This unusual, dark year –2020 – has shown how human activities can endanger the environment and how societal inequalities have grown over the last several years. The pandemic has triggered a slowdown of industrial production with associated pollution that has allowed the environment to thrive, but has also uncovered inequities with minorities being the most vulnerable, suffering the most.
What is the message? When the pandemic is over, we need to pay more attention to how we can take care of people and the environment while still maintaining economic growth. This leads us to the concept of sustainable development, where profit, people and planet (or the three Ps) are taken into account as we move forward. The definition of sustainable development was introduced by Mrs. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former prime minister of Norway. In 1987, she chaired a commission at the United Nations that set the framework for sustainable development. The definition reads: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” 1. So, it is about planning for a better world moving forward. Unfortunately, our governments have not done enough.
Climate change is a direct result of human pollution. Unsustainable deforestation and industrial practices continue to cause the rapid disappearance of wildlife and their natural habitats. It is emblematic that younger generations, led by young Greta Thunberg,2 are the ones turning to “adults” to demand change, echoing what Brundtland had asked for more than 30 years ago. The push for clean energy to reduce our carbon footprint and the push to protect environmental biodiversity and endangered species has been growing in the last several years. Hopefully, local and federal governments will understand that it is time for change.
When looking at society (people), as a third pillar of sustainable development, we need to focus on the broad concept of social progress. So, how do we define social progress? I like the definition from Michael Porter (Harvard Business School): “Social progress is defined as the capacity of a society to meet the basic human needs of its citizens, establish the building blocks that allow citizens and communities to enhance and sustain the quality of their lives, and create the conditions for all individuals to reach their full potential”.3 So, what are building blocks? The most important ones in my opinion are safety, human rights, education and healthcare. They are primordial blocks that lead to job creation and the promotion of social welfare. Bypassing these foundations would only lead to rising social inequalities. The role of building communities as well as leadership is necessary for social progress and sometimes a cultural shift may be needed.
When looking at sustainable development, we should not wait for governments to take the lead. It is our responsibility as individuals and as community members to create change. We need to take one step forward at a time. In this sense, the role of NGOs (Non-Governmental Organization) and charities is essential. Itiah Angels for Learning4 (IAFL) is a charity that operates within the framework of sustainable development, specifically within its social progress component. IAFL provides educational tools for primary and secondary school students as well as healthcare assistance in impoverished schools. It also hosts beauty program initiatives to empower women in their communities. Together, we can change this world and help to move it in the right direction.
- Brundtland, GH and World Commission on Environment and Development. Our Common Future: Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development. Oxford University, 1987
- Greta Thunberg’s Speech At The U.N. Climate Action Summit. September 23, 2019 https://www.npr.org/2019/09/23/763452863
- Michael Porter (Harvard Business School). Measuring Social Progress Index. https://www.isc.hbs.edu/research-areas/Pages/social-progress-index.aspx