A memo for a new King: What would make the Monarchy relevant today?

Reactions to the lavish coronation of King Charles III have not been universally positive. This is unsurprising, given that people world-wide are struggling to meet their basic needs and experiencing the early-stage whip-end of climate change. Yet, the monarchy could be relevant in today’s world in 4 powerful ways –

1.     Hold business to account

Unfettered capitalism could be contained by the moderating influence of those with a long-term world view. Most CEO’s are incentivized on short-term gains. The monarchy looks to reign over multi-generations and holds a long-term interest in the sustainability of the country.

Using soft power to hold business to account over the long term allows time for the realisation of the positive effect of regenerative and intergenerational thinking. In addition, leveraging their own considerable asset base as a demonstrator, the Monarchy could look to disinvest, use shareholder power and actively invest into organisations that represent seeds of future prosperity.

Following on, the Kings relationship with Parliament could also serve the people should he use it to support regulation around long-term thinking for UK business and to help the UK step away from personal or embedded short-term interests.

King Charles does this already to some extent, through his support of business coalitions for change (e.g. We Mean Business), the Princes Trust and Duchy Organics. It would be powerful if this was further used as the lens across the Royals supply chain and asset base. Imagine if Buckingham Palace had undergone a green refurbishment? Or if the Kings financial interests were all invested in green, future-facing assets?

This should be core to his continued representation of Britain to prepare the country to survive post-Capitalism and to set it out as a beacon for other nations.

2.     Model reparations

The Crown, as head of the British Empire, benefitted unduly from both colonial excess and slavery. The Empire hollowed out vast swathes of the world for Britain’s benefit and much of the wealth of the Royal Family is based on this extractionism. The Empire detained vast swathes of population, set draconian laws or wiped-out whole populations to exercise control.

Many of these places have never fully recovered and are trapped into debilitating poverty and structural debt. This extractionism continues across the world as resources (e.g., rare earth minerals, oil, human capital, etc.) are taken from developing countries. It is particularly unpleasant where payment for these resources is linked to paying back structural debt.

Reparations are long overdue. King Charles has spoken out against slavery and is funding research into the Crowns role. He could change the fate of many of the countries that served his Empire by eradicating debt, developing structures to fund people out of poverty and lobby to change one-sided trade agreements.

At the very least he could right the wrong of colonial looting through returning the koh-i-noor diamond and other stolen trophies.

3.     Use convening power for good

Not many would refuse an invitation from the King of Britain. While this title still holds some cache, King Charles should use it to bring together different groups to further progressive aims. Given Britain’s role in the origination of the Palestine/Israel conflict, brokering peace there is a good place to start. Similarly, the King could also look to the UK’s buoyant weapon sector and its role in stimulating war across the world. A convening group here to curtail their activities to defence could also support world peace.

There is also a role to pull together coalitions of the businesses that currently make up both the bulk of tax revenue for UK Plc. – and have a disproportionate influence on climate emissions. These are oil & gas and financial services. As a long-term leader for Britain, he could influence them to create transition plans towards a cleaner, more equitable future.

4.     Shift narratives

In relation to the Monarchy, we are not consumers but citizens. This is a welcome reframing of our role as beings with inherent value vs market value. A reframe could enable us to step out of the individualism and separation that characterises this late stage of capitalism and find more meaningful ways to live as connected contributors to society.

There are few institutions with the wealth and reach of the British Monarchy. King Charles can make a considerable difference to the lives of people today and to future generations by deftly wielding his assets and influence. 

Mind the gap: Is innovation the missing ingredient in your sustainability strategy?

Awash with good sustainability intentions – but is that enough? here is a brief user guide to innovation for more profound (and potentially profitable) change.

Call it ESG, regeneration or just good sensible business – this is sustainability’s time to step into the limelight. After cowering behind risk in the back row of any agenda, it is now being allocated a front-seat right next to strategy, by forward-thinking businesses. And that is quite right! Because in this time of escalating environmental and social crisis sustainability will create the conditions for business to survive.

Maybe. Because business won’t survive if it sees sustainability as an add-on to its existing operations. Sure, it will get part of the way there to use this as a risk-lens to interrogate where business has gaps. But filling those gaps isn’t enough. At the least we need a leap of imagination to achieve high standards set for carbon reduction, etc. and – to truly reap the transition rewards – we need to create a new landscape. This means using sustainability as a lens to unleash human ingenuity. To redesign the way business operates – and, in the process – rethink what we value.

