Svenska institutet (via the Swedish Institute Management Programme - SIMP) gathers emerging leaders from the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, India and China for a 6-month scholarship programme to discuss and develop projects related to the UN Sustainable Development goals. I was one of the five Philippine scholars, joining lawyer Karen Espineli (now with Philam Life), Kat Abelarde (PLDT management), and social entrepreneurs Philip Felipe (Bayan Academy) and Jamir Ocampo (Tsaa Laya).
The highlight of our program were our classes in Stockholm to learn about how the UN and Swedish organisations approach the question of 'sustainability'. In the first half the program, we stayed in Boson where Swedish Olympians train. Surrounded by forests and the Baltic Sea, this was a good place to learn about Swedes' relationship with nature.
Image 1. Downtime on arrival day at the Olympic Village in the quiet greenery of Boson just at the outskirts of Stockholm. That's the Baltic Sea in the background.
Image 2. Kate, Karen and I anticipate the coming weeks in Stockholm while catching the last rays of our first Swedish sunset.
The program started with individual reflections regarding our leadership styles and values, and as we progressed, we expanded our discussions of leadership and sustainability to our cohort, our immediate communities, our workplaces, our countries, and the world. The intense program (we would start at 8.30am and end at around 10pm everyday) was a mix of plenary workshops, lectures, group reflections, nature trips, and physical and artistic activities.
Image 3. Learning about conversation of riverine and marine ecosystems in Sweden by the Baltic Sea.
Image 4. Discussing Sweden's Right to Public Access as we hike up a mountain and through the forest.
The programme underscored that there are many ways to learn about sustainability. We spent one afternoon playing wheelchair basketball and then discussing PWD experiences. We also composed rap songs about sustainability within each of our breakout groups. We learned about the importance of bees to the world's food supply at a rooftop apiary. We participated in heated discussions about gender equality. During the program's second half in Stockholm's city centre, we did many role playing sessions that highlighted the complexity of sustainability issues and the breadth of stakeholders involved, as well as the lack of attention to structural inequality in popular notions of 'sustainable development'.
Image 5. We also had the opportunity to work on a live sustainability case study for Sveaskog, a government timber company.
Sustainable development requires certain building blocks to be in place: democratic governance, fair and honest elections, freedom of the press, and respect for human rights. The UN Sustaiinable Development Goals are an incredible achievement in global policy as they fucntion as some sort of global social contract for ensuring the future of humanity and the planet. But there is a downside to the pluralism that informs these Goals: as they are the lowest common denominator that all UN member states could agree to, thorny issues such as fascism, conflict, and human rights -and their contribution to sustainability issues- have been glossed over, so as not to offend certain states and certain world leaders who would otherwise withdraw support for these UN objectives. Of course, this does not even begin to address the issue of whether ‘development’, with its problematic entanglements with large-scale processes of extraction, is what the world should be aiming for in the first place - but that is another post for another time.
Image 6. One of our programme highlights: wheelchair basketball!
For good reason, we were truly pushed to our limits socially, emotionally and mentally - the rigour and holism of the programme makes it stand out from the various fellowships that I've attended. It was probably also one of the reasons why our cohort was so bonded by the time we left Stockholm.
Image. Karen and I celebrate our last day with our mentors Ruben Brunsfeld and Shu Wen from EnAct, and Svenska Institutet/SIMP Asia program lead Anna Lithagen.