SDG Policy Innovation Workshop

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an abstract framework to many. Big words, followed by even bigger ambitions that seem too far away from the individual. Yet, the SDGs provide a powerful multilateral commitment to provide resources and a frame of reference on which the public and private sector as well as civil society can fall back on.

How can we make the SDGs more palatable and onboard a wide variety of players to join in for a more sustainable future? Generation Why, a Think and Do Tank, fosters sustainable trisector solutions to leverage the power of businesses, governments and civil society.

Our ‘Call for Innovations’ Workshop at the 13th Conference of Youth (COY13) catalysed new approaches to tackle climate change. COY13 saw more than 1000 participants coming together in Bonn from November 2nd to 4th with 650 program contributions focusing on climate change mitigation.

Serving as the run-up to the United Nation’s climate summit (COP23), COY13 brought together civil society, international and regional youth NGOs as well as young people from 114 countries to form new alliances for climate action.

On November 4th, the closing day, ‘Call for Innovations’ saw a transdisciplinary group of people come together to learn about the basics of innovation management. How do we navigate the fuzzy front-end that innovation comes with? How does creativity differ from innovation?

‘Call for Innovations’ followed a participatory design process, also called Design Thinking approach. This set of methodologies first saw the group diving deep into the wicked problem that climate change is. There are multiple facets and endless small problems connected under the umbrella “climate change”, so how do we start tackling the problem?

A mind map helped the participants outline the complexity of the issue. Which players and sectors are involved? What problems have been identified? Which solutions are already in place and where do we see a white spot, the field of opportunity for us to make an impact?

The group jointly decided on the exact problem definition. Focusing on transport in cities, the team members came to understand that public-private partnerships already in place do not provide enough incentives to reduce CO2 emissions. The ‘bug’ in the system is the lack of good practice exchange on policy levels in cities. Consequently, city planning is still too focused on car ownership.

Building on this precise point of view, the participants entered the solution space with low-resolution idea generation, or short: brainstorming. Set brainstorming rules such as ‘encourage wild ideas’, ‘build on the ideas of others’ and ‘defer judgment’ helped the group come up with daring ideas.

Burning all cars or brainwashing policy makers came to mind – as did mentorship projects for public sector offices and shadowing of citizens to truly understand the mobility needs of city and suburban dwellers.

Eventually, the team settled on a buddy system for city planners to connect and exchange best practices. Being a change maker in the public sector can be tough – the developed buddy system helps keep idealism alive in old rigid structures and transfer tacit knowledge between silos and cities.

In just a little over three hours, the Generation Why facilitators led the participants through a problem definition, solution generation and the modeling of a sustainable business model that’s ready to launch.

The business model for the city planner buddy system might be in its early stage, but the workshop participants did feel elated. It doesn’t take much to get started on the world’s problems. Let’s not wait for our political leaders to solve the planet’s issues – all of us have the power to contribute to a sustainable future.



Tarek Mohamed Hassan (Egypt/Germany)


Tarek Mohamed Hassan is a technosocial innovation designer and since November 2017 the Innovation Manager at GW. He is a HPI D.School trained Design Thinking coach and a facilitator working with organisations such as the German UNESCO Commission and the Rober-Bosch Foundation. Tarek uses inclusive innovation methodologies and incubates conscious entrepreneurship.