Inner Development Goals: The Keys to Sustainable Development on a Global Scale

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

Inner Development Goals: The Keys to Sustainable Development on a Global Scale

Adrián Nájera-Coto, trombonist, pedagogue, and teaching artist


In 2015, the United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development introduced the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), an urgent call to action adopted by all UN Member States to preserve our world and support its people. It was a moment of determination and optimism—a blueprint for our future, designed and ratified through global partnership. Unfortunately, annual UN reports have made it clear that our collective efforts in pursuit of these goals are falling short. Despite the considerable investment of resources across public and private sectors, the massive SDG framework has proven more challenging and more intricate than expected.

Teaching artists are no strangers to the lag between ambition and execution. Our best, most daring arts education proposals are sometimes heard—sometimes even adopted with the SDGs in mind—and sometimes not. And in my conversations with colleagues across the world, there has been a prevailing sentiment that the SDGs framework never considered the many ways that arts learning and arts experiences might cut through the intricacies of global politics to support a more sustainable future.

Most of us believe that teaching artists are the missing piece in building a sustainable future. But what if our field is missing something as well—a bridge that could connect our artistic mission with effective policymaking and systemic change? For many years, I certainly felt that some sort of stepping stone was missing. And then, last year, I was introduced to what I believe to be a game-changer during the International Teaching Artist Conference—ITAC6—in Oslo: The Inner Development Goals (IDGs).

Teaching artists learning at the 2022 Inner Development Goals Summit. Photo: IDGs.

During ITAC6, fellow teaching artists Probal Banerjee and Sudebi Thakurata presented a fascinating workshop called “What If…”—a collaborative exploration of possible futures that used a new framework, the IDGs, to guide participants throughout the session. Probal and Sudebi had stumbled upon the IDGs as part of their ongoing research on future consciousness and future competence. To them, it felt like a new language they could already speak, helping them clarify what they already knew to be true: in order to approach global issues around sustainability, we must build up our internal capacity to deal with increasingly complex environments and challenges. Change needs to germinate deep inside ourselves before it can be projected and acted upon.

I soon learned that the IDGs are not just a framework for self-development but an entire organization, The Inner Development Goals, founded in 2020 by Ekskäret Foundation, The New Division, and 29k Foundation. IDGs is a non-profit initiative that researches and communicates science-based skills, abilities, and qualities that help people to live purposeful, sustainable, and productive lives, both individually and collectively. As part of the framework they created, a total of 23 different qualities are divided among five dominant actions (see Figure 1). Together, they comprise the keys to inner growth and development, as defined by a team of international researchers and more than a thousand people surveyed.

Figure 1: Inner Development Goals Framework.

The IDGs framework has a simple objective: to accelerate the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals and create a prosperous future for all humanity. And its methods are particularly ripe for teaching artists. The skills, abilities, and qualities that the IDGs seek to instill are not just scientifically proven to improve one’s inner life; they are skills that everyone has, whether they know it or not. Crucially, these skills can be practiced, developed, and nurtured—just like any of the art forms teaching artists devote their lives to. The framework offers a clearly marked roadmap for constant improvement that places emphasis on underrepresented cultures and voices and is anchored by research-based data. The organization recently launched the IDGs Toolkit, an emerging library of tools to explore the IDGs in practice and help people and organizations around the world accelerate progress toward the SDGs.

From the “What if…” workshop during ITAC6. Photo: Adrián Nájera-Coto.

Viewing sustainable development through the lens of the IDGs helps us understand how we can apply these latent skills to create a better future. When framed within specific sustainability efforts, each element of the IDGs framework could be seen as a logical continuation of the previous element—a progression from the individual to the collective. Take our global ambition of increasing access to sustainable drinking water, to use an example from the SDGs: IDG qualities like trust, intercultural competence, and mobilization capacities are all necessary in both mapping out solutions and sustaining our efforts to see them through.

I hope this brief introduction to the IDGs initiative has you as excited as I am about the possibilities it brings to our profession. Teaching artists are known for their passion and commitment; for their honest and inspiring caring and giving. What could be more inspiring than activating the artistry of others? Perhaps activating the artistry of others while purposefully nurturing inner skills that will promote overall wellness, collective consciousness, and proactivity in building a better world.

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