This means step back! Step back from a primary focus on the tools of sustainability – including ESG reporting, circular economy, materiality, and SDG’s. Look at the whole picture and work out how to strategically shift to take advantage of an emerging paradigm of a world operating within environmental constraints.

Most of all it means invest in innovation. It is only innovation that will close the gap between where we are now and where the world needs to move towards. Recycling, renegotiating, and rearranging the deck can help an organisation move some way towards a new future, but it won’t do enough to repurpose it for a changing world. The gap is real.

The word innovation can be fluffy for some and feared by others. For us, in this context and this time and for business, it means this:

+ Design a radical strategy:

What does your business need to do and be to at the least remain relevant and preferably benefit in the changing world? How do you put purpose at its core to ensure active alignment of people and possibility to strategy? Can you be bold enough to set an agenda that changes your sector? Can you tell a different story of possibility?

There are some excellent examples of organisations repurposing themselves for a better future. Phillip Morris has performed a pivot on a new-found purpose to turn away from traditional cigarettes, Veolia has reframed its relationship to waste to see it as a resource, Umicore has shifted from extractive mining to processing existing sources. These are all commercial pivots which align them to new world values and opportunities. All will help them build capabilities to compete and resilience to survive.

Recently we worked with property developers to bring together waste, energy and food production to positively shift social outcomes for a region.  We use systems change theory, reinvention methodologies and future valuation models to support business in identifying and understanding valuable options.

+ Invest in innovation:

How far will your business as usual get you towards your goals? Do you have sufficient internal innovation capability? Can you secure funds or use innovative funding mechanisms to support the transformation? Can innovation processes and governance create a safe zone to unite your organisation towards new outcomes?

A thoughtfully designed co-innovation process allowed disparate parts of Interface to come together to meet a shared innovation investment agenda. It showed gaps, overlaps, and united the governance structure to objectively address investment towards a shared strategic direction.  It highlighted resources and capabilities needed to meet strategy. It formed a testing ground for strengthening relationships, influencing perception and building capabilities required to grow the company.

We worked closely with Interface to put this programme into place. We co-defined a simple and effective innovation investment programme using models, structures, and processes from traditional asset investment.

+ Create fertile ground:

How do you effectively engage employees for change? How do you collect and manage ideas generated by employees? How do you find internal entrepreneurs and provide them with tools to support change?

Radical strategy done right can act as an enormous booster for employee engagement. But this will wane unless there is active engagement in co-creating the sustainability journey.  This might be about shifting mindsets through leadership development programmes (and through She Leads Change we’ve worked with Pearson, Nesta, Ellen McArthur and others to build perspectives and capabilities for the future). It may be through two-way communication e.g. creating internal dialogue circles which allow new concepts to be socialised (see xxx). It may be an ambitious programme, like the SABMiller Prosper campaign to uncover internal entrepreneurs globally, give them visibility and resources to be the change from within. It might be through a variety of mission driver sprints to stimulate and create the future.

Having run these and other programmes, it is clear, that any outcome is only as powerful as the degree to which people are brought with on the change journey. Sustainability is a strong rallying cry to engage people across the business to contribute to fresh thinking.

+ Seed generative collaboration:

Where can you work with others to achieve more? Can the multiple parties work together to create a systemic response? What ripple effect could you cause in your sector or beyond? Can you support the formalising of the sustainability agenda through collaboration? Where are cross-organisational conversations needed to promote widespread change?

AB Inbev, Coca-Cola Company, Colgate-Palmolive Company and Unilever are part of a 100+ Accelerator to fund and pilot sustainable innovation in supply chains. In its first three cohorts, the 100+ Accelerator has worked with 70 startups in over 20 countries supporting entrepreneurs to solve sustainability challenges. M&S has put collaboration at the centre of it’s sustainability strategy, convening the sector to solve problems that effect more than one organisation, e.g. they ae a founding member of Ethical Trading Initiative, Supplier Ethical Data Exchange (Sedex), Food Network for Ethical Trade (FNET).

We work with multi-stakeholder facilitation techniques including Deep Democracy and World Cafes to surface challenge, foster collaboration and spark ingenuity. This was powerful in supporting the Body Shop, H&M, Estee Lauder and others to seed the idea of a cosmetics collaboration for sustainability. We saw systemic change by bringing together DE&I individuals into a collective impact training programme through She Leads Change. We worked with the Climate Finance Accelerator to bring together governments, funding and climate projects to overcome barriers to investment in climate change.

