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Impact Report: Five Years of Global Goals Jam

Have you ever tried to think about how vast the universe is, or to find the best answer to a child’s question of “how life started”?

It’s hard, and it probably made your head spin. When thinking about our planet, its vastness and the complexity of the challenges it is facing, we experience similar struggles in comprehension. People are hardwired for understanding things that are close to us (physically and psychologically). This is exactly the reason why it is so hard to get people to accept or act on the effects of climate change. The majority of these effects is distant from most people (in time, space, or socially). For example, most weather disasters that could be related to climate change (like wildfires, floods, or extreme storms) tend to happen far away from where most people live. As a result, people keep treating it as an abstract concept.

Obviously, climate change is only one of the urgent challenges we as a society and planet face. However, the tendency to treat challenges as abstract concepts is negatively affecting our motivation to work on almost all of these challenges. On top of this, people are overwhelmed by the amount of challenges and we miss a unified image of what our future can and should look like. As Al Gore mentioned in his foreword for the beautiful 2006 book “Worldchanging: A User’s Guide for the 21st Century”:

We need a new vision of the future. The Bible says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Today, facing so many problems, many of us find it very difficult to envision a better future, much less the kind of solutions that might make such a future possible.”

For the first time in human history, our problems are outgrowing us, our communities, countries, even our continents. For the first time, we are hitting a wall and realize that despite our beliefs of hyperconnectivity, of globalization, of the world as one… we are not that global after all. “Think global, act local” has been used in many different contexts. For many environmental activists, the phrase has been changed into “act globally, act locally” due to the growing concern for the planet as whole and thus the need for activism everywhere in the world. The World Economic Forum wrote that “Globalization may be under threat, but (…) global exchange of ideas, technologies and talent is the only realistic chance we have of mastering the environmental, social and economic challenges facing our world. In an increasingly connected, yet increasingly multipolar world, international ties and cooperation are more important than ever to maintain security, and to enable shared and sustainable progress.” This means that if we really want to have global impact and solve our global challenges, we have to start acting global. This is also the reason that thought leaders, such as world-renowned professor of economics Jeffrey Sachs, call for a ‘global learning society’: being networked in learning and doing as a major part of the rapid systems change we are going to need.

By adopting the 2030 Agenda with its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement, member states of the United Nations have created a framework for national action and global cooperation on sustainable development. The SDGs focus on time-bound targets for Prosperity, People, Planet, Peace, and Partnership — known as the five P’s.

An often heard criticism, or doubt, we hear when discussing the SDGs, is the lack of 1) operational power, or 2) the inter-systemic thinking behind them. How can we work on one specific target that relates to one SDG while it might be heavily influenced by another SDG or target? And, how can we make these SDGs actionable, even when they feel so abstract and ‘far’ away?

These were precisely the questions we asked ourselves in early 2016, when we learned about the recent launch of the SDGs and were travelling the world for our Design Across Cultures program. This program was focused on organizing virtual collaborative design projects around global issues between multidisciplinary teams based in different locations in the world.

Based on our experience with the Design Across Cultures program, we observed four main roadblocks that, in our opinion, are still holding us back from having a real impact on global sustainable development. It was that initial epiphany on that trip to Japan with co-founder Gijs Gootjes that got us both inspired to team up with the UNDP and found the Global Goals Jam as a way to take down these roadblocks in a highly practical way. It was our conviction that the Global Goals Jam would showcase how design, shared goals, global activism, cross-cultural collaboration and local activation could come together to contribute to achieving the SDGs. Apart from showcasing possibilities, we also believed the Global Goals Jam could take away the main four roadblocks:

Roadblock 1: Lack of activism and mind-shifts

The SDG related transformations in the world require fundamental changes of norms and beliefs. They need large-scale shifts in perspective and minds. For example, from linear growth to circularity or ‘doughnut’ economics.

These changes cannot be driven alone by governments and emerge instead from dialogues and learning between stakeholders. Often, large-scale societal change is achieved first in the hearts and minds of the people.

Social movements, public activism, and awareness campaigns should explain the ethics of sustainable development. Design is a wonderful tool able to activate people’s intentions and transform hearts and minds.

Roadblock 2: Lack of openness and transparency

Despite the conferences, the blogs, the meetups, the hackathons, the jams, we believe that there is no real culture of sharing in the design field.

We do not openly re-use insights nor ideas. We want to do our own thing, we want to make that method our own, we want to look autonomous and authentic. I am not alone in this critique. Many have already opted for change in the design field. ‘Designers, you have to get over the embarrassment to get things done!’, said Pixar President Ed Catmull. Or, ’The design field designs in secret’, said Ryan Singer, of Basecamp.

Designers are not comfortable or confident enough to open up completely. When we get more confident a new phase opens up. We believe more in our process and we know that things are never perfect. So we start showing work earlier and start talking about our rationale behind it at a given step. We might even be unafraid to open our tools and do some real work in real time in front of people, in each other’s spaces.
This is designing in the open. Another key element that we have introduced in the Global Goals Jam so that all locations would be able to experience the effect of it.

The effect of truly open design is that we can inspire, involve and really empower not only the design community, but the global community.

