The Relationship between Sustainability and Inner Development: Towards More Integrative Worldviews, Paradigms, and Actions

A special issue of Challenges (ISSN 2078-1547).

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 14 December 2024 | Viewed by 36243

Special Issue Editors


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Guest Editor
Senior Lecturer, Department of Materials Science and Applied Mathematics, Faculty of Technology and Society, Malmö University, Nordenskiöldsgatan 1, 205 06 Malmö, Sweden
Interests: adult development; higher education; transdisciplinary research; leadership development; organisational development; metatheories

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Guest Editor
1. Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies (LUCSUS), Lund University, Lund, Sweden
2. Founder and Director, Contemplative Sustainable Futures Programme, Lund, Sweden
Interests: sustainable development, resilience, climate change, and associated (inner-outer) transformation processes across individual, collective and system levels; transformative leadership and education

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Guest Editor
1. School of Medicine, University of Western Australia, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia
2. ORIGINS Project, Telethon Kids Institute at Perth Children’s Hospital, Nedlands, WA 6009, Australia
3. NOVA Institute for Health of People, Places and Planet, 1407 Fleet Street, Baltimore, MD 21231, USA
Interests: planetary health; ecological and social justice; immunology and inflammation; microbiome science; NCDs (noncommunicable diseases); nutrition; life-course wellness and ‘DOHaD’ (development origins of health and disease); integrative approaches to wellness and disease prevention
Special Issues, Collections and Topics in MDPI journals

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Guest Editor
Department of Behavioural Sciences and Learning, Linköping University, Linköping, Sweden
Interests: digital mental health; human behavior; sustainable societies; internet-based CBT/ACT and alliance in psychotherapy; applying findings from research in a clinical context

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Guest Editor
Department of Education and Lifelong Learning, Faculty of Social and Educational Sciences, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
Interests: leadership development; consciousness research; transformative learning; transdisciplinary and transcultural research

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Guest Editor
Associate Lecturer and Honorary Researcher, Discipline of Sociology and Criminology, The University of Sydney, Sydney, NSW 2006, Australia
Interests: inner peace; consciousness; empowerment; capabilities; Indigenous philosophies; human agency; human development; human security; social psychology; collective trauma; transitional justice; experiential learning and transdisciplinary studies

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Guest Editor Assistant
Researcher, Waterloo Institute for Social Innovation and Resilience (WISIR), University of Waterloo, Waterloo, ON, Canada
Interests: sustainability; positive transformations; mindfulness; wellbeing; personal and organizational systems change; sensemaking, resilience, complexity capacity, and mindfulness; experience working in private, public, and non-governmental sectors

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Guest Editor Assistant
Economist, Independent Strategic Consultant, Berlin, Germany
Interests: Interdisciplinary and sectoral collaboration; processes and architecture of natural ecosystems as inspiration for analogue and digital spaces created by humans and artificial intelligence; social psychology; organisational development; communication

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Guest Editor Assistant
Clinical Psychologist, Mental Health Advisor and Independent Researcher, Oslo, Norway
Interests: mental health; person-centered and integrative approaches to health and wellbeing; interpersonal skills; empowerment; healthcare; e-health contexts; education; leadership development; one health; sustainability; inner development; workforce support; systems change

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

We are pleased to announce this Challenges Special Issue: “Relationship Between Sustainability and Inner Development”.

At the roots of the many grand challenges of the Anthropocene lies an imbalance between external (material) approaches and “inner” approaches considering attitudes, awareness and other attributes that influence relationships, behaviors, worldviews, and underpin many power structures. This has, amongst other things, hampered progress to improve planetary health and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). More integrative approaches, that link inner and outer dimensions of sustainability are thus urgently needed to address the root causes and support sustainable transformations. There are growing efforts to increase the focus on inner development (e.g. through initiatives like the Inner Development Goals or the UNDP Conscious Food Systems Alliance), recognizing that individual and collective transformational capacities, intrinsic values and wisdom are likely to support sustainable development at scale.  At the same time, there are many open questions regarding the concepts, methods, theories and practical tools that can support more integrative approaches.

This Special Issue calls for efforts that seek to understand, define, implement, and assess strategies aiming to promote meaningful change through purposeful relationships with self, others, and the natural world. This includes efforts from all fields and communities aiming to cultivate social responsibility and environmental stewardship through awareness of connectivity and interdependence.

We invite you to contribute to this exploration through diverse contributions that may include rigorous research, case studies, novel perspectives, viewpoints, creative narratives, community initiatives (either complete or still in progress), protocols, new proposals and other work in this emergent field. Cross-sectoral, inter- and transdisciplinary engagement is core to this, and we warmly welcome submissions from researchers from all fields, clinicians, artists, educators, community groups, policymakers, civil-society, private-sector representatives, and others seeking to critically address these questions and advance related action.