If you are wanting to not only meet your goals but rethink how you can do this in ways that exponentially increase your business value – please do get in touch. Innovation is the answer.

Just listen.

Among the well-researched high-tech, complex or expensive sustainability solutions suggested by executives on a prestigious development programme, an audacious idea stood out. One person suggested their organisation invest in dialogue circles.

This idea doesn’t come with a huge price tag, it doesn’t necessarily attract attention in a corporate brochure or say to the world ‘look at us lead’ – but it is a powerful tool to transform, align and connect. I’d suggest listening is perhaps the most powerful tool organisations can and should be using to realign and reinvigorate their workforces – to address uncertainty, create a future-facing agenda and to engage employees.

We’ve had a lot of experience with listening at She Leads Change (https://sheleadschange.org/). Our award-winning leadership programme uses structured dialogue as part of every interaction. We have used dialogue for:

  • A group of diverse C-suite professionals to assess and grow their leadership potential by exploring critical topics together, including setting boundaries, the role of play and managing change.
  • A global not for profit organisation wanting to shift internal culture towards a more beneficiary-centred approach, to help each person understand the limits of their individual paradigms and create a more collective understanding of the world.
  • Women from a progressive global publishing business to support them stepping into leadership by exploring together how to expand their self-belief, navigate relationships, create impact and build resilience.
  • A large group of sustainability practitioners from around the world to collaborate and explore better ways of addressing the climate crisis during COP through investigating their relationship with time, empathy and nature.

We have learned 4 things are imperative to the success of this work:

  1. Clarity of objectives: Dialogues need to be expertly structured against specific aims. It is not enough to put people in a room and hope for the best! For example, if the primary objective is team cohesion all the activities and questions should be directed into this objective. Holding this at the centre of the dialogues allows some flexibility – but also a coherent outcome.
  2. Depth of conversation: Dialogue is meaningless unless it comes from the heart. To ‘go there’ people need to feel safe. We embed this into our dialogue programmes in two ways – first we work on the psychological safety of each participant and second we very carefully structure our agendas.
  • Psychological safety occurs when each person feels able to be themselves and is created by instilling trust. We do this through setting the tone – sharing from the heart ourselves, recognising and engaging each individual and listening and responding with respect.
  • Our agendas take the group through a deepening-process of examining their own understanding, letting go, getting clarity, exploring possibility and integrating their learning. Each part of the agenda is supported by non-traditional learning methods to engage people fully e.g. somatic learning, poetry, games and stories.

3. Appreciation of diversity: Our most successful dialogues occur when we can lift people into a new and better shared reality. To do this we need to bring in diversity. We do this in three key ways:

  • First we design our programmes to respond to the diverse needs in the room – how people best like to learn and the varying strengths and weaknesses of participants.
  • Second we acknowledge, appreciate and give direct permission for the diversity in the room to surface. This could be gender, age or race but also includes non-visible aspects of diversity e.g. preferred ways of interacting, cultural world-views, etc.
  • Third we actively bring in different perspectives – through introducing people from outside the organisation or bringing in innovation methodologies e.g. future-thinking. We’ve done this through inviting people from different geographies, different sectors or through creating an exhibition showcasing futuristic products/services around the dialogues.

4. Plan for outcomes: Any organisation running dialogues needs to have a clear route for all that surfaces during these dialogues – both good and bad. While dialogue can have value in and of itself, participants generally want to know ‘what next’. They will need to know how their ideas will be used or how their new-found relationships or ways of working will be protected or expanded in the traditional organisation. There needs to be a way of handling unexpected outcomes e.g. the group who thought the sustainability plan was not progressive enough…

It is attractive to reach out for the next best thing (e.g. AI, big data, vertical farming) or to erect a big organisational banner (e.g. Net Zero) – and these things are worth exploring. However, if you really want to tap into the potential of your people, if you really want to create lasting impact and an organisation that is resilient to knocks – try listening. Listening will surface fresh ideas, socialise new ways of working and create stronger internal connections. Listen.

If you want to know more about the power of this simple tool to transform your organisation, please do get in touch with us on hello@sheleadschange.org.

Be bolder than brand

What makes a sustainability initiative good? This list of ‘Most innovative corporate social responsibility initiatives’ from Fast Company was set-out because they are ‘reshaping industries and culture’. Except they aren’t.