Roadblock 3: Lack of co-creation and co-discovery

As a result from the lack of openness, valuable insights from design processes are lost or at least never found. We started calling this loss ‘Design Waste’: not the physical waste of designed items, but the waste of not sharing nor finding process insights. You probably have heard of the phenomenon of multiple discovery, where inventions were done simultaneously in different places in the world. This happened with pyramids, the phone, tv and many many other famous discoveries. In an overly connected world, it feels strange to see this phenomenon still taking place. Co-creation and co-discovery at global scale is really needed to have impact on SDG related transformations. Working together across borders, across cultures is key and yet another important element of the Global Goals Jam.

Roadblock 4: Lack of diversity

Not only are we limited by how we think, not only are we limited by the way we act and what we do, we are first and foremost limited by the way we interact and interrelate. And that is why diversity is such an important element. SDG related transformations cut across SDGs, across disciplines, across countries and cultures. How would we ever be able to have an impact on them without a diverse and inclusive playing field? The organisation of this playing field seems to be harder to accomplish than many anticipated. Borders, silos, closed mindsets, they all get in the way. Making a real effort to gather people from all walks of life, all disciplines, all parts of the world is what the Global Goals Jam is about and makes it unique.

Five years on the road: an amazing ride

The first edition of the Global Goals Jam in 2016 was developed in only a matter of months. Between our initial sketches in March, our visit to UNDP in New York in July, and the launch in September there was only so much time to get the first locations on board, recruit over 500 participants, develop a new toolkit and program, distribute all materials around the world, and present ourselves and the results of the first jams on stage at the Social Good Summit (alongside then Vice President Biden and many other heroes). But, we did it, and that was the start of something very special.

In that first edition, we put emphasis on ‘thinking big, starting small, and acting fast’ and we created a tailored design method toolkit to align the process between the different locations. Our aim was to show that global alignment in methodology and process would take away roadblocks (2) and (3).

From the second edition onwards we grew steadily and more and more organizations from cities around the world not only joined us, but also got more closely involved. We learned about what the best structure and approach was for most countries and cities, which methods worked and how content was shared. We also gradually learned that our ideal of prototyping solutions for these complex global challenges was perhaps a bit too ambitious. We noticed that the activation of a creative community that shared methods, insights and, more noticeably, a deep empathy for the problems at hand, was much more valuable than the mere ideas coming out of the jams (even when some were great!). From then on, we emphasized the focus on our community, our approach to create empathy with problems via prototyping and creative methods, and the nodes in the network that grew stronger and stronger. These nodes, the local jam organizers, also started finding each other outside of the jam weekend and partnerships between local organizers, industry and social organizations were forged.

In the script for the video that we showed at the 2016 Social Good Summit, I wrote: Ideas are nothing without the people that make them real. And this amazing ride called the Global Goals Jam would have not been possible without the people that made that initial idea we had, in a university meeting room in Japan, a reality.

The Global Goals Jam, after 5 years, still is one of the strongest examples of the passion the global creative community has to become leaders of a positive transformation of this planet, and of what a global learning society might look like: using design, shared goals, global activism, cross-cultural collaboration and local activation.

Our collaboration with World Design Organization

In the past years, World Design Organization has been actively advocating the power of design in reaching the SDG’s. WDO is an important endorser of the Global Goals Jam and in recent years many of its community members have been (getting) involved in local jams around the world. In 2019 we have also teamed up to organize one day mini-jams around the world during the World Industrial Design Day.

Former WDO board member Gilles Rougon: “As an international NGO with UN consultative status, WDO is aligning its work to the universally accepted SDGs and their respective targets. Our collaboration with Digital Society School and Global Goals Jam is essential in facilitating this purpose and our own global initiative, the World Industrial Design Day.“

We will continue our close collaboration with WDO and are very happy that they as an organization and community have contributed to 5 years of impact.

WDO president Srini Srinivasan: “As president of WDO, I am always pleased and proud when our community comes together in service of a larger goal. WDO is the only global design organization that connects design professionals, design educators, corporations and municipalities from over 40 countries. We as designers have the power and the ability to ensure a better future. As we celebrate the 5th anniversary of the Global Goals Jam, I am confident that the program will continue to inspire and motivate new generations of designers to use design for good and social impact.”

Order the Impact Report of 5 years of Global Goals Jam (in print):

Marco van Hout is an experienced creative director and design/digital professional, currently on a mission to reach the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG’s) by 2030 and educate young talent and seasoned professionals in design, tech & social innovation to thrive in and obtain the right mindset for a truly sustainable future.

Marco is a designer, an entrepreneur and an educator. He co-founded Digital Society School in Amsterdam, where students, professionals and educators are trained in the tools and methods to thrive in an ever-changing environment. Marco also founded the global initiative (with the United Nations Development Program) the Global Goals Jam: A growing community of creatives in over 100 cities that use their creative skills for the benefit of the SDG’s and society.

He is a Community Liaison for the World Design Organization, responsible for advocating life-long learning and promoting design for the SDG’s. Next to that Marco is also an advisory board member for DOT in Spain and visiting professor at IE University in Madrid.

Worldchanging: A user’s guide for the 21st century [Foreword]. (2006). In A. Steffen, C. Bluestone, & B. McKibben (Authors), Worldchanging: A user’s guide for the 21st century. New York: Abrams.

Why the world is not as globalized as you think — WEF: (2019)



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World Design Organization

World Design Organization


As an international NGO, WDO promotes and shares knowledge of design-driven innovation that has the power to shape our world for the better.