Topics may be on any aspect of inner development, and we encourage all authors to articulate the ways in which their submission is relevant to some (or preferably, many) of the grand challenges of our time, and/or ways in which the work could contribute to societal, environmental, and planetary wellbeing and flourishing. Examples of topics may be found below in the “keywords” below.

It is our hope that this Challenges Special Issue will facilitate collaborative vision and shared agendas that drive activity to increase focus on self-awareness, spirituality, purpose, meaning and other positive emotional assets for personal and collective wellbeing—for flourishing of people, places, and planet. 

Dr. Kristian Stålne
Prof. Dr. Christine Wamsler
Prof. Dr. Susan Prescott
Dr. Kristofer Vernmark
Dr. Jonathan Reams
Dr. Vivianna Rodriguez Carreon 
Guest Editors

Dr. Kira Cooper
Stefanie Greca
Lene Søvold
Guest Editor Assistants

Manuscript Submission Information 

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All submissions that pass pre-check are peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Challenges is an international peer-reviewed open access semiannually journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this special issue is 0 CHF (Swiss Francs).. Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.

Keywords

  • inner development, inner growth, inner development goals, inner transformation, inner transition, consciousness, positive emotional assets, mindsets, skills, capacities, capabilities, inner qualities, openness, self-awareness, critical thinking, complexity awareness, long-term orientation, other aspects of mental health, emotions and wellbeing, adult development, personal development
  • social paradigms, narratives, imaginaries
  • value systems, indigenous knowledges, cultural shift, narrative medicine, reciprocity, mutualism, storytelling, belief systems, traditional cultures, consciousness, spirituality, mindfulness, wisdom
  • caring for others and the world, appreciation, connectedness, humility, empathy, mindfulness and compassion
  • collaboration and social skills, communication skills, co-creation, inclusive mindsets and intercultural competence, trust, mobilization
  • actions to drive change, courage, creativity, optimism, perseverance; transformative leadership, transformative education, art-based approaches
  • nature-relatedness, green space, green prescriptions, biodiversity interdependence, cooperation, integration, human-nature connectedness
  • social and ecological justice, intergenerational justice, health disparities, socioeconomic inequalities
  • life-course (developmental origins), transgenerational perspectives, early life education, early intervention
  • biological measures, health outcomes

Published Papers (10 papers)

