Barbara Coe

​Consultant and Coach


The answer is yes. Sustainable development goals can be substantially achieved and global climate change impeded. However, to do so effectively requires two things: 1. awareness of how “structural dynamics” affects progress and 2. awareness of key ingredients for successfully engaging diverse stakeholders in the effort.  

First, do you notice that focusing on problems rarely leads to real change? Global climate change is a vivid example. Many people and groups have been talking about the problem for decades, yet little has changed. As we know from study of structural dynamics, focusing on a problem generally leads only in a circular pattern while on the other hand, focusing on positive outcomes, while at the same time being clear about the current reality, automatically generates energy that motivates action toward goals. (Fritz, 1986, 1996) Using principle, communities can advance toward sustainable development, while slowing or even reversing global climate change.

Second, what methods can leaders use to engage people in this aim? Research shows that three main elements are key aspects of the "open focus leadership" approach that encourages people to participate effectively:

1. Evocative leadership that encourages not only participation but other’s taking leadership roles as well. 2. A collaborative vision reflecting the community’s development of a vision for sustainable development. 3. Linking communication that includes people in communication networks so as to have the necessary information and also to have ample opportunities to provide input and b. emphasizes communication of a supportive nature that shows receptiveness and appreciation. (Coe, 1988)

Using this approach, 50 Albanian communities made 58 big improvements in their communities despite their lack of any prior self-help experience. Improvements included roads, bridges, a sewage disposal system, schools and more. Previously, from 1945 to 1985, under the most restrictive Stalinist-type dictatorship, Albanians had been forbidden to act on their own; as a result, they felt powerless and dependent upon government for everything. Most donors in Albania chose what problems to tackle without input from the communities. Most civil society projects discouraged the communities from pursuing the infrastructure projects that they wanted as “too ambitious,” instead sponsoring innumerable roundtables or community clean up campaigns. Our team’s aim, in leading this project, was to build people’s capacity to improve their communities and lives, as they wanted, in the short and long term. The results proved that with the proper framework, communities could be empowered and achieve major change.

This approach can be scaled up to achieve sustainable development goals and counter global climate change in virtually any setting.

For more information, see Engaging Community Hearts, Minds and Spirit: Leadership for a Sustainable World, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and others in soft cover or for ereader.