The initiatives listed will positively impact specific topics (e.g. inclusivity), local areas (i.e. USA) or meet emerging client needs (e.g. climate calculators). All of them will be positive for the organisation brand and help employees feel good. And to some extent they might give fresh perspectives to industry and influence USA culture. But none of them will achieve the degree of change necessary to meet the challenges of climate change, resource constraints and an inequitable world.

To truly reshape industries and culture – business needs to commit beyond ideas that are good things to support brand image. It needs to realign its strategy, purpose and operating model to a new planetary reality. This is not only important for meeting the challenges facing humanity but for the longer term relevance of the organisation.

For example, Microsoft is one of the ‘Top Ten’ for its investment into providing a data set on disability. This is is an excellent and necessary initiative. However, with all of its resources and reach – what could Microsoft do to radically impact the way we humans do business? How could it shape its organisation to provide solutions for a world that needs to operate within natural boundaries and support social justice?

Microsoft could shift the way money flows out of poor communities by rejigging its business model. It could focus its organisation on developing tools that serve the planet by shifting is purpose. It could lead the tech sector into longer-term relevance by reimaging itself as a social change organisation and becoming a B-corp. These would really reshape the technology industry and change culture.

To have significant impact and long-term relevance, brand enhancing initiatives are not enough. It is in the interests of organisations and the people within them to change their version of doing business to align to a vision of a more just, sustainable world.


A view of under-representation at COP26: When you’re not invited to the party – hold your own?

As the UK Climate Conference COP26 starts, our hope for progress against the climate challenge is dented by the lack of participant diversity. The campaign organisation She Changes Climate, says that only 2 in 12 senior participants at COP are women. As an innovation-driven organisation, we know that it is so much more difficult to come up with fresh solutions using homogenous ways of doing and being. We are asking “What could be possible if we took alternate approaches to exploring climate possibilities?”

“…it is proposed that a form of free dialogue may well be one of the most effective ways of investigating the crisis which faces society, and indeed the whole of human nature and consciousness today” David Bohm

In a new dialogue series She Leads Change will offer an opportunity for a more diverse approach. Together, we will view the climate challenge through different lenses. These are lenses that are often associated with the feminine and many indigenous cultures. In this beautifully curated 3-part series, you will be able to step-away from the figures, the apocalyptic perspective and bring in empathy, deep time and love of nature.

Everyone is welcome. Come, speak, listen and lets find a that beautiful world we know is possible. Together.

This is an opportunity to calibrate our understanding of leadership against one of the most important issues facing humanity, at a time when it is high on the global and organisational agenda. A bonus is the session structure – curated dialogue is a great technique to explore difficult topics – and this will have professional application.

The first conversation is on Monday 8th November 2021 from 4-6pm (GMT). Follow-up conversations are 29th November and 13th December.

We look forward to hearing your voice!

Registration is essential, contribution is optional: RSVP here

We thank Reboot the Future, and She Changes Climate and 6heads for their support in this initiative.

More on the issue – see Bonnie Chui’s great article here.

In Pursuit of Purpose

In my line of work the buzzword for the past few years has been ‘purpose’. Whether its large companies re-framing their sustainability strategy around purpose, recruiters looking for a “purpose fit” for graduates or individuals stepping forward to declare their ‘reason for being’ –  the word purpose is everywhere. Purpose and happiness have been presented as inextricably intertwined. It is supported by the rise of positive psychology, by research on millennial’s that states “young people want more than a pay check and a job title”. Its importance has been further reinforced by leading thinkers like Victor Frankl and the seminal book ‘Man’s search for meaning’ and popular writers like Simon Sinek and his “Start with why”.

I work with leaders for positive social and environmental transformation. Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that this need for purpose is creating considerable anxiety. “But what am I here for…?” one person asked. Another said, “I love my work, but it is not aligned to my purpose in the world – how do I change this” and still another bemoaned her “lack of a clear purpose”. All these people feel guilty, restless, disappointed or lost for not having a clear purpose to direct their lives.

I support the overall societal goal to contribute and believe we all have a role as citizens to work towards a better society. And yes, people can be happier when they are able to see the relevance of their life and work with the context of a grander design. However, I’m starting to question the centrality of the ‘purpose’ conversation. Let’s scratch beneath this ubiquitous word…

purposeSometimes the need to find a purpose is an inner cry to find a reason to exist. It’s a sneaky cover-up for that old, rough feeling of ‘not being enough’. In this case it’s often a way of externalising inner need instead of addressing the root cause. Yet, anyone who has truly found purpose understands that it can only come from a deep sense of and understanding of ‘self’. Perhaps Socrates had it right when he said that to ‘Know Thyself’ is the route to all wisdom. So, start with who you are not why you exist.

