St. Gallen, located in eastern Switzerland, has become synonymous for its annual student-led and -organized Symposium held at the city’s main university. This gathering, which just marked 52 years in existence, promotes cross-generational dialogue to foster mutual understanding and joint action to tackle humanity’s biggest challenges.
For this year’s edition, held May 4-5, the SDG Lab was invited to take part in the programme, under the theme of “A New Generational Contract”. A key aspect of this theme is the necessity to think and act with future generations in mind while not neglecting and losing sight of the needs of today’s current generations. The Symposium served as a unique moment to exchange on such topics and other concepts aligned to the Lab’s new vision and mission and to create more visibility and interest in its ‘2.0’ narrative and thought leadership.
Plenaries and sessions looked at addressing the importance of long-term thinking, promoting cross-generational dialogue, and building greater resilience into policymaking, including through the lens of hindsight and foresight.
The Symposium served as a source of inspiration for debating on the future and long-term sustainability. While different sessions underscored the magnitude of the problems and challenges facing humanity, participants equally highlighted the importance of creating positive narratives and images of future possibilities. They recognized the gravity of existential issues, such as the climate crisis and protracted conflicts, yet they emphasized the necessity of offering hope and alternative pathways to inspire action and engagement, including among young people. Furthermore, youth participants called for maximizing existing economic instruments, such as carbon and ecosystem pricing, and at the same time, upgrading current political structures.
Another unique aspect of the Symposium highly appreciated by the SDG Lab team was the participation of representatives from diverse sectors (e.g., transport, energy, manufacturing, apparel, technology, etc.,) alongside those from government, think tanks, foundations, nonprofits, and international organizations. This mix of actors, situated in a condense space over an equally condensed period, provided the ingredients for intense and meaningful exchanges in a setting of openness, mutual respect, and understanding.
Identifying common values for sustainability—today and tomorrow
At the SDG Lab’s session dedicated to “Setting the Pillars of a New Sustainability Paradigm”, held on May 5 in collaboration with the Club of Rome, nearly 30 participants joined an interactive workshop focused on identifying key moral values that, if prioritized today, could hold significant positive impact for the future.
The exercise built on the preliminary findings of the Lab’s work conducted as part of the Big Brainstorm 2023. For this initiative, organized by UN Foundation, the SDG Lab worked with young people to design a survey to collect data on the key values that youth worldwide are prioritizing for a fairer and more sustainable tomorrow. Four key values emerged through the survey: Healthy relationship with nature; Equality and equity; Tolerance and diversity; and Inclusivity and participation.(The value survey is open and available here)
During the Lab’s Symposium workshop, participants—divided into four groups, with each corresponding to one of the above values—collectively discussed and identified synergies and differences between the values and their significance for future generations.
The workshop concluded with participants sharing their observations on the credibility of the values and ways to streamline. Two common narratives emerged: the importance of a community approach and focusing on collective-community needs rather than individual-oriented action; and reframing educational systems to place more emphasis on learning about values as well as the importance of dialogue and listening.
The 53rd edition of the St. Gallen Symposium will be held in early May 2024.