Rilli Lapalainen

Digital leap, claustrophobia, insecurity, anxiety, anger, relaxation and freedom. Emotions and thoughts like these seem to revolve in people’s minds around the world right now. In order for individual actions to remain more permanent and guide us more systematically towards change that targets society as a whole, we also need policies and changes in structures.

COVID-19 connects, whether we like it or not, people in different situations on an emotional level, both those in welfare state services and those living in a refugee camp. Each of us has had to adapt and learn something new in our own situation. 

We will need new skills. Corona leaves its mark on the world in some way anyway. UNESCO is currently gathering ideas on what kind of education and learning we will need in the future to make sustainable development a reality. The horizon is as high as 2050, but virtually every one of us needs these skills today. 

 Last week, we organized an event in Finland for interested organizations and the following skills emerged: arousing curiosity, looking at what has been learned in a new light, growing to its full potential in dialogue with others, adaptive thinking, developing creativity and bringing about change together. 

The reflection highlighted the fact that we would have to learn to dream different utopias, not to give way to dystopias and negativity. Easy to say and a little harder to implement. However, new things need to be practiced in order for the skills to eventually accumulate - as well as future thinking. The learning of the new must be repeated so that skills also accumulate. 

Skills don’t necessarily have to always be about mastering a new digital tech. In the Bridge 47 network, we have also had discussions with colleagues around the world about the situation we now live in and the same things are emerging there as well. Many old means have risen to a new faith. Sending and receiving a postcard seems to be important. Surprisingly, parents who have become home teachers appreciate both the teachers and the material produced by the organizations and at the same time learn for themselves. On the other hand, learning something new can be learning out, for example, giving up something that is detrimental to a sustainable future.

There are concerns about how the narrowing of public space now, in exceptional circumstances, may remain permanent or how those unfamiliar with the use of social media or computers will be marginalized. Joy is produced by individual innovations from concerts on balconies and a hundred year old grantparents of jogging. 

Some weeks ago, an ngo called Global Citizen, which has been hosting a massive concert event in Central Park for five years in New York during the UN General Assembly, produced a live concert led by Lady Gaga. Whether one concert event leaves a lasting change in the world remains to be seen, but at least it brought momentary joy to millions.

The Finland Works campaign, supported by the Prime Minister's Office in Finland, seeks to support a somewhat similar positive change, inviting everyone to join in the communication to strengthen confidence in the management of one's own life, institutions and communities in the new situation. In order for individual actions to remain more permanent and guide us more systematically towards change that targets society as a whole, we also need policies and structural changes.

The Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture has just drawn up guidelines to guide its own administration on a sustainable basis, playing its part in implementing Agenda2030. According to the Ministry, its special responsibility lies in social sustainability, such as strengthening civilization and human well-being. It means, for example,  equal enjoyment of cultural rights, high-quality early childhood education, raising the level of skills and education, lifelong learning, access to information, cultural rights and well-being and inclusion. 

We also consider these issues to be important for the stakeholders involved in the preparation of the guidelines, and we want to continue to promote them together. The activities of the administrative branch of the Ministry promote cultural change, which is a prerequisite for change towards comprehensive sustainable development. This is a great start to promote internal coherence in the implementation of sustainable development.

To go even further, we need to invest more in society through learning and education. You can use and refer to, for example, recommendations of the Envision 4.7 conference last November. The conference brought together 200 actors from around the world to create a common vision of how the European Union could better support active citizenship. You can find the Envision 4.7 Roadmap here. 

A sustainable future requires every individual to take a leap of sustainability, but at the same time to support national and international structures that support activity. 


About the Author

Rilli Lapalainen

Rilli Lappalainen is founder and chair of Bridge 47 which is a global network to bring people together to share and learn with the help of global citizenship education. Bridge 47 ( works by networking, doing advocacy, building partnerships and creating innovations. Global citizenship education has been the redline of Rilli´s work and life from local scouts to global networking. Currently, Rilli is also Director of Advocacy and Policy in Fingo, Finnish Development NGOs. Before, he worked, for example, for  several years with European external policies in civil society and European commission and in development cooperation in Senegal, Nepal and Zambia. Rilli is passionate about always finding better ways to integrate learning and education in politics and practice and mixing things up to find new solutions for all.