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Research

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14 pages, 747 KiB  
Article
Re-Imagining Alternative Futures through Empowerment
by Claudia Milena Adler
Challenges 2024, 15(1), 8; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe15010008 - 20 Feb 2024
Viewed by 1215
Abstract
The physical conquest of European powers on the rest of the world for the imposition of an accumulation of wealth monopoly and the destruction of native societies remains the foundation of the current global economy. Despite concepts of human flourishing, a term connected [...] Read more.
The physical conquest of European powers on the rest of the world for the imposition of an accumulation of wealth monopoly and the destruction of native societies remains the foundation of the current global economy. Despite concepts of human flourishing, a term connected to empowerment that acts as an architectural structure within the development and sustainability discourse, the destruction of our planet and collective human wellbeing is not at the forefront of international political agendas. Scholars argue that the development agenda is maldevelopment due to the unrequested interventions delivered to communities, mainly in the Global South. Thus, despite the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the implementation of inner dimensions that facilitate empowerment and are an integral part of development is missing from these sophisticated global frameworks. This research article repositions empowerment and compassion at the centre of the sustainable development discourse by drawing on the Inner Development Framework, particularly goal one—Being—‘Relationship to Self’ and goal three—Relating—‘Caring for others and the World’ and the Capabilities Theory as a guiding theoretical underpinning. On this basis, this article presents a qualitative interpretative study that examines the lived experience of women and their journeys to empowerment. The key findings indicate an intricate relationship between wellbeing and empowerment and the realisation of inner development as a tool to re-imagine alternative futures. In addition, industries are profiteering from a sustainability and development agenda that is failing to address the disablement of communities by a paternalistic approach to empowerment. Full article
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20 pages, 954 KiB  
Article
Gastronomy: An Overlooked Arena for the Cultivation of Sustainable Meaning?
by Daniel Östergren, Ute Walter, Bernt Gustavsson and Inger M. Jonsson
Challenges 2023, 14(4), 41; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe14040041 - 07 Oct 2023
Viewed by 1581
Abstract
This article explores sustainable development from a gastronomic perspective. Humanistic perspectives on food offered by gastronomy are explored as an asset in cultivating self-awareness capacities needed for sustainable transformations of society. The purpose is to explore how gastronomes can cultivate understandings and explanations [...] Read more.
This article explores sustainable development from a gastronomic perspective. Humanistic perspectives on food offered by gastronomy are explored as an asset in cultivating self-awareness capacities needed for sustainable transformations of society. The purpose is to explore how gastronomes can cultivate understandings and explanations of sustainability to be conveyed to individuals via meals. In semi-annually recurring dialogic interviews, four university-educated gastronomes cultivated their understandings and explanations of sustainability, and modeled how these could be communicated to other individuals. The dialogues gradually brought the ideas of the researcher and the participants toward a common explanation of the potential ways gastronomic competency could advance sustainable development. The results highlight two ways of understanding gastronomic sustainability: functionally as practical communication, and formally as a cultural issue. Based on H.G. Gadamer’s idea of bildung as hermeneutic interpretation, we argue that self-awareness is a process which is rooted in how knowledge is interpreted, understood, and explained by the individual. Practical participation in culturally influenced meals makes gastronomy a bridge between individual and societal issues, whereby gastronomic competencies can cultivate sustainable commitment, judgment, and community. In this way, gastronomic sustainability represents an approach to sustainable development that, significantly, also involves the cultivation of sustainable meaning. Full article
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20 pages, 317 KiB  
Article
How Do Mindfulness Offerings Support Inner–Outer Sustainability Progress? A Sustainability Assessment of Online Mindfulness Interventions
by Kira J. Cooper and Robert B. Gibson
Challenges 2023, 14(2), 26; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe14020026 - 28 Apr 2023
Cited by 2 | Viewed by 2527
Abstract
While there is growing optimism for inner transformations to catalyse systemic shifts towards more sustainable ways of being, no study so far has attempted to assess how well current interventions for inner development address core requirements for collective wellbeing. In this article, we [...] Read more.
