At Skoll World Forum we hosted an interactive workshop to unlock the urgent and important lense to 3 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). One premise of Convening17 is to meet key stakeholders at events they already attend and to provide a context and process for unlocking the collective wisdom in the room. At Skoll, we were inspired by the caliber of participants and conversations that took place — we had over 68 participants from 54 organizations with representation from all sectors — NGO’s, academia, corporation, media, funders, and government actors.

Together we discovered key levers for change for SDG 5 (Gender Equality) and SDG 14 (Clean Oceans). We also built on our 2018 SDG 4 (Quality Education) pilot to hone in on high leverage and scalable solutions for trauma-informed education for displaced children.

Convening17 uses a 3 part process to Discover, Connect, and Scale to drive greater impact and breakdown silos to achieve the SDGs by 2030. Our breakfast at Skoll World Forum was in our discovery phase and what emerged from the conversations was a rich and complex analysis of the urgent and important levers and root barriers to change.

Takeaways from Participants

SDG 4: Quality Education

We had 3 tables further explore our focus for SDG 4 on the need for trauma-informed education for displaced children. These tables explored 3 questions:

  1. What would enable displaced children to be an educated and thriving force for good? How could you and your org be part of that future?
  2. What are valuable innovations that are supporting trauma-informed care for displaced children?
  3. What are other root barriers to children gaining access to education?

The conversation uncovered the need to address these challenges on 3 levels: the need for quality education systems, mindsets necessary to encourage students (and families) to engage with their education, and specific solutions to address trauma.

As to general barriers for accessing quality education, there need to be facilities, technology, and trained teachers (not just in the subjects but also in wellbeing).  We also uncovered that the education provided also needs to be tied to economic opportunity and take into account basic family needs, such as the financial contribution of the children through work, the cost of travel even if school is free, and safety/distance to school. Participants recognized that basic needs will need to be met before education becomes a priority for families. Nevertheless, the participants recognized the need for families to have a mindset that values education, particularly as it is tied to economic opportunity and specifically for girls and not just boys.

To allow displaced children to be a force for good – it is necessary to shift the mindset and conversation about refugees from victim to solver, to create safe environments where they can feel a sense of dignity and create their own solutions, and ideally schools would have some teachers as role models coming with their own experience of navigating the world as a refugee. It was also recognized that interventions must catch children as early as possible, promote engagement between young children and caregivers, and be adapted for cultural context and language.  Research on what works must be shared and scaled. 

We also identified specific solutions to explore further, such as:

  • LEGO – Build the Change – a program is using technology to disseminate activities and collect data on children and caregivers that can be used for advocacy
  • Save the Children – healing through art program (HEART) included in humanitarian response programming and teams provide support to process feelings
  • TrustCircle – a mental health care startup that utilizes mobile & AI technology to improve emotional resilience & well-being by focussing on Prevention & Early Intervention. It empowers individuals to assess, track, and learn about their emotional well-being, gain access to on-demand care, and community support anytime, anywhere – anonymously.  TrustCircle is already partnering with organizations such as The WHO Research Centre – SCARF, The Ashoka, and Mental health Innovation Network – The WHO project and is poised to support displaced children.
  • Convoy of Hope – food and education opportunities for kids who are displaced
  • Think of Us – trauma-informed services for foster kids
  • Think Equal – a program with 3 levels of tangible, easy to implement, step-by-step teacher guides for ages 3 to 6 to learn social and emotional resilience.
  • Providing technology-based tracking information to locate separated family members.
  • A policy to assist young people in becoming actors and agents for improving the communities around them. The act of helping others is a great tool for healing oneself.
  • Mobile asynchronous, anonymous messaging and communications are enabling children to find, receive, and give support (from family/relatives not physically nearby, friends, online support)


SDG 5: Gender Equality – Empower all Women and Girls

Gender Equality – we had 4 tables dive into the broad topic of gender equality to discover together:

  1. What would make gender equality inevitable? How could you and your organization create that future?
  2. What are the root causes of gender inequality? Ask why and then drill deeper.
  3. What are the critical bottlenecks to achieving gender equality?
  4. How does gender equality affect our communities? Who benefits? Who is left out? And how are both part of the solution?

What emerged from these conversations was a shared sense of why gender equality matters and the needed contributions by various sectors to achieve this vision. The vision for gender equality is a vision of unlocking creative solutions for humanity by enabling more people to participate. Gender equality shapes who is at the table and enables children to have a wider set of options about what they can be and do.

The 5 levers for change that the participants focused on were: 1) collective voice through technology, 2) inspiration and models through media, 3) shifts in funding and measurement through the social impact sector, 4) incentives through government policies and finally 5) a focus on shifting gender norms generally, with a lot of energy on bringing men into the change and conversation.

