October, 2019 Newsletter

A Proposal for Global Transformation Action

Urgent action is needed to transform our unsustainable civilisation.

Our vision is a world transformed into a flourishing planet that is inclusive, just, sustainable and ecological.

Our mission is to urgently co-create and amplify transformational infrastructure and initiatives that systemically supports the emergence of our vision aligned with, and going beyond the SDGs.

The Forum is a growing global community of transformations enablers and initiatives. Our aim is for it to be the first port of call for those involved in transformational journeys. This includes those who are looking to become involved in transformation, those looking to strengthen and amplify their work, those who want to find and connect with others, and for funders who seek to identify and support transformation at any scale. We will develop the Forum as a multi sided platform that connects transformation stakeholders to help them collaborate to develop the infrastructure necessary to greatly accelerate their work.

Our goal is to become the needed Transformation Interaction Platform (TIP). And to do so quickly.

We are clear about how we will achieve this goal. The core is supporting transformations efforts to become powerful transformations systems by connecting initiatives and supporting their collective radical actions. The TIP will engender the variety of collaborations, interactions, economic models, value exchanges and propositions that the complexity of the situation demands.

Urgent and major transformations are now needed in our approaches to Governance, Finance, Innovation, Narrative, Capacity and Evaluation. These underlying “deep systems” dominate our individual and collective decision-making and actions – and impede transformations efforts.Many initiatives attempt to change these systems, but they lack the overall coherence, connection, depth, scale and speed to effectively tackle them.


For two years leading transformation experts and initiatives have been co-creating the Forum as an overall intelligence producer, gatherer and resource for this essential transformation. This work has produced an explicit strategy for the Forum as a catalyst for the whole field of transformation, including transformation funders.

The Forum is organised as a continuously evolving, networked and resilient system. We work in, and across, the SDG focus areas, not within them as inhibiting silos. A key part of our structure is a set of Steward Teams; these teams address the deep systems connected to specific place- and issue-based transformation action.

We are all in this together – ensuring that voices of the world are present, represented and addressed is vitally important. Diversity and full inclusion are core values of the Forum. Equally important are inter-generational, inter-gender, inter-cultural and inter-geographical learning and knowledge / experience transfer and other diversity embracing characteristics.

We are now ready for the next stage of acceleration and growth, of the Forum. During the first year we will focus on growing the actions and interactions of our Steward Teams, implement an online community platform, develop the full design of the TIP. This will provide the basis for successful transformational journeys, with speed and scale.

Forum Proposal Background

Behind the proposal is three years of work by transformations advocates. Rather than being the product of an institution, scientific body, NGO, consultants, or group of governments, the proposal was assembled by a group from diverse fields and sectors who have high reputation, strong commitment to transformation, extensive networks, and modest amount of time. They have invested these in defining a radical strategy to break out of “more of the same”.

Three dozen people first met for a day following the Transformations2017 conference September 1 in Dundee. Steve Waddell, who has consistently supported the Forum’s development, continually urged people to think big and talked of a $25 million proposal. About 20 people continued to hold virtual and face-to-face meetings to create a common understanding of “transformation” and what is missing in the numerous current efforts. A group of eight met in London in May of this year for two days to take a hard-nosed look at financing options. They re-stated their commitment that the Forum develop itself as an example of the needed transformed economy, and generate diverse income.

Nevertheless, the London meeting concluded that the Forum requires significant start-up capital. A South African connection who was invited to the meeting to provide advice, recommended writing a €12-€15 million one-year proposal that he would take to interested high net worth South Africans who he knows. He was connected to the Forum by Transforming Evaluation Lead Steward Zenda Ofir, who knows him as someone who “is well-connected, incredibly smart and is used to big ideas.”

After the London meeting, Ian Kendrick led virtual discussions to revisit the Forum’s Vision, Mission and Principles as a pre cursor to the proposal production. Kendrick first became involved in the Forum after Transformations 2017, where he oversaw the facilitation of the conference to produce its shared view on the production and use of knowledge. Working with the Transforming Capacity group, he led the online facilitation of Three Horizons; he has an impressive working and consulting history, notably in the field of strategy, innovation and organisation development using systems thinking approaches. For the last few years has devoted himself to development of transformation efforts, in particular as a co-founder of H3Uni.

At the end of July, fourteen people met for two days in Boston, to further develop the proposal. With the leadership of Waddell, Kendrick and Steven Lovink (Transforming Finance Councillor and founder of the SourceCodeforLife Consortium) and many virtual interactions with others, the draft proposal was completed in mid-September.