While there is growing optimism for inner transformations to catalyse systemic shifts towards more sustainable ways of being, no study so far has attempted to assess how well current interventions for inner development address core requirements for collective wellbeing. In this article, we apply a novel assessment framework to examine how mindfulness-based interventions address inner and outer sustainability criteria during a global health emergency. This inquiry informs a growing field of study concerned with leveraging inner transformations for systemic shifts towards sustainability progress. Using three prominent online mindfulness-based offerings as a case study, we demonstrate that mindfulness-based interventions have a broad range of potential desirable to detrimental implications for social and biophysical systems. We conclude by discussing how normative conceptions of inner interventions might be contextualised anew to effectively support more viable, just, and inclusive transformations towards long-term viability. Full article
16 pages, 320 KiB  
Article
Education for Sustainability: Understanding Processes of Change across Individual, Collective, and System Levels
by Elin Pöllänen, Walter Osika, Eva Bojner Horwitz and Christine Wamsler
Challenges 2023, 14(1), 5; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe14010005 - 11 Jan 2023
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 3256
Abstract
Researchers and practitioners increasingly emphasise the need to complement dominant external, technological approaches with an internal focus to support transformation toward sustainability. However, knowledge on how this internal human dimension can support transformation across individual, collective, and systems levels is limited. Our study [...] Read more.
Researchers and practitioners increasingly emphasise the need to complement dominant external, technological approaches with an internal focus to support transformation toward sustainability. However, knowledge on how this internal human dimension can support transformation across individual, collective, and systems levels is limited. Our study addresses this gap. We examined the narratives of participants in the sustainability course “One Year in Transition”, using micro-phenomenology and thematic analysis. Our results shed light on the dynamics of inner–outer change and action and the necessary capacities to support them. This related to changes regarding participants’ perspectives, which became more relational and interconnected. We also showed that participants increasingly seek an inner space that provides direction and freedom to act. The data suggested that this, over time, leads to increasing internalisation, and the embodiment of a personal identity as a courageous and principled change agent for sustainability. Our results complement extant quantitative research in the field by offering a nuanced picture of the entangled nature of inner–outer transformation processes and associated influencing factors. In addition, they point towards ways in which inner dimensions can be leveraged to achieve change, thus filling existing knowledge gaps for reaching sustainability and associated goals across all levels. Full article
27 pages, 451 KiB  
Article
A Novel Framework for Inner-Outer Sustainability Assessment
by Kira J. Cooper and Robert B. Gibson
Challenges 2022, 13(2), 64; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe13020064 - 13 Dec 2022
Cited by 5 | Viewed by 3765
Abstract
Calls for systemic transformations have become prevalent throughout sustainability discourse. Increasingly, these calls point towards consciousness expanding practices and interventions, such as mindfulness, to support the development of individual understandings, skills, and capacities that are conducive to more sustainable ways of being and [...] Read more.
Calls for systemic transformations have become prevalent throughout sustainability discourse. Increasingly, these calls point towards consciousness expanding practices and interventions, such as mindfulness, to support the development of individual understandings, skills, and capacities that are conducive to more sustainable ways of being and doing. The growing interest in leveraging inner capacities, including mindsets, worldviews, values, and beliefs for sustainability transformations emerges from concerns that conventional approaches are failing to align social and ecological systems towards long-term viability. Interest in these consciousness-driven transformations is spreading, particularly in governments and prominent organisations. Tempering this enthusiasm are concerns that untethered from moral and ethical guidelines as well as caring understanding of local and global prospects for lasting wellbeing, mindfulness programs, workshops, and interventions for inner transformation can inadvertently strengthen unsustainable systems and deepen inequities. Accordingly, this paper presents an exploratory assessment framework to increase understandings of how events focused on interventions for inner transformation align with broad sustainability requirements. Findings from application of the framework should help to elucidate how these offerings can disrupt normative ways of thinking and doing, and in turn, positively influence multi-scalar transformations. Furthermore, use of the assessment process to plan and/or evaluate inner development offerings is anticipated to help strengthen progress towards sustainability and reduce adverse trade-offs that might undermine positive systemic transformations. Full article