At its worst this push to find purpose can play into the idea that we are only on this planet to serve and that our value is measured solely by our value to others. It’s a mirror of the current socio-economic systems that measures the value of humans against contribution to GDP, sets meaning top-down and sees people as homogenous, interchangeable units. This is a nasty trap both because it erodes the basis of our humanity and because it sets the value of a human life as extrinsic. A healthier alternative is to believe that the only thing we are compelled to do is live each day fully and gracefully, in gratitude for our place here on earth and with no pressure to focus our energy on finding any additional meaning. Surely people can be happy and feel satisfied with their life simply by getting up each day and going for a walk, hugging someone they care about, being kind and watching the clouds go by? The catch-all umbrella of ‘purpose’ mimics the existing system of control by creating a collective aspiration that is outside of individual needs, aspirations, talents and, therefore, humanity. Tom Mansfield, a fascinating thinker, comments “Perhaps we cannot reconcile our present individual fulfilment with systems level purpose until we have an economic paradigm that forces the system to work for individuals not the other way around to value the quality of our subjective, sensorial present. A collective purpose may emerge from a society predicated on the enrichment of each individuals sensorial present rather and the pursuit of extrinsic goals.” Perhaps he is right.

The idea of a single purpose may also be misleading. As we journey through life new vistas are revealed and, with that, our purpose may shift and expand. Trying too hard to cling to an outmoded world-view may stop us from growing and learning. Perhaps the ‘purpose’ of life is only to grow and learn our way through and into different ways of unfolding our unique talents against emergent positive societal needs.

Lastly, the idea of purpose sets a longer time frame on our happiness. It shifts our focus from enjoying the present to a loftier future time. Yet, it is precisely in the moment that we create meaning for ourselves. By being truly present in the moment we connect better with ourselves and others – two potential sources of joy!

Perhaps then, for those millions who can’t state their purpose, there is a softer way to move toward it. They can start by asking themselves what gives them meaning and then each day noticing those things that make them feel more fulfilled.  By doing more of the things that deepen their experience of being, they are consciously building a life that grows around both knowing themselves and, ultimately, serving a higher collective purpose.

With gratitude to Tom Mansfield and Gita Parihar for their thoughts on this topic.

What do you think…? 

Sensemaking: For system change to succeed, someone has to risk going first…

I’ve been lucky enough to work with the wonderful Dina Epifanova, Head of Sustainability at Tetra Pak and her team in Moscow. Here she shares a how system change tools and mind-sets are giving her more muscle where it matters.

Why is system change valuable to you?

If you want to make a real step change in sustainability, addressing complex social and economic issues, you need to have a strategic mindset and work cross-borders. Influencing factors in our globalizing world goes far beyond a local or isolated context. To succeed in this environment, we need to adopt and use a systematic approach in our daily routine.

When you use system change frameworks, you harness greater potential and leverage to reshape the things of concern. To give an example, I applied the framework of ‘Landscape, Regime and Niche’ levels of system change to our recycling development challenge. This brought new perspectives: for instance, at the landscape level, we looked at whether the communities were ready to implement separate waste collection. Earlier, we had considered it as a communications task to engage people with new ways of treating their household waste: challenging and potentially expensive in terms of effort and investment, but still manageable. With the ‘landscape level’ lens, we realized it is not that simple: you need to consider whether communities wish to change their habits. This is not a manageable object, but a variable one, that influences and even determines the probability of your success in change management here. So, now, when analyzing where we should start deploying separate waste collection in Moscow, we compare the districts, based on their communities’ readiness to sort out waste. We have some data, available from waste management companies, that reveals where there is a lot of potential, due to the social characteristics of the given population, that unexpectedly have huge amplitude in one and the same city. 

I also had an unexpected and valuable insight: just how much attention a system changer should ideally pay to his own role and personal development as the driver of the change. This has brought me to another level of self-reflection and system change capability. I’ve also found this useful for other spheres, such as self life-coaching. 

I believe corporates should start a more decisive walk towards this kind of knowledge and skills.

How else does system change feature in your work today? 

Being Head of Sustainability at Tetra Pak, I face system challenges in three major areas: climate change commitments, Forest Stewardship Council-certification deployment, and post-consumer waste recycling. For all of these challenges, we can no longer afford to create ‘faster horses’ – to refer to Henry Ford’s metaphor: we absolutely need new ways of moving forward.


