Countdown 2030: finding creative ways to engage citizens in global prosperity

By Lucile Stengel and Louisa Barker

Lensational and the Institute for Global Prosperity (IGP) have recently formed an exciting partnership. We share a common vision of developing innovative approaches to make prosperity happen for communities around the globe.

The Institute of Global Prosperity organised a one-day event, “Countdown 2030”, which focused on the key challenges we face in achieving the “aspirational, ambitious and audacious” sustainable development goals (Henrietta Moore, IGP). The conference took place across two locations, one in East London and the other in Bloomsbury. In East London pop-up workshops and installations ran throughout the day, and in Bloomsbury a series of stimulating talks took place. As media partner for the event, Lensational took care of the event’s social media, organised a photography exhibition, and filmed interviews with speakers.

Lensational filmed interviews with Countdown 2030 speakers and organised a small photography exhibition

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) present a tremendous opportunity to “think beyond outdated models and start thinking deeply about how we want to live, and who we want to be” (Henrietta Moore, IGP).

One of the key arguments that emerged from the event was that debates should not take place solely amongst policy makers or within the confines of academia; rather, it is critical to engage citizens, young entrepreneurs and local communities in thinking about what prosperity means to them, as well how they can concretely and creatively participate.

The East End Sessions of Countdown 2030 were particularly successful at demonstrating innovative means of participant engagement. Throughout the day, young entrepreneurs and creative practitioners from the East End used tools ranging from participatory design methods to games to engage participants in the debate around sustainable development and universal prosperity.

Youth leadership programme Uprising helped organise Countdown 2030

Water Walk

In the morning, a session entitled ‘Water walk’ invited Londoners to physically represent how much water they consume by using blocks.

“In London, people have no idea how much they consume. But if we show them how much that is physically, we make a kind of ‘click’ in their perception, and hope to change their behaviour,” explained Fernanda Garcia, who led the session.
Fernanda and Liliana, Pdh candidates and researchers at UCL, led a session entitled ‘Water walk’

Loteria: our food culture

This used a Mexican style bingo to teach participants about food sustainability. The game, designed by London-based artist Teresa Cisneros, took participants through the dark side of the food economy, encouraging them to think more critically about what they eat. Each card provided tidbits of information, from how mass quinoa production disempowers local farmers, to Quaker Oats’ unethical human experiments; this information then sticks in the participants’ mind the next time they make a purchase or decide what to eat.

“If you don’t know what you are ingesting, and how that impacts other people around you, you can’t make a responsible decision. Young people go to school and don’t even know where their food comes from. With this game, I am sharing that information,” said Teresa Cisneros.
Loteria: our food culture was presented at Countdown 2030’s East End sessions

The success of the East End workshops underlines the importance of finding new ways to engage people, beyond the traditional books and research papers. Nat Mady of Cordwainers Grow, who held a session of local tea tasting at the events, believes that engagement can only happen through experience:

“There is a lot of teaching in schools, and a lot of teaching people the right way to do things. But most often the reason why we care about our environment is because we had the chance to be in direct contact with nature. Children need to create those values themselves.”
Nat Mady during her tea tasting session at Countdown 2030

One of the advantages of community-based projects is the ability to shape these experiences, and hopefully influence behaviours for the better. If successful, outcomes can be replicated in other places at a lower cost, and with a greater likelihood of success.

“If it comes from below, it has a much greater capacity to be spread and replicated at that level, and from a level that has a lot of impact on the ground,” said Nat Mady.

As an organisation aiming to challenge perceptions and behaviours, Lensational is equally convinced of the importance of using participatory approaches and locally-tailored interventions to create meaningful impact. Whilst local projects are arguably limited in scope, the skills and knowledge exchanged during these projects are likely to have a lasting impact on the community in which they take place and beyond.

In the case of Lensational’s workshops, the women we have worked with have used the skills and knowledge gained during workshops to teach others around them, thus multiplying the impact. Furthermore, the sustainability of the initiatives depends upon individual ownership and agency.

“I believe in the power of knowledge. Once acquired, it can’t be stolen,” says Sinna Hermanto, domestic helper in Hong Kong and Lensational student (see her photography profile on Lensational’s photo platform).

In order to successfully work towards the high-level and overarching goals of the SDGs, community-based projects must be incorporated. Innovative and creative initiatives can engage individuals, draw upon their knowledge and help to challenge perceptions and behaviours from the bottom up.

As a social enterprise with a mission to empower women through photography, Lensational works in a variety of cities and countries such as Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, Myanmar, Bhutan and others. Check out the photo galleries of the various training workshops on Lensational’s photo platform where a selection of photos are available for purchase. Find out more about Lensational, and contact us in case of questions.

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