  1. Collective Voice through Technology – there are so many small and medium-sized women’s organizations around the world. What is missing is linking these women-led organizations into networks to connect the dots for collective force and building collective power at the local and at the global level. Key barriers identified are online harassment, the need for peer support to nurture expression, and a need to close the digital gender divide. One possibility identified is to create a digital leadership ladder — starting with digital access, skills building, online leadership training, and building connection of networks.
  2. Inspiration and Role Models Through Media — Gender equality requires a shift in our sense of what is possible, and a shift in our perception of who has the expertise, voice, and influence. Many women have found their voice and are leading the wellbeing of their families economically, psychologically, and socially. They are already tackling gender equality in small communities. We need to share those stories and shift the narrative that says things can’t change
  3. Shift Funding and Measurement in the Social Impact Sector – While there is significant funding of women’s organizations, the participants identified that resources are still scarce. We need both additional gender smart investing as well as 3 shifts to allow funding to be even more impactful: a) funding in the women’s space needs to shift to toward funding for movements and collaborations with longer time horizons, b) funding could be tied to measurements of impact that take into account the ability a woman has to make decisions that affect the lives of herself and her family, and c) we need to design coordinated data systems that allow women and girls to design and measure the impact we create.
  4. Incentives through Government Policies – Participants identified the role of government in creating the incentives that could catalyze gender equality such as parental leave (and especially paternity leave policies), the impact of quotas on diversity on corporate boards, and the more general need for equal representation of women in government that has the potential to shift policies and incentives toward gender equality.
  5. Shifting Gender Norms – Participants noted that gender norms form early in a child’s life, by the age of 3 or 4. These norms shape assumptions of capacity, of not being enough, of power, and of our sense of whether there must be winners and losers. We need to educate ourselves (not just rely on systems to educate us) and both genders need to learn what it means to be an ally and to create opportunities for conscious and in-depth communication across gender lines. One participant commented that “we need to shift the narrative of men as breadwinners and allow both men and women to rely on one another.” A key barrier to gender equality that received a lot of attention was the lack of men in the conversation and a recognition that men need to be part of the progress, fathers with capital need to be at the table, and that we need to work with both boys and men to shift mindsets.


We look forward to exploring these 5 levers of change during our upcoming events at Women Deliver and during our online community call this summer and together narrowing our focus for the Convening17’s SDG 5 efforts.

SDG 14: Life Below Water

Oceans – we had 4 tables who dove deep into ocean health together answering the following 4 questions:

  1. What is most needed to create and sustain clean oceans and how can you and your org create that future?
  2. What are the root causes of polluted oceans?
  3. Where are the critical bottlenecks to achieving a healthy, clean ocean system
  4. How does ocean health affect our communities? Who benefits? Who is left out? And how are both part of the solution?

What emerged were 2 levels of answers to the questions:

First, there was a desire for a shared vision for healthy oceans (abundant life, able to regenerate) where individuals understand their behavior matters and that oceans are not limitless. While some people are prioritizing survival over any other action, for the majority of people, behavior change is possible if we can see the connection between ocean health and climate change, and understand impact healthy (or unhealthy) oceans have on people’s lives. If we understood the impact on human health from plastics in the environment and if we could see how well over 1 billion people rely directly on fisheries, for food, leisure, transport, climate regulation, biosphere, and tourism.

Beyond this need for a vision, what emerged were 3 levers for change: technology, capacity building, and policy. Technology can provide some of the solutions — alternative products for packaging, waste management systems, creative ways of using waste, alternatives to plastics, and clean energy. Participants raised that we need both new and creative financing models to allow for agile development so that solutions can be iterated rapidly (rather than traditional grant funding that focuses on one program or solution) and there needs to be capacity building and collaboration to scale promising solutions. Finally, what is missing to create and sustain ocean health are coordinated policies on both the prevention and mitigation side – smart best practices for fisheries, shipping, food products, and packaging. We also need incentive structures to reduce plastics use and catalyze change, global standards to achieve the goals and regulatory enforcement. Clean oceans require both individual action and systems level engagement and will require the full supply chain to participate in the shift.  Finally, the participants identified areas for further research — the health impact of plastics, supply chain improvements, effective incentive structures, and the link between ocean health and climate change.

What comes next

Our first premise is to meet key stakeholders where they are and unlock their wisdom, insights, and networks. Our second premise is that it is both possible and necessary to create an ongoing conversation with these stakeholders (you!) that can both go deeper over a series of events and continue the conversation — whether or not you are able to attend all of the events.

Our next steps are SDG specific deep dives – first on Oceans at Katapult Future Festival in Oslo, Norway from May 14-16 to leverage Katapult’s staff and community expertise in ocean health to further refine our key levers for change on SDG 14.  Following this, we will have a similar deep dive on Gender Equality at Women Deliver in Vancouver, Canada on June 3-6. This Summer, we will also be hosting an online community call to connect, share updates, and explore together what comes next. We look forward to sharing the emerging insights from these two events with you and to co-creating our focal point for our SDG 5 and SDG 14 work.

The next step in our SDG 4 work is to connect with leaders of proven solutions and to to be a catalyst for scale – through collaborations and access to human and financial capital. If you and your organization have aligned priorities and are interested in collaborating to scale these type of solutions – please let us know. The impact needed is too big to create and sustain alone – and we’re excited to partner with you!