Insights from the ‘Strategies for Improving Sustainability Workshop’ at the R2R Conference

On Tuesday and Wednesday the other week, I attended the R2R Conference at BMA House in London. The workshop session I chose was on Strategies for Improving Sustainability based around the United Nations Sustainability Development Goals (SDGs) listed below:

  1. No Poverty
  2. No Hunger
  3. Good Health and Wellbeing
  4. Quality Education
  5. Gender Equality
  6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  9. Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure
  10. Reduced Inequalities
  11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  12. Responsible Consumption and Production
  13. Climate Action
  14. Life Below Water
  15. Life on Land
  16. Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions
  17. Partnerships for the Goals

The session was led by the Fellows leading the SDG Publishers Compact, which seeks to engage and involve publishers in achieving the UN SDGs. While listening to the discussions it occurred to me that globally we are in the very early stages of achieving these SDGs, or even having collective strategies in how to achieve them. Most signatories from the publishing community have sought to align existing activity and publications to each goal, and this is a significant first step. It acknowledges the contribution research publishing already makes and raises awareness in the industry, author community and the public at large. However, this initial response requires no additional contribution and simply accredits existing activity. When as a collective do we start initiating new activities to reach an aspirational level in delivering the SDGs?

No Poverty. No Hunger. Both are stark reminders that there are many without enough for basic survival. Both are simply stated here but very difficult to achieve. When we spoke of these core requirements for basic living, we compared our efforts with the collaborative speed during Coronavirus resulting in the rapid production of a vaccine. Within a year of discovering the disease we were well on our way to conquering it. We discussed how we became hyper-focussed since the resultant deaths were close relatives and friends. Sharpens the mind when it’s personal! This comparison is useful as most deaths from poverty and hunger are in the developing world and therefore less immediate. The deaths in the Third World are not ‘less important’ to an individual in The West. A life is still a life however far away that person lives from us, but perhaps those individuals at highest risk have the least global influence. The power often lies alongside the money. The impact lies with those who have the loudest voices and the strongest networks. Would we feel the urgency more acutely if they were our brother, our friend, our grandparent? Surely the resolution of these two goals is fundamental the dignity and value of every life. Do we wait until the death rate increases in our hometown or do we act now? Or do we acknowledge that what affects other global citizens now will ultimately impact on us.

Hunger is directly correlated to Poverty and there’s a reason why they are the first two priority goals. However hunger could also result from a global lack of food due to unsustainable farming methods and an increase in temperature. Can we really expect to grow crops successfully when the average Summer season temperature goes above 50 degrees? This is what many people in the developing world face, combined with a water shortage also resulting from climate change.

I attended a webinar the day after R2R named ‘Better Together: Steering your nonprofit through periods of global turmoil‘. It featured Dr Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, CEO of Oxfam Great Britain, who spoke of their new inclination to ‘Be Brave and Bold’ in stating and promoting their aims. They have found this attracts supporters who are more aligned to their mission and demonstrate more loyalty to the organisation. Also featured were Nicolas Froissard, Spokesperson and VP at Groupe SOS, and Anne Kjær Bathel, CEO and Co-Founder of ReDI School of Digital Integration. My overall impression was that we’re aiming high in aspiration but not in our actions. Being brave and bold in aspiration, then collective vision and subsequently in real action is essential to making all our lives sustainable. To make our children’s lives tolerable we need to address the food supply chain. No hunger means adequate food for all. Does anyone even know what it would cost to achieve this?

According to CABI working in agriculture and the environment, 828 million people globally are suffering from hunger. 828 million people is alot of mouths to feed. Perhaps we need to consider a more daring model of food supply… My overriding memory from Ghana was a teenage orphan who was routinely fed by the local villagers, and as a result lived into his 30s. The possibility of sharing food would be predominantly as a host in the West, whereas in poorer countries generosity as a route to survival is much more readily understood. Could we move to a different and radical model of feeding the population in the UK? According to Save the Children, 1 in 4 children go hungry every day in this country. Offering Free School Meals under Pupil Premium support to parents is only the start of solving this systemic problem. The fundamental causes are much more complex and of course relate not only to our economic stability and growth, but also the cost of living, inflation, and interest rates.

It’s my belief that most adults want to be successful in their work life and would never to have children they could not feed. In my blogs on poverty, it’s clear that effective food acquisition for those down on their luck financially is central to solving the problem of hunger. Being able to feed your children or not attracts judgement from community, the child’s school, and Social Services and there’s a risk if a parent admits that it’s not possible. This judgement rather than support may be because poverty is seen commonly as an inability to budget rather than a lack of income. Having been in the situation of choosing a low paid job or being on benefits, the reality is much more complex.

The perceptions of neighbours and friends in the UK would likely undermine the possibility of sharing food between families, but should it? Why couldn’t a street where families are on a restrictive income consider sharing a regular meal centrally bought and cooked? This is happening in some Community Centres where a warm space is offered to assist those who cannot heat their homes; seems a solution both to loneliness and eating well too. Culturally it would not be the natural choice to share in this way, so how could we encourage a more open attitude. I recently completed a survey for the Liberal Democrat Conference where they asked if food vouchers are a reasonable solution to feed low income families. At first glance, I thought ‘yes’ as it ensures individuals spend the money offered as intended. Then I reconsidered, as I realised in offering vouchers as a viable solution it is implicit that poorer people do not spend wisely. In my experience this is rarely the case. It also brushes under the carpet that the underlying issue is tolerating low incomes as standard, and that the benefits system does not enable a decent standard of living and is complicated to navigate for many. How could we fund food poverty more fairly?

In the world now, why should we tolerate a situation and expectation where families can’t afford food? What could a new economy look like where we maximise food distribution to the most efficient point, reducing waste and maximising nutrition exist? How do we balance this with the ability to choose our own food and remain independent in this mainstay of individual households and cultural trends? I don’t have a solution as yet, but am wrestling with enabling everyone to have enough, and preferably a bit more. We haven’t got the ‘silver bullet‘, but we could make one up! Let’s hope we can make it to a point where all individuals have a decent standard of living through a new mechanism of sharing among the collective.

All the best to those who are struggling with ‘not enough’ right now. The choice between heating your house or eating a meal is not an easy one…

Love Ruth x

Header photo by charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

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