Strategy 2030: coupling safe and sustainable mobility with social justice

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Over the past two years the FIA Foundation’s Board of Trustees has undertaken an in-depth review of our work and our future strategy. As we enter the UN Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals, and a second Decade of Action for Road Safety, what do we as a Foundation want to help to achieve by 2030? There are six, inter-related, goals that we want to influence:

  • Widespread adoption of the Safe System, and significant progress towards the 2030 SDG target to halve road traffic death and serious injury;
  • Safe and healthy journeys to and from school for every child, integral for safe roads, clean air and climate action;
  • Achieving WHO clean air guidelines for urban areas;
  • Accelerated transition to low/zero carbon mobility, achieving Global Fuel Economy Initiative targets;
  • Safe, sustainable and accessible motor sport;
  • Sustainable and equitable funding for safe roads, air quality and adolescent wellbeing.

Some principles underlay the development of the detailed strategy to achieve these goals:

A social justice agenda

We work on global policy agendas where the quality of state regulation and the attitude towards the poorest and most vulnerable is a matter of life or death. Whether it is highway infrastructure knowingly built without consideration or protection for pedestrians, cars deliberately designed without crumple zones or airbags, or governments turning a blind eye to dangerous levels of diesel pollution, the result is thousands of lives being lost every day on the world’s roads, and millions of children walking or being driven to school breathing carcinogenic air.

There are technical solutions to many of the issues we work on, but to be truly effective we can’t ignore the underlying political issues of social justice, health and economic inequality, land and resource allocation, and civil rights. For too long society has accepted a ‘blame the victim’ culture which reduces road traffic injury to the level of an individual mistake. This lets leaders off the hook, allowing them to point fingers at a thousand accomplices without accepting responsibility for structural, often historic, injustices and failures of policy. It allows the media to cover road collisions as ‘accidents’, rather than the consequence of institutional failure. Evidence shows that countries or cities which go beyond the technocratic jargon to root the case for action in the language of human rights, can build a stronger, more coherent and more sustainable and defendable programme of action.

A social justice and human rights-based approach is at the core of the FIA High Level Panel’s new ‘values’ advocacy approach to road safety. It has defined our Child Health Initiative’s research on children, poverty and road injury and on the unequal impact of air pollution. It has motivated our influential gender research, examining women’s attitudes to and experiences of public transport. And it has led us to commission ground breaking political economy research to understand the political barriers preventing effective implementation of safe and sustainable urban transport. The policy analysis of social equity that imbues our work is an element we bring to our coalitions, partnerships and campaigns. It also provides a common thread tying our issues to many strands of the UN’s 2030 Agenda in this Decade of Action for the Sustainable Development Goals.

Partnership first

The FIA Foundation is a relatively small philanthropy (by staff numbers and annual expenditure). We will only make a real contribution in partnership with others, and particularly by finding and operating at the sweet spot where small investments can relay significant policy change. Fortunately, our existing suite of initiatives and partnerships do this well, and we are constantly developing stronger working relationships with other philanthropic donors in our fields which will ensure our funding is deployed in a context which encourages collaboration and leveraging, rather than duplicative spending.

Our partnerships work well because the Foundation pools sovereignty and plays to the strengths of various partners, many of which are better known and have a greater political and/or technical heft than we do. Our coordination role, and guiding the objectives of these alliances, is more effective because we operate as one partner amongst many.

We are rooted in motor sport

Since 2002 the FIA Foundation has funded much of the significant life-saving and injury-reducing motor sport safety research undertaken by or on behalf of the FIA, as the world governing body for motor sport. The recent introduction of a simulation modelling facility within the FIA research group (THUMS) dedicated to crash investigation and motor sport safety research will continue to enhance understanding of the causes and finding solutions to prevent death and serious injury. Critically important interventions have included high speed barrier research, wheel tethers, frontal and side impact protection, biometric crash data, and the Halo. Diverse projects are underway such as development of advanced racing seats to positionally control the occupant of a vehicle in a crash, review and improvement of the in-service frontal head restraint devices, advance protective windscreens, and fire extinguisher development for open cockpit cars.

Motor sport is also showing itself a proving ground for environmental technologies, providing technical and thought leadership, and serving as an effective ambassador for raising public awareness about environmental and climate solutions. Ensuring safe, sustainable and accessible motor sport is a political and moral priority for the FIA, it also underpins the FIA and the Foundation’s credibility in the wider areas of our road safety advocacy and programming.