 How does Tetra Pak approach system change?

At Tetra Pak, we realise very well that the modern world is changing rapidly, and we have consciously focused on change management capabilities and tools. System change complements this approach, and is crucial to meeting our sustainability goals.

The first thing on the agenda today is to actively search for the right allies to drive environmental issues at full speed. Our indisputable benefit here is our long-term approach, which has been always in the company DNA. Our Scandinavian corporate culture complements our sustainability efforts. We are ready to lead the process, rather than wait for requests from our customers or consumers. To achieve success in any systemic change, someone needs to take a risk and become a moving force to lead the process of change.

 What is the appetite for system change in the regions where you work?

The level of societal maturity affects the appetite and need for system change and a sustainability agenda. I work in the markets of Eastern Europe, Caucasus and Central Asia. Here, a company seeking to advance sustainability faces two major challenges. One is that local markets and infrastructure are not yet at the level of the advanced consumer when it comes to sustainability. A buyer can face frustrations when wanting to find out if a carton is FSC-certified or not, or find themselves pushing for separate waste collection.

On the other hand, now is a great time to push for this kind of change in the region, as most of these countries find themselves currently in big shifts. This means consumer mindsets are moving and prepared for the change, with sustainability no exception. 

 How ready do you feel various countries in the region are to embrace system change?

All countries here are now going through major historical system changes, in the scale of decades or even centuries. This, on the one hand, makes the societies quite adapted and ready for changes, but on the other, if recent changes were too painful, it can have an opposite effect, resulting in huge demand for stability.

We will see, for instance, in Ukraine – a country of believers in European values and political practices – readiness for change is high. In Russia, on the other hand, the changes that the country has gone through in the recent decades were so painful that the majority of the population is keen to keep stability.

The paradox is that years of rather short-term decisions, especially in economics, have brought Russia to the point where system change is critically needed to keep any equilibrium: without it, wider changes will inevitably catch the country unprepared.

 What ways forward do you see for Russia? 

Even though the appetite for system change here is the lowest in the region discussed, you can nevertheless easily find two powerful sources of system change here. The first is the government: the political elite understands clearly the need for change – satellites fall down, weapons are not that good, economic reserve has been used and eaten, political ideas have up short too: take Syria for instance. As in Mikhail Korostikov’s “honey-badger doctrine” the current political strategy is very effective, but works for survival, not for growth.

The good news is that the government puts this need for change into action. One example is appointing a 35-year-old Maxim Oreshkin to be the Minister of Economic Development, with a personal assignment from Mr. Putin to implement effective KPI-based frameworks to raise the professional level of management and, if successful, to scale the practice to other ministries.

Another source of system change in Russia is the new generation, which hasn’t the trauma of the 1990s’ hunger and criminal years, and which now lives in the completely new reality of the digital world, with no sense of limitations. Any serious barrier that they will face later will be absolutely not understandable and not acceptable to them! These young and free-mind people will be big change drivers: we only need to wait some 10-15 years.

As Vladimir Trofimchuk, Trade Policy Department Consultant at Eurasian Economic Commission, puts it: each country of the former Soviet Union block is now shaping its national identity and has to refresh its understanding of its political allies. All of them are facing now changes in politics, economics and even religion (for instance, the rise of Islam in Azerbaijan). This is creating a different appetite for system change, depending on the specific situation in a separate country. What the different countries have in common is that the whole region is today in tectonic system change process and this is a huge opportunity knocking.

Riddles, BS Bingo and Disruptive Innovation

Earlier this week I spent time at the Ellen McArthur Foundation on the Isle of Wight. Here I was interviewed by the wonderful Joe Iles as part of the Disruptive Innovation Festival.

Below, you’ll find thoughts on how to influence stakeholders, how to see differently, frameworks for change and examples of excellence.

Do you have any good business riddles to share?

More info on the Festival here.

Climate Finance Accelerator DAY 5: Financing the Future

On Friday, Government delegations from Nigeria, Colombia, and Mexico presented their climate finance propositions to a diverse group of investors, at the close of the week-long Climate Finance Accelerator.

These engaging read-outs of their learnings marked the culmination of 5 intense days where country delegations worked alongside the finance community to test and develop climate finance plans. The delegations were praised by Aziz Mekouar, from the Moroccan COP Presidency, for “showcasing leadership and forward thinking”, by taking part in this first Accelerator. The delegates themselves showed remarkable progress and cohesion – remarking on how impressed they were with the commitment of the financiers to supporting them in developing bankable pipeline.

