How, and why, do organisations begin to prioritise action towards the SDGs? Who controls the narrative of organisational sustainability? And when changes start to be made, how do you minimize risk and make sure that what is implemented is purposeful and needed? For our Masterclass finale we were fortunate to be joined by three tremendous champions of impactful change Mary Johnstone-Louis, Harriet Waters and Anne Makena, Phd.

From the perspective of corporate activity Mary identified three drivers of change 1) Regulators (determining what companies must now disclose) 2) Capital markets (driven by investors asking better questions and by board level attention to sustainability) 3) Lawyers (for example ClientEarth creating better environmental protections.) The rate of change and progress is a continuing frustration but the SDGs are helping to create the lens to show what ‘good’ looks like. Mary also noted the positive that companies cannot now own their total narrative and the usefulness of external data for accountability.

Turning attention to our own organisation Harriet described her role in setting the University of Oxford environmental sustainability strategy and the importance of goal setting and targets in Higher Education Institutions. The strategy has two main goals -to achieve biodiversity net gain and net-zero carbon - both by 2035. Harriet noted how academics within the University are generous with their time and commitment to sustainability but shared that the SDGs are not necessarily the framework that they use to structure their work.

Speaking about how to get new agendas off the ground Anne shared her background as a community activist and her instrumental role in setting up the Africa-Oxford Initiative. She stressed the importance of inclusive research aligned with the needs and concerns of research populations. Additionally, Anne pointed to the importance of creating research communities in less-developed regions to provide jobs, educational aspiration and opportunities for commercialisation.

Our panellists advised our Fellows to follow their convictions, to be open to hearing other ways of thinking and to work with humility.  We were also reminded that for the SDGs:

“Not everything that can be counted counts and not everything that counts can be counted.” ― Albert Einstein

Thanks to the panel for their generosity in sharing their insights, aims and achievements #internationalwomensday2024

Powerful narratives have been a constant theme throughout the Masterclass series so what better place for our finale than the inspirational backdrop of The Story Museum. It has been a real pleasure to work with our fantastic Fellows over the last eight weeks and our thanks to them for their commitment, interest, and engagement.

Panel smiling during conversation at front of lecture theatre
Fellows with Masterclass Certificates
Guests in Story Museum