Science and data matter

Substance is derived from scientifically designed and measured action, and ultimately from proven and peer-reviewed achievement. Our expert partnerships are data-led and responsive to science. The best of our programmatic partners aim for peer review to independently validate their work, recognising it is the key to unlocking academic respect, and securing wider endorsement and financial backing including from blue chip donors. All of our programmatic road safety expenditure must be Safe System compliant; all of our programme expenditure must be deployed within a monitoring and evaluation framework which allows for objective assessment and includes a baseline from which to measure progress; all of our advocacy expenditure must be based on a clear theory of change and specific expected policy outcomes against which effectiveness will be judged.

Advocacy is our focus

To complement what others in the field are doing, the Foundation should focus in on what it does well that others are not doing or funding. Most sustainable mobility funding is either heavily programmatic or focused on applied research: there is little time, space or funding available for advocacy, campaigning and other policy communication. In the road safety sphere we would argue that this in part explains the overall lack of progress the movement has made: the nuts and bolts of ‘lobbying’ (for want of a better word) is not being undertaken in anything like the sustained way it needs to be and the political economy of issue prioritisation and resource allocation is neglected. Vital decisions happen at various strata, and while the Foundation can and does seek to influence the global conversation, local decisions, in the ministry of infrastructure or energy, or at city level, must be influenced locally by operators who have built political networks and understanding and are rooted in their polities.

At the global level, the Foundation is supporting two parallel efforts to mobilise resources for road traffic injury prevention. The FIA High Level Panel is working to make the ‘direct’ case for global road safety funding, both to governments and policy institutions and to the private sector. This effort has seen the establishment of the UN Road Safety Fund with some support from governments. It is also promoting corporate sector giving. In parallel, the Foundation is working through the Child Health Initiative to embed road safety as part of the new adolescent wellbeing agenda. Connecting to well established institutions, donors and NGOs, we have persuaded them to support a call for an Adolescent Summit as part of a wider push for increased funding for a range of neglected adolescent issues.

The strategic intention should be that these global efforts to influence financing streams, if successful, connect with and complement advocacy efforts at regional and national level to secure new financing and policy change. Some of our partners, who have been able to resource sufficiently to have a permanent footprint in their places of operation, and have built relationships of trust with decisionmakers, have demonstrated considerable success in this.

To deliver the child and youth ‘Manifesto 2030’ that we launched in Stockholm during the Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety, we are establishing an Advocacy Hub to identify and support promising opportunities to ‘move the needle’ on global, national or city level policy. The Foundation’s key initiatives and partners will be invited to feed into the Hub, and participate in its discussions, to ensure a holistic approach to advocacy interventions. We will allocate a tactical budget to enable timely support for opportunities that arise.

Match ambition with resources

The world is in flux. Even before COVID-19 several revolutions were in play: the ‘three mobility revolutions’ of automation, electrification and shared mobility; the climate revolution from schoolkids protesting in the streets to boardrooms divesting from fossil fuels; the rapid urbanisation and motorisation experienced in the Global South; and the demographic youth bulge, particularly dramatic in Africa, and its opposite in the industrialised West. The impact of the virus has shaken up the motor industry and the oil industry and is accelerating a reimagination of urban space. Trillions will be spent in stimulus to extract the world from – at best – the deepest depression since the 1930s. And we have ten years – a UN ‘Decade of Delivery’ – to try to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals. Meanwhile many development charities, dependent on government or public funding, are suffering budget cuts and reducing their work.

Now is the time to be ambitious and to use this flux to seek policy change: safer and cleaner vehicles; safer streets; clean air; a shift to low and zero carbon transport. To match this ambition we are expanding the Foundation’s grant programme for five years. As a charity we believe it is our responsibility to provide much needed funding during the post COVID-19 era to further the objects of the Foundation, often in areas where funding from other sources is not forthcoming.

Keep it simple

There is a tendency in the sustainable mobility world to complexity, it is almost a badge of honour. Endless navel-gazing conferences and processes discuss how the issues are so very multi-sectoral and complex. Is it any wonder we don’t cut through to new donors and allies? Is it any surprise that, time and again, ministers wriggle out of broadly drawn commitments? Yes, the issues are complex, and yes, they do require multi-agency action. But the top line solutions and messages have to be simple and motivating, to engage a sense of common purpose and bring political will to the table.

At the heart of our Strategy 2030 is a simple but powerful vision: every child should be able to walk in safety and in health on their streets. This vision can unify the work of our partners and build broader alliances.

As the Foundation moves to implement our new strategy from 2021 we will be announcing new and renewed partnerships, and working to build on proven evidence and success.