The climate imperative for all stakeholders

Private sector, Governments and NGO’s reiterated that there is no alternative to action on climate change. Steve Waygood, our host from Aviva, spoke of climate change as a business imperative with Aviva committing to invest £500m annually in low-carbon infrastructure projects and actively diversifying out companies that are not responding to the climate agenda. Mr. Mekouar set the bar high “We shouldn’t speak of climate finance”, he said “all finance needs have a component of climate.”

The countries presented exciting opportunities but showed that there is no ‘cookie-cutter’ approach to financing, even across the same sectors, as each country’s context differed

Miguel Angel Gomez from the Columbia delegation had three key messages for his audience: Columbia has ambitious goals, the institutions necessary to deliver these goals are in place and there are bankable projects underpinning them. He presented a sustainable mobility plan for Bogota that, using the proposed Metro as the core, creates an extended proposition to increase climate impact by integrating with other modes of transport such as cycling. The $4bn capex required is proposed to be funded by a mix of trade finance and green bonds. Columbia overcame the issue of fragmented finance requirements in both energy efficiency and agriculture by proposing an ESCO structure and Climate Smart Ag fund, respectively, that would each aggregate smaller projects into more attractive / “mainstream” investments size-wise. The ag fund was worked out during the course of the CFA as the country delegation and financiers from BNP Paribas and Enclude looked for ways to move away from small, single, idiosyncratic projects likely to be dependent on grants, to more commercially sustainable structures. Colombia also identified $ several billion of further NDC related projects requiring finance, in just the transport, energy and agriculture sectors.




Giesela Meindez and Daniel Chacon-Airaya presented on behalf of the Mexico delegation. They focused on energy and transport, which together make up 50% of Mexico’s carbon emissions. An e-taxi pilot project to convert 2700 taxis in Mexico City (2% of fleet) and Colima (40% of fleet) was proposed. In addition, through clever structure to reallocate existing subsidies, devised during the CFA as a result of the team’s work with HSBC, a further project to provide solar for 25 million households and 4 million SMEs was put forward.


Olukayode Ashuolu from Nigeria’s central-bank sponsored agriculture guarantor NIRSAL, presented an electrifying speech on behalf of the Nigerian delegation. He spoke of his governments’ strong commitment to NDC-related projects, as they are vital for climate compatible development, diversification of the economy and economic and social inclusion. Nigeria’s initial NDC plan has outlined more than $142bn of investment.  Working wth Deutsche Bank during the CFA, they had identified  8 projects for immediate focus in the agriculture and energy sectors. cfa9

A statement by Ha Han Nguyen from the Vietnam delegation, who observed the weeks proceedings, confirmed her country’s eagerness for further future engagement in the CFA process, for which a funding package is now being sought.

All speakers remarked on the value of the Accelerator and the pre-London processes run in-country to bring together people who needed to be at the same table. In a panel, country representatives discussed their thoughts from the week’s proceedings. Some of these were:

  • “We [governments and financiers] speak different languages, but we can learn to understand each other”
  • “We need to enhance dialogue between the private and public sector at international, but also local levels, to know what is already happening inside the country [finance-wise] and to leverage that”

“There is a huge amount of focused work required to move from plan to projects to desired outcomes and results”

  • “Climate finance is still finance, and needs to manage risk and be linked to returns”
  • “We need access to international funding to enable us to pursue larger projects outside boundaries of local finance and to access other networks and knowhow”

The rigour and attention to detail of investment bankers is vital to successful climate projects

In a panel with the investment banks which had worked with the country teams, Tessa Tennant praised the bankers for their commitment to the process – even earning the kudos from one country delegation of “these bankers, they’re actually quite nice”! She spoke of the importance of having term sheets to act as ‘dictionaries’ between financiers and policymakers, to ensure everybody understands and can act on the spectrum of issues that need to be addressed to get projects over the transaction line.

Graham Smith from HSBC spoke of three considerations to access finance: ensure the rule of law is in place (i.e. contracts enforceable and protected), know your customer (clarify if the mandate allows for customer type and country risk, and ensure the right people are on board); and lastly, check that the project is ‘bullet-proof’ (i.e. practically workable in context).

Bankers spoke of their delight to discover that dialogue was constructive and friendly and were impressed by the interest of the delegations in unpicking what risk really meant. They were pleasantly surprised that their colleagues from other parts of their institutions were also interested in the opportunities and ready to get involved.  They saw the CFA as a ‘deal-flow network’ and all were keen to stay involved with this and future processes.

