Help Find New Ways Toward a Just and Sustainable Future

The Wyss Academy for Nature at the University of Bern was founded to provide a new approach to the environmental crisis and its interconnected problems. Now, for the first time, we gathered perspectives from across the globe – from those who are directly affected, as well as those with special insights and expertise – to raise the discussion around what needs to be done to another level.   

On August 24th 2022, we met in person and online for the inaugural Wyss Academy Symposium. It was a chance to demonstrate holistic pathways towards a systemic transformation – in the fields of climate, biodiversity and land use – and network with like-minded experts from around the world.

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Have an overview of the Agenda from the Event

We’re happy to share with you the program agenda we followed during the event, including speakers and the program flow.


Some more information

The Symposium was held at the Kursaal Conference Center in Bern, Switzerland. It was organized in conjunction with the 2022 Spirit Of Bern event, which took place on the preceding day, under the motto “How To Save The Planet”. Al Gore provided a virtual keynote address and answered questions from the presenters. The other speakers included renowned experts such as Sonia Seneviratne, Maja Göpel, and Thomas Vellacott. We will be happy to assist any participants who wish to attend both events.


The Symposium were divided into two sessions, each with a unique format. Three parallel working sessions took place during the morning, followed by an Ideathon visioning challenge in the afternoon. Participants were invited to join both sessions, either virtually or physically. 

The Parallel Working Sessions served as a stimulant to the Ideathon that followed in the afternoon. The goal of these sessions was to understand fundamental conditions that drive the transformation of socioecological systems, and how knowledge plays a key role in the process. The sessions sought to unravel 3 themes: (1) Embracing complexity: What tools and approaches adequately capture the complexity of the socio-ecological systems that we seek to transform? How do we achieve a shared vision of sustainability, and how can we best support practitioners in the field? (2) Catalyzing co-benefits between nature and human wellbeing: What is the scientific evidence, and how can we amplify positive examples? Can tipping points be observed? (3) Rewiring the conventional thinking of sustainable development.  


The Ideathon employed various techniques tested by the Wyss Academy and its advisors to enable innovative thinkers to visualize their thoughts within a safe space, and to inspire collaborations across different sectors and fields. Its output will be shared as a knowledge base that can be used by participants and by the Wyss Academy in future projects.


Event is fully booked

Our Symposium was met with overwhelming interest, discussions, and ideas and resulted in many potential projects to work on. The key takeaways from our event are coming soon.


We had the pleasure to invite four Youth Ambassadors from all over the world to participate in the Symposium

Through our partnership with Goodwall, we were able to invite four youth ambassadors from Greece, Ghana, Philippines & Peru. Their role was to actively participate in each workshop and bring their own experience and perspectives to the table. Below, you can hear some of their takeaways from the event.


Noa Kurz


Tatjana von Steiger


Fiona Stappmanns


The Parallel Working Sessions

Session 1: Embracing complexity towards transformative change


The growing complexity of our world’s coupled socio-ecological systems (SES) pose a great challenge for the urgently needed transformative change towards sustainability. Not only is it impossible to fully understand the complexity of these dynamic, nested, and interdependent systems, but our understanding will also change with the vantage points we chose, the questions we ask, and the interests we pursue.  If knowledge is key to navigating system transformations towards human wellbeing and ecosystem integrity, we need to work with knowledge that is inherently incomplete, fragmented, and even disputed. 

There have been huge advances to tackle the complexity of SES in system thinking, complex system theory, dynamic system modelling and participatory approaches in the last decades. This has, however, only trickled down to a limited degree to practical real-life approaches, methodologies and tools on how to deal with the complexity of SES.

This session aimed at bringing together different approaches and experiences on how complexity can practically be addressed and used for knowledge diplomacy and decision making. Using this as inspiration, we wanted to jointly work towards a toolbox and principles for its use that will allow us to balance the need of capturing key features of complexity with the necessity of simplifying and sharing knowledge for stakeholder negotiations and decision-making. 


Session 2: Identifying and amplifying co-benefits between nature stewardship and human well-being


Since the industrial revolution, the growth in human population and affluence have been associated with increasing natural resource exploitation and environmental degradation. In the context of developing countries, an “environmental paradox” is often observed, whereby human well-being increases at the expense of environmental quality. In parallel, many countries endowed with abundant natural resources have not shown the social and economic performance expected, due to a highly unequal exploitation of these resources by elites in an increasingly globalized world: a phenomenon also known as the 'resource curse'. 


Any vision for a more sustainable future should therefore tackle the question of whether and how efforts to improve human well-being can be decoupled from negative environmental impacts. Finding lasting approaches through which nature can be nurtured and even restored, while improving human well-being where it is most needed, is key for sustainable development. 


Is human development inevitably eroding nature, or could this vicious circle be turned into a virtuous one? While the trade-offs are well known, the goal of this session is to assess the scientific evidence supporting the existence of co-benefits between nature stewardship and human well-being. Building upon the learnings from concrete examples, the session aimed to go beyond those, in order to explore possible upscaling dilemmas, as well as positive tipping points that could speed up the deployment of sustainable practices and nature stewardship approaches at larger scales. 


Session 3: Living labs as catalysts for pathways to transformative change


Scientists and activists concerned with implementing the 2030 Agenda, the Paris Agreement, and the Biodiversity Convention have pointed to the urgent need to explore pathways for the transformation of the current human-environmental systems, including food, energy, economy or urban areas. Due to the complex, systemic and contested nature of the relevant problems, we need entirely new forms of solutions and new approaches to develop these.  


In the past years, various approaches have emerged - including transformation labs, social innovation labs or living labs – which have tried to break down the silos of research, policy and practice. Despite considerable differences, they have in common the use of transdisciplinary approaches to co-design a systemic understanding of socio-ecological challenges, to co-produce innovations and test them in real-word situations, and to co-evaluate the outcomes for learning and transfer to science, policy, and practice.  


This session brought together practitioners and scientists to share their insights on these approaches, their applicability, and their strengths and shortcomings. They also highlighted how they managed to bring together actors from different backgrounds and cultures, with different power and world views, to jointly develop a vision of a desirable, sustainable and just future.

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