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  • Nayiri Keshishi

Nurturing Inner Development Goals in Higher Education

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

Nayiri Keshishi

In our swiftly evolving global landscape, effective leadership has become paramount. Today's leaders require not only technical expertise but also a diverse array of essential skills: self-awareness, critical thinking, empathy, communication, intercultural competence, and creativity (Jordan, 2021). In acknowledgment of these traits, universities play a pivotal role in supporting students' holistic development. Enter the Inner Development Goals (IDG) – a framework that holds the key to this mission.

Universities are pivotal in driving societal transformation, entrusted with contributing to Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the 2030 Agenda (Zhou et al., 2019; Kioupi and Voulvoulis, 2020; Serafini et al., 2022). The United Nations (UN) underscores the importance of equipping learners with knowledge and skills for sustainable development (Crespo et al., 2017), extending beyond theory into cultivating change catalysts.

The IDG framework encapsulates values, attitudes, and behaviours essential for making a positive impact (Bartlett et al., 2019). It's a comprehensive skill set vital for individuals and organizations to address challenges outlined in the UN Agenda 2030 and the 17 SDGs. This framework (Figure 1) is instrumental in assessing personal and collective proficiencies, guiding institutions in fostering necessary personal growth for sustainable development.

Figure 1: The IDG framework (Inner Development Goals, 2023)

By emphasizing these qualities, universities nurture personal and professional growth, fostering future leaders engaged with SDGs. This approach produces benefits beyond individuals, advancing communities and society, thereby generating positive social impact (Stålne and Greca, 2022).

Understanding the IDG Framework

Confronting intricate tasks like the SDGs requires more than traditional education. Various fields of research like adult learning, development, and strategic leadership highlight the need for diverse cognitive and emotional attributes (Stålne and Greca, 2022).

In essence, the IDGs target identification, promotion, and support of significant abilities and qualities. This comprehensive framework supports engagement and indicates target groups (Jordan, 2021), encouraging investments in attributes vital for tackling global challenges.

Developed via surveys involving over 1000 participants across sectors (Jordan, 2021), the IDG framework categorises 23 skills and qualities. Collaborators from renowned institutions grouped these into five dimensions, creating Figure 1 - a valuable tool for advancing personal and collective growth (Stålne and Greca, 2022).

Universities and the IDG Framework

The framework highlights multifaceted inner development. Universities cultivate an environment for this journey, through support, trust, shared perspectives, and connecting individuals (Stålne and Greca, 2022). The following approaches, many of which may already be in place, enable students to nurture inner capabilities, fostering sustainable change agents.

1) Curricular Integration: Merge inner development components into the curriculum, connecting theoretical knowledge to personal growth (Stålne and Greca, 2022).

2) Inclusive Learning Environments: Foster respect, acceptance, open discussions, and diverse perspectives for empathy and critical thinking (Keyser et al., 2022).

3) Service-Learning Opportunities: Bridge academics and real-world application through community service, nurturing empathy, and leadership (Salam et al., 2019).

4) Global Exposure: Facilitate global experiences, enhancing adaptability and intercultural competence (Kistyanto et al., 2022).

5) Mindfulness Initiatives: Foster mental health and resilience through mindfulness practices and support services (McDonald and Scarampi, 2018).


Universities, as beacons of education, have a unique role in fostering leaders equipped for the challenges ahead. By weaving the IDG framework into their fabric, they nurture qualities essential for tackling complex issues. Through curricular integration, experiential learning, and inclusive environments, universities empower students to transform themselves and the world around them - a pivotal step toward a more compassionate and sustainable future.


Bartlett, P.W., Popov, M. and Ruppert, J. (2020). Integrating Core Sustainability Meta-Competencies and SDGs across the Silos in Curriculum and Professional Development. Sustainable Development Goals and Institutions of Higher Education. Springer, Cham, 71-85.

Crespo, B., Míguez-Álvarez, C., Arce, M.E., Cuevas, M. and Míguez, J.L. (2017). The sustainable development goals: An experience on higher education. Sustainability, 9(8), 1353.

Inner Development Goals. (2023). The 5 dimensions with the 23 skills and qualities.

Jordan, T. (2021). Background, method and the IDG framework. Inner Development Goals.

Keyser, W., Unus, W., Harvey, J., Goodlett, S.C., Day, D., Tracy, K.G., Tyner, S. and Budd, E. (2022). Empathy in action: Developing a sense of belonging with the pedagogy of ‘real talk’. Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 19(4), 10.

Kioupi, V. and Voulvoulis, N. (2020). Sustainable development goals (SDGs): Assessing the contribution of higher education programmes. Sustainability, 12(17), 6701.

Kistyanto, A., Rahman, M.F.W., Adhar Wisandiko, F., and Setyawati, E.E.P. (2022). Cultural intelligence increase student's innovative behaviour in higher education: the mediating role of interpersonal trust. International Journal of Educational Management, 36(4), 419-440.

McDonald, C. and Scarampi, P. (2018). Mindfulness in sustainability science, practice, and teaching. Sustainability Science, 13(1), 143-162.

Salam, M., Awang Iskandar, D.N., Ibrahim, D.H.A., and Farooq, M.S. (2019). Service learning in higher education: A systematic literature review. Asia Pacific Education Review, 20, 573-593.

Serafini, P.G., de Moura, J.M., de Almeida, M.R. and de Rezende, J.F.D. (2022). Sustainable Development Goals in Higher Education Institutions: A systematic literature review. Journal of Cleaner Production, 133473.

Simsek, A. (2012). Transformational learning. Encyclopaedia of the Sciences of Learning, 3341-3344.

Zhou, L., Rudhumbu, N., Shumba, J. and Olumide, A. (2020). Role of higher education institutions in the implementation of sustainable development goals. In Sustainable Development Goals and institutions of higher education. Springer, Cham, 87-96.

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