Significant work remains. This includes further developing the economic model, creating an infographic, and producing a slide deck and other support materials for use at a meeting with the South Africans planned for the end of November. These materials will be used with others, as well. A trip to the San Francisco Bay Area is planned for November, with a particular focus on technology investors given the multi-stakeholder technological platform’s key role in the proposal.

Key Proposal Aspects

Radical strengthening of 11 transformations systems, creation of a Transformations Interaction Platform and developing a flow of radical transformations initiatives are the core aspects of the Forum’s proposal.

The Four Impediments to Transformations Efforts

The proposal is designed to provide a critical boost to current efforts which are mired in four particular problems.

Lack of coherence and connection: Currently,transformations initiatives and enablers are fragmented and poorly organized to take on the big inertial forces that characterize the types of grand challenges identified in the SDGs. Transformation agents now tend to operate in niches, which individually are easily overwhelmed and captured by traditional players. They expend scarce resources relearning lessons others already understand. They miss potential synergies that could be gained by cross-fertilization because their efforts are unconnected, and therefore lack coherence.

Inadequate financial resources: There are too few investors – science, government, philanthropic, impact, crowd sourcing and traditional types – who understand what is needed to finance transformation efforts and who are willing to undertake transformation financing. Transformation investing requires long investment horizons, high risk tolerance and a willingness to invest in social infrastructure as well as hard technologies. Such financiers are poorly connected to each other , with weak knowledge about transformational investing, and few connections to truly transformative entrepreneurs.

Many ‘unknowns’: Transformation by its very nature requires stepping into the unknown, testing and potentially changing both recognized and unrecognized assumptions.There are unknown unknowns. Unexpected events are inevitable. Transformations entrepreneurs and their supporters can easily become exhausted and disoriented by apparent paradoxes and dilemmas.

The need to deal with deep systems challenges: Deep systems are entrenched structures, institutions, attitudes, and practices that resist change and hence greatly impede transformation efforts. They require collaborative effort of a sort that is rarely recognized and even less supported, either institutionally or financially. In part this is because deep systems challenges need holistic rather than piecemeal approaches.

Response 1: Create Powerful Transformations Systems (T-Systems)

Transformations systems (T-systems) form around issues and places to transform a status quo system. They comprise all the people, efforts, and initiatives working independently or collectively to transform a system such as climate change or a local economy. Just as we need powerful food systems to provide food security and health systems to support physical and mental well-being, we need powerful transformations systems to realize purposeful transformation.

Today T-systems are weak and poorly developed, often a reflection of the lack of shared agreement and urgency to form and develop them. They require infrastructure, typified by those described in our Responses 2 and 3 below. The Forum is a community of T-entrepreneurs and T-initiatives who aim to greatly strengthen their collective power as T-systems. The proposal identifies 11 systems to strengthen and accelerate immediately. This number will expand as other T-initiatives are identified and included in the scope of the Forum. The initial systems are divided into three pathways.


Response 2: Develop a Transformations Interaction Platform (TIP)

The TIP is a multi-sided interaction platform. Such platforms and the technology to support them are now commonplace, thanks to advances in communications and computing capability. They are exemplified by organisations such as Amazon, eBay and Uber. Each exists to bring together different groups or segments of people and organisations – the “sides”. eBay for example connects sellers and buyers (the two “sides”) in an online environment (the platform) that makes it easy, efficient and relatively risk free to interact in different ways.

The underpinning principles of such platforms, when taken out of their commercial origin, are relevant to the Forum. As a fundamental aspect of their design, they lead to innovation in economic models, interaction, value exchange and creation, that enable different groups to generate shared value together, towards a shared purpose. They are based on the notion of an ecosystem forming that can scale and act together, when given the appropriate tools for coordination. Ensuring that the platform operates fully within the ethos of the Forum is a key consideration.

The Forum proposes a multi-sided platform with sides for the range of stakeholders in transformation. This include groups such as those with ideas and initiatives that require financing and financiers; those with need for transformative evaluation and transformative methods and evaluators; peers working on transformative capacity and those with need for capacity support. It would provide space for each of the transformations systems. The key is to ensure easy connection, navigation and collaboration. The platform would support emergence of a common language around transformation, which is also critical to speed transformations.

Response 3: A Radical Flow of Transformations Initiatives

Generating and supporting Radical Action and Learning Initiatives is a core task of the Forum. This requires a process for reviewing and funding transformation action. The Forum proposes an open process to review transformations proposals to assess:

  1. Whether the action is transformational or simply supporting the current system;
  2. The capabilities of those making the proposal to implement it;
  3. The novelty (the learning component) in terms of networks, products, knowledge, tools, strategies, social innovation, or technologies; and
  4. Its potential scope of transformative impact.

