Connecting for common goals: exploring 50 years of IIED and sustainable development

A new report explores the evolution of sustainable development since 1972 and reflects on the impact of IIED’s partnership-based approach by charting ten key movements for change, including the drives for global climate justice and an inclusive green economy.

News, 26 May 2022
An illustration on a pink background showing connections from individual objects and people.

The cover image from the 'Connecting for common goals' report (Image: IIED)

In IIED’s 50th year, a new report considers how the organisation has worked within or influenced ten major sustainable development movements, including the drives for global climate justice, grassroots sustainable urbanisation and an inclusive green economy.

As an action research organisation, IIED has not produced an ‘official history’ to celebrate 50 years in the sustainable development sector, but rather commissioned a reflective research paper that seeks to review our work, suggest a framing and make an assessment that can inform future work.

In ‘Connecting for common goals: exploring IIED’s role in ten sustainable development movements’, author Steve Bass presents a mapping of the organisation’s contributions within their contemporary context. 

He draws on interviews with staff and trustees, past and present, and on IIED annual reports, as well as his own career with the organisation and across the wider sector. 

Looking back to plan ahead

Bass concludes that IIED has found a niche within a number of movements that have shifted debate, expectations and action on sustainable development over the last half century. 

He identifies some core principles that have enabled these consistent contributions – the ‘IIED DNA’ includes commitments to equity and to working in partnership, introduced by founder Barbara Ward, that remain central to our theory of change today. 

‘Connecting for common goals’ also classifies eight key roles played by IIED, principally as a connector of environment to development, local to global, and people to science to policy.

“The entire LDC Group benefited from IIED’s real-time support in the complex climate change negotiations. This support was grounded in science and informed by principles and positions that guide the most vulnerable to deal with climate change.” – Giza Gaspar Martins, chair of the Least Developed Countries Group (2015), Angola

Bass contends that these were essential in delivering progress for people and planet, while always acknowledging the leading role our partners and wider debates play in any success.

Finally, the report looks forward: in a fast-changing world, who might IIED need to engage with, and on what issues, to shape the resilience and systemic change we need? 

Bass’ interviews with senior staff and trustees offer insights into how sustainable development movements may evolve, including ‘whole-of-society’ responses, reassessing who can deliver equity, and the growing calls for restoration.

With a preface by director Andrew Norton, the report is not only a thoughtful marker of IIED’s 50th birthday. It speaks to IIED’s commitment to monitoring, evaluation and learning: this report will aid staff, partners and others in assessing a long history of debate and action on environment and development, and in considering what lies ahead. 

Steve Bass discussed the ‘Connecting for common goals’ report in an episode of the Make Change Happen podcast, alongside Camilla Toulmin, drylands expert and former IIED director, and Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD) and a former director of IIED’s Climate Change research group.