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Building relationships to build trust

March 2024 update from Wilton Park Chief Executive, Tom Cargill.


It is a very human reality that building relationships is the surest route to building trust. Yet as the old saying goes, the best time to make a friend is before you need them.

In a world where time and space is scarce, it is perhaps no surprise that relationships, and therefore trust, are increasingly hard to develop and maintain.

Wilton Park is unique as a government sponsored agency for building relationships and trust between nations and people. It is arguably somehow uniquely British in its contribution also — a belief that reasoned dialogue can make the world a better place. All of this is being increasingly tested by a world in growing turmoil, but our team and network are also stepping up our own efforts, and with your help, we can make a difference.

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Towards 2030: transformative actions and partnerships to deliver the SDGs

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were agreed in 2015 as a comprehensive framework for global progress, around the 5Ps of People, Prosperity, Planet, Peace and Partnerships.

The UN SDG Summit of September 2023 concluded that the SDGs were severely off-track.

In March, along with support from the FCDO, Wilton Park designed and hosted this dialogue to identify interventions and build partnerships which had the potential to turbocharge SDG delivery. This would help pave the way for other high-level discussions later in the year, including the UN Summit of the Future.

We heard how countries were addressing the challenges of making progress on the SDGs, despite economic setbacks and the shock of the COVID pandemic. There was broad agreement on key areas that must be addressed to accelerate SDG delivery, including the importance of additional financing; of access to data and the potential benefits of AI; and engaging more with the private sector.

Participants felt strongly that the SDGs needed to be communicated better, particularly in higher income countries.  Yet, despite the setbacks, technological and other advances offered cause for cautious optimism in some areas.  The overall sense at the end of the meeting was one of hope that real progress could be achieved by 2030.

Development and climate change
Building women’s economic empowerment into climate transitions

Also in March, we kicked off the UK Government’s new global campaign to accelerate all aspects of women’s economic empowerment in our conference on Building Women’s Economic Empowerment into Climate Transitions.

Under discussion was what needs to happen to achieve a gender inclusive green economy which has lower carbon emissions and greater economic, business and social resilience to climate shocks, but which also closes the gender gap on economic justice.

With the World Economic Forum forecasting that it will take 133.6 years to achieve gender equality, women’s economic empowerment was trailed as the one major investment that will help fix that figure and tackle climate change. Look out for the report from this meeting on the real opportunities when the green economy and gender equality are seen as inextricably linked.

WATCH: Vanessa Santos explains how inclusive solutions can lead to better outcomes for climate challenges



The impact of adversity, violence or traumatic experiences on adolescent brain, mental health and psychosocial development

1.3 billion young people are adolescents – that’s 17 percent of the population. Often, however, they can be seen as seen as troublemakers, ending up on wrong side of law or as a group to be punished, contained and even imprisoned. In February, we hosted a discussion on the impact of adversity, violence and trauma on adolescent brain, mental health and psychological development.

In partnership with UNICEF, Save the Children and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), this focused on the policy implications of what the latest science about the adolescent brain tells us about how adolescents behave- and particularly adolescents who live in conflict or who’ve suffered trauma.

Because of how the brain develops in adolescence, this period from 10-18 years old, can be a unique strategic period of both opportunity and vulnerability. This vulnerability can lead to an increased risk of mental health issues, with symptoms from anxiety, depression, unstable relationships, emotional withdrawal and aggressive and antisocial behaviour.

That’s why ignoring how the adolescent brain develops and the behaviour that can come as a result, was put forward as a ticking time bomb, an emerging public health emergency. Under discussion at Wilton Park were the tools adolescents need to shape this critical period of their lives and how policy makers can respond to provide opportunities for growth and hope – and contribute to building more stable and peaceful societies as a result.

Tackling disinformation about wind power

Actors with vested interests are using social networks and community groups to popularise myths and rumours about the impact of wind deployment on the environment, local industries, and the local economy.

This dialogue in May will bring together experts in misinformation, stakeholders from the wind energy sector, and government players to share analysis, challenges and toolkits, and take steps towards better collaboration and shared solutions.

New report

“Humanitarian action is not neutral.” Read our report exploring ways to better resource women-led and women’s rights organisations, which play a critical role in crises.

Read our new report
Diplomacy and geopolitics
East Africa Strategic Horizons: Partnerships and Priorities

East Africa continues to experience its most significant political change since the end of the Cold War (1989-90), manifest in contested transitions which have taken place in the context of wider global and regional changes, including in the Gulf/MENA region.

This conference brought together a wide range of experts and actors to help inform and challenge thinking and build a network to realise emerging objectives, help prevent crises and enable progress.

It examined the outlook for East Africa, offering an assessment of key trends, drivers, risks and opportunities, to help build a better understanding of the context to 2030 for strategy, planning and delivery.

The report detailing the findings and recommendations from the conference, will be available soon.

WATCH: Gedion Onyango on the importance of governance in political and economic processes


Introducing a series of dialogues on global democracy

Democracy is in flux. Influence and power are shifting to new actors, many of whom are deliberately undermining democracy, whilst at the same time using democratic structures to gain decades-long footholds in their countries. There is a need for collaborative action that a new Wilton Park series on democracy with Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) will address.

Get in touch if you are interested in partnering with us on this important topic.


New blog

‘Urgent action is needed to restore democratic legitimacy.’ Read Ellie Catherall’s blog on the potential for digital engagement to strengthen democracies worldwide.

Read our latest blog
Irreversibility in nuclear disarmament

In March, we convened the third in a series of conferences assessing the concept of irreversibility in nuclear disarmament. As with previous meetings in the series, we worked on developing the concept’s parameters and substance intellectually, but also worked on how to advance it within the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

Looking ahead
Ambassadorial summit

In April, we will be convening the second Wilton Park Ambassadorial Summit. This dialogue will be focused on Europe, and an opportunity for London-based Heads of Mission to join UK counterparts to discuss the forthcoming UK international agenda, as well as to network and engage discreetly on a range of topics of common interest.


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