The Forum also proposes establishing (a) a collective fund to finance such proposals, and (b) a process to connect such transformation ideas and financiers.

The Foundational Theory of Transformational Change

For a business person it is a strategy; for an academic or a change agent it is a theory; for an artist it is the core of their practice. In all cases it’s a description of what to do, to get a desired outcome. With transformation, strategies and theories are particularly challenging given the many unknowns since transformation involves doing something never done before.There is huge complexity to address, given the number of people and organizations involved.

The proposal writing process did, nevertheless, produce a Theory of Transformational Change as its guiding strategy. It is summarized in the Figure with the following components:

  1. Understanding “transformation” as a very specific type of “change”.
    Without this, inappropriate tools and strategies are often used. “Transformation” contrasts to “incremental” change and “reform”.
  2. Creating comprehensive processes that:
    1. Work with five types of drivers of transformation: These drivers are personal and individual change; technological change; change in institutions and ways of organizing; memes and cultures; and natural environment change. Good understanding of these, accompanied by skillful action can help move transformation in a desirable direction.
    2. Tackle six deep systems that impede transformations: These keystone systems that hold the current paradigm in place are capacity, evaluation, finance, innovation, narrative, and governance. The core logics of these systems require changing to enable transformation to take place at scale.
    3. Develop innovative social infrastructure of transformations systems to rapidly mature transformations. Developing the connections between transformations initiatives and supporting financing and other mechanisms to form powerful transformations systems is critical
  3. Supporting radical actions that move towards the new paradigm: “Radical” actions are ones that support the new paradigm. They include entrepreneurial action such as starting a new business or community reflecting the new paradigm; working in multi-stakeholder collaborations to address a transformation task; pushing on the streets and in other ways with strong advocacy; and working internally in conventional organizations to transform them.
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Forum’s Identity, Vision, Mission and Principles

The proposal development process included revisiting the Forum’s description of itself. This produced the following statements.

SDG TF – Overview

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life and history, there “is” such a thing as being too late. This is no time for apathy or complacency. This is a time for vigorous and positive action.”

The SDG Transformation Forum

Is a global interdiscplinary initiative founded in 2017. It brings together a wide-ranging community of people and groups to actively and collaboratively contribute to the conscious social evolution of our civilization – from one that is itself evidently unsustainable towards a just, sustainable and flourishing ecological civilization. It is a system that generates insight and intelligence and infrastructure to inform critical decision making and accelerate action about where and when to deploy resources to work with urgency, distinctiveness and difference towards the future we all need.


We are systemic paradigm shifters working to catalyse our planet’s urgent need for transformation, with an ethos reflecting people’s highest aspirations and greatest potential. Time is of the essence.


  • Our vision is a world transformed into a flourishing planet that is inclusive and just.
  • Our mission is to urgently co-create and amplify transformational infrastructure and initiatives that systemically support the emergence of that future aligned with and going beyond the SDGs.
  • Our values inspire radical informed action, grounded in relationships that honor reciprocity, responsibility, respect and the wisdom of the ages.

We organize…

As a co-evolutionary networked and resilient system designed to enable working with complexity and continuous adaptation to achieve our vision and mission. Sensing, connecting, learning by doing, and radical informed action is at the core of our being and shared behaviour. We bring together and help develop and cross pollinate the work of doers, change agents, thinkers, researchers, funders and activists.

  • We jointly generate fresh and profound learning and intelligence for deep transformation that builds on the wisdom of Nature and the ages. The sensemaking intelligence we generate, gather, and spread is key to catalyzing the emerging global transformation system. This is part of our core output.
  • We collaboratively catalyze and support transformations efforts that work to end the destructive practices of today’s social, political, and economic systems that are driving our world off an ecological and social cliff.
  • We actively engage with the complexity of the task to co-create, collaborate and integrate transformational innovations and infrastructure to effectively realize a world that achieves our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals and beyond.

Our core processes

These are the overriding behaviors that guide our effort and action. They help define and inform our decision making and resource allocation. They are how we position ourselves in the world and how we consciously adapt and grow as the transformation we seek in the world emerges and takes form. We cannot and will not stay the same – if we do not exemplify transformation in ourselves, how can we help others?

Survey of Scientists

Future Earth is conducting a Global Risk Scientists’ Perception survey to complement the World Economic Forum’s (WEF) annual Global Risks Report, which reports on the global risk perceptions of leaders from business, economics, and government.

The Future Earth survey will broaden the discourse on global risks through an international analysis of scientists’ perceptions of global risks, of the current knowledge base on these risks, and on clusters of risks with the potential to act synergistically.The survey will take approximately 30 minutes and will remain open until October 11, 2019.

Survey website: https://grsp2019.futureearth.org