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17 pages, 632 KiB  
Viewpoint
A Framework for Effective Collaboration with Crisis-Affected Communities
by Jo Rose and Claudia Milena Adler
Challenges 2024, 15(1), 13; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe15010013 - 09 Mar 2024
Viewed by 1169
Abstract
In 2016, a localisation agenda was set across the international aid industry with the understanding that humanitarian interventions need to be led by local actors and local communities. Despite international agreements, the localisation efforts are largely failing. This paper demonstrates the challenges that [...] Read more.
In 2016, a localisation agenda was set across the international aid industry with the understanding that humanitarian interventions need to be led by local actors and local communities. Despite international agreements, the localisation efforts are largely failing. This paper demonstrates the challenges that prevent effective collaboration between international humanitarian agencies and crisis-affected communities. It draws on evaluation reports to highlight an inability to learn lessons or follow recommendations from previous crises. Based on the authors’ experiences, we present a novel framework for effectively collaborating with crisis-affected communities. The Communities Framework provides a pathway to establishing effective community collaboration and locally owned and led humanitarian interventions. The importance of local leadership, trust building, and local context are at the heart of the framework. In light of the need for a more localised and decolonial humanitarian response, this framework supports humanitarian actors and the affected communities in moving from a charity-led approach to one of mutual aid. The paper draws on alternative notions of compassion from the Global South of contemporary humanitarian interventions as a philosophical foundation for the framework. Caring for others and the world is central to implementing an appropriate and effective humanitarian response. There remains a largely unexplored scope regarding the outcome of resolving crises when both humanitarian actors and affected communities work as equal partners and how that will shape modern humanitarianism as we understand it today. Full article
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13 pages, 241 KiB  
Viewpoint
Cultivating Resilience in Chaos: Localisation as a Mechanism for Sustainability and Inner Development in Syria’s Humanitarian Crisis
by Jo Rose and Eslam Elbaaly
Challenges 2024, 15(1), 11; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe15010011 - 23 Feb 2024
Viewed by 1298
Abstract
This article explores localisation in humanitarian settings as an example of sustainability and inner development. Through a case study from Syria, we discuss how localisation and remote management can lead to the mutual flourishing of individuals, communities and planetary health in the most [...] Read more.
This article explores localisation in humanitarian settings as an example of sustainability and inner development. Through a case study from Syria, we discuss how localisation and remote management can lead to the mutual flourishing of individuals, communities and planetary health in the most challenging settings. Through localisation, we can rethink and reframe humanitarianism and integrate sustainability and personal development. Learning from these collaborations that highlight the importance of trust and interpersonal relations, the humanitarian and global health communities can reflect on how local individuals and communities can be further supported in their personal development and the sustainability of interventions that promote planetary health. Full article
6 pages, 209 KiB  
Viewpoint
Liminality: Change Starts Within
by Vivianna Rodriguez Carreon
Challenges 2023, 14(2), 25; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe14020025 - 25 Apr 2023
Viewed by 2963
Abstract
Change Starts Within is the welcome title to the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) toolkit. The tools are resources to support the inner growth of individuals and organizations committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This reflection article emerged from reviewing my earlier experiences [...] Read more.
Change Starts Within is the welcome title to the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) toolkit. The tools are resources to support the inner growth of individuals and organizations committed to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). This reflection article emerged from reviewing my earlier experiences in inner development while collaborating in the development of the IDGs. Years of continuing inner growth involved going through the liminal stage several times. Evolution is ongoing. Liminality has been conceptualized through different ways of embodying knowing by anthropologists, phenomenologists, psychologists, philosophers, scientists, and spiritual teachers, among others working in transformational processes. Through a lived experience approach, I explore my relationship with the liminal stage. Learning and practicing the “unseen” inner muscle leads to becoming “sensitive” to the subtle qualities. It involves perceiving the world through sensorial qualities, which leads to a conscious action to purposefully commit to what lies along the path to sustainable humanity. At the same time, I notice the limitations for understanding the language of the inner world. The inner world communicates through dynamic manifestations of the lived experience, and when conceptualized in a logical and structured way, it constrains how the animacy of the inner being can be described. The invitation to understand spaces of inner transformation in liminality is to learn to manifest the state of being. The effects of understanding inner development accelerate wisdom and human evolution. Full article
23 pages, 10699 KiB  
Conference Report
Nature Connection: Providing a Pathway from Personal to Planetary Health
by John Zelenski, Sara Warber, Jake M. Robinson, Alan C. Logan and Susan L. Prescott
Challenges 2023, 14(1), 16; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe14010016 - 05 Mar 2023
Cited by 4 | Viewed by 4481
Abstract
The vast and growing challenges for human health and all life on Earth require urgent and deep structural changes to the way in which we live. Broken relationships with nature are at the core of both the modern health crisis and the erosion [...] Read more.
The vast and growing challenges for human health and all life on Earth require urgent and deep structural changes to the way in which we live. Broken relationships with nature are at the core of both the modern health crisis and the erosion of planetary health. A declining connection to nature has been implicated in the exploitative attitudes that underpin the degradation of both physical and social environments and almost all aspects of personal physical, mental, and spiritual health. It is increasingly clear that the entwined challenges of biodiversity loss, climate change, and human health cannot be addressed without addressing selfishness, greed, apathy, and the value systems that created these global problems. Calls for a spiritual and cultural transformation recognize that “inner” development is important and necessary for meaningful “outward” transitions with a shared purpose for wiser, more sustainable societies. Many of these emotional and spiritual assets appear to be facilitated by a connection to nature, which is also strongly associated with community cohesion, prosocial attitudes, and pro-environmental actions. Restoring the human connection to nature may therefore provide a critical common pathway to promote the physical and spiritual wellbeing of individuals and communities as well as personal and social environmental responsibility. In this paper, we summarize and reflect on the discussions of the Nova Network planetary health community with respect to nature-based solutions as pathways to promote both personal and planetary health with a more mutualistic mindset. These discussions spanned biological to psychological interactions with nature—including the critical relationships with environmental microbes that influence the physical, emotional, and behavioral aspects of health. We consider the ways in which stronger relationships with nature promote “inner assets” to support “outward actions” for personal and planetary health. Full article
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23 pages, 3635 KiB  
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Education for Human Flourishing—A New Conceptual Framework for Promoting Ecosystemic Wellbeing in Schools
by Wendy Ellyatt
Challenges 2022, 13(2), 58; https://doi.org/10.3390/challe13020058 - 09 Nov 2022
Cited by 3 | Viewed by 10245
Abstract
Debates about the true purpose of education have increased globally in recent years, with climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating interest in the subject. It has become clear that education systems play a vital role not only in shaping the values, mindsets [...] Read more.
Debates about the true purpose of education have increased globally in recent years, with climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic accelerating interest in the subject. It has become clear that education systems play a vital role not only in shaping the values, mindsets and ethical behaviours that we need for caring and responsible societies, but also in influencing our everyday interactions with the environment. To that end, wellbeing always concerns the triple nature of self, others and the natural world and there is increasing recognition of the need to move from a primary focus on personal happiness and attainment to a more balanced interest in the optimisation of human flourishing within the context of sustainable and regenerative futures. This article introduces the educational work of the Flourish Project, exploring the degree to which schools need to be understood as living systems and the way curricular frameworks, as they currently stand, may be inadvertently contributing to human languishing rather than flourishing. It explains the thinking behind the Flourish Model and describes the way in which the educational aspect of the Flourish Project hopes to contribute not only to the ongoing debate concerning the role of flourishing in education, but also to the growing global interest in the Inner Development Goals (IDGs) as skills and qualities that are vital for purposeful, sustainable, and productive lives. Full article
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