“Further, faster, together…”

Nick Nuttal from UN Climate Change summed up the main objective of the 5-day process: “The Paris agreement was like a shiny new concept car – looks incredible, but there’s as yet no engine under the bonnet. The CFA is helping to create that engine, and move the car from concept to the road”. His final words rang true for the audience: “This”, he said “is where the future is…”

Want to learn more about what went on at #CFA17? Sign up for our ‘NDC Financing Made Easy‘ webinar, which will expand on the outcomes and teachings, read our twitter feed and previous blog posts. 


Climate Finance Accelerator Day 3 and 4: Navigating the obstacles

Days 3 and 4 of the innovative Climate Finance Accelerator, brought countries and financiers together to co-create solutions to meet climate commitments. This is the third in this series, following the process and highlighting insights from the day. 

“I’m learning to be flexible”, said a senior country delegate on Wednesday, “to get on board and not give up – to jump, to hide, to move around obstacles – make it happen, and keep going until it’s done”. 

All participants are showing entrepreneurial grit and determination as they begin to align agendas, reframe projects as bankable solutions and develop workarounds to challenging contexts.

Plenary discussions focused on four challenge areas:

  1. Aligning interests, priorities and ways of working

Policy-makers and financiers have different mandates, related accountabilities and ways of operating. As one person pointed out “it’s like getting people speaking only Spanish to understand those speaking only Chinese”.

This is further complicated by the fact that within government institutions and across different parts of the finance community objectives differ and ‘green’ and ‘climate’ are understood differently.

A delegate from the public sector spoke of the insight that behind every question asked by the finance expert was a set of measures and the answer given is rated objectively in terms of commercial return. Once this was understood and the questions and underpinning framework made clear, the projects could be better framed against these terms.

A discussion on linking hard currency to local cash flow helped another group realise the value of local banks to fund local solutions. This group pointed out that even if there is good dialogue, it’s important not to lose focus on independent goals and the results needed to get to the best solution for end-beneficiaries.

A bemused banker spoke of trying to get a delegation to vote to prioritise projects – only to realise that they operate on consensus. Not only are people ‘speaking different languages’, often they don’t realise different cultures exist. However, it was acknowledged that “No single person or entity has all the knowledge needed to complete a deal. Everyone has a role to play”.

  1. Scoping the opportunity

The discussion within the groups looked at how to understand the opportunity beyond financing a single project to: extend impact (e.g. by taking a regional view), leverage grant funding (by taking a longer term view of finance needs) and find finance for joined up solutions that address the problem in its entirety.

For some of the policy-makers, it was important to stretch projects to meet the scale of their ambition to maximise impact on NDC’s, and then work out how to finance this project. This meant understanding other sources of capital beyond project finance e.g. local funding, guarantees, etc.

A frustration was “how green is green enough?”  In many cases funding is needed for both the transition (e.g. LPG) not just destination (e.g. renewable) in order to shift systems and this was not always aligned to funding mandates.

  1. Funding set-up

Most funders are focussed on commercial returns from specific projects. However in order to get to this, there is an investment of time and resource and the need for capacity-building. A significant amount of work is required in order to find the data required to get funding. Time is required to engage all stakeholders – no matter how brilliant the projects. More work is required where no single policy champion exists to get support for opportunities through multiple government departments. Technical expertise and other resource is required to develop transition plans that contextualise projects over time.

There is a major need for specialist financial intermediation – people who have the structuring skills and investor networks to help project sponsors meet the needs and objectives of investors and get the deals done. In many markets this is not available except for very large projects and at high cost. “Lower end” intermediaries need to be developed both in number and capacity, and this will probably require concessional funding.

There is a potential role for Development Banks and Foundations to fill this gap.

  1. “Oiling the wheels”

Doing a deal is easier where clear policy signals exist that welcome the private sector and any investment made is respected and protected.

Further, it is easier to move projects forward where early success stories or precedents from other places can be shared to create an evidence base against relevant metrics (e.g. number of jobs) for the change.

On Thursday, the discussions started to coalesce as teams look beyond individual projects to how a financing plan for their NDC has a whole can be brought into shape.

Follow @Money4NDCs and #CFA17 on Twitter to stay up-to-date with the latest from the event.
Want to learn more about what goes on at CFA17? Sign up for our ‘NDC Financing Made Easy‘ webinar, which will expand on the outcomes and teachings.