuing sustainable practices. But a sustainability certificate could certainly help restructure organizations to be capable to act towards sustainability and lower the threshold for acting. Furthermore, it could be adjusted to reflect the Scottish National Performance Network to compliment the SDG agenda in Scottish communities.

Sustainability must become the goal of all organizations, and through national action, it can become the norm. My greatest takeaway from the Inner Development Goals shadow event was that the Inner Development Goals complement the Sustainable Development Goals wonderfully, but the other is not effective without the other. We as individuals will not make meaningful choices for sustainability if they go against our values. This also applies to organizations. Therefore, the next great step for the Inner Development Goals network in Scotland is to make their presence known and share the IDGs with everyone to drive reaching the Sustainable Development Goals.

Read more about the Scottish Sustainability Network here:

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