The opening panel at the Alcantara dialogues with speakers from the worlds of fashion, architecture, production, government and international development. Photograph: Connect4Climate/Leigh Vogel
Climate change is a pressing issue. Everyone knows that, certainly the development community and they don't need to be reminded of it. What they do need reminding of is that no one group can possibly solve this problem.
Strategic collaborations around climate change issues and action are essential. As World Bank president Jim Yong Kim said recently: "To deliver bold solutions on climate change, we need to listen to and engage broader and more diverse audiences." This is what the Connect4Climate (C4C) team has set out to do since the program began in 2011.
C4C is a global partnership program dedicated to climate change and supported by the World Bank, Italy's environment ministry and the Global Environment Facility (GEF). We operate as a coalition of more than 150 knowledge partners ranging from major UN agencies to academic institutions to media organizations and NGOs.
Our aim is to convene different organizations, groups and individuals who wouldn't normally speak to one another, around the table to talk about climate change. The first audience we had to convince of the merits of building relationships and networks outside of those which seem immediately relevant, was our own within the World Bank.
To initiate constructive conversations about climate change, we had to admit that creative ideas do not only come from economists. And unlike some of the prevailing structures within development, we needed to create an open platform that is genuinely equal. C4C thus was made a coalition, not a World Bank dominated initiative.
C4C has worked with many disparate groups. Recently, we partnered with the first Italian carbon neutral private sector firm Alcantara and co-hosted a series of panel discussions on sustainability featuring high-profile individuals from architecture, design, fashion, social advocacy, corporate social responsibility, entertainment, and the arts. Some of the 300,000 people who attended Milan design week attended the debates and others followed the live stream or tweets. Milan was chosen to target the entertainment industry – to influence the influencers.
The Alcantara dialogues/Connect4Climate: re-think, redesign, renew discussion series has led to multiple creative projects. Here are a few lessons that are worth sharing from these experiences:
Partnership Across Sectors Calls for Humility
Whether we are trying to engage with small grassroots climate change groups or with leaders in fashion and architecture, it is important to be positive about the work of others. People are more open to hearing what part they have to play if they do not feel that they are being judged or patronized. We as development professionals must start by giving credit where credit is due and acknowledge the pressures that various organisations face within their own environments. At C4C, we have tried not to fixate on any organisation's past failures if we can see that they are keen to start taking steps in the right direction. We focus instead on empowering them so that they do the right thing.
Scaremongering Doesn't Help
We empower individuals and organizations by talking about small actions that lead to positive change. Giving people options make them feel empowered. That is not to say that the campaign organizations that impress upon us the urgency of the climate change situation – particularly for the world's poorest – shouldn't do what they do. We realize that our power lies in our ability to convene a diversity of players around a common cause. The idea is to not replicate any organization but acknowledge the value that all organizations can bring to the table. A more pragmatic approach is key to starting new conversations with new people.
Extensive Research is the Only Way to Find Out What Tools Work
Focusing simply on Twitter and Facebook would have meant limited reach in the developing world. In Africa, radio has been the most effective medium to get the climate change message out, and equally to hear back from communities. Even where internet connectivity isn't the dominant problem, there are other social networks that are used as our work with South Africa-based Mxit – Africa's largest social network with 50 million users across the continent has shown us. Few things just 'go viral', it takes research and hard work to understand your target audience.
In addition to running competitions that reward winners by giving them the opportunity to have their voices heard, we decided C4C needed to be a platform that pointed interested groups in the direction of existing knowledge, rather than replicating it. The question we are always asking ourselves is: 'what is it that we are missing?'
There are three prevailing truths that shape the work we do: the first is that there have been far too may COP summits. We are now heading toward COP19, without a binding global deal on climate. The second is that no one group has the silver bullet to address climate change. Lastly, no single organization has nearly enough resources to tackle the issue on their own.
What this means then is that we need a new way of thinking about and framing the climate change discourse. We have chosen to prioritize capacity building and creative cross-sector collaboration. If the Alcantara dialogues are anything to go by, more people care about the future of the planet than we give them credit for, and seemingly unusual suspects are willing to put time and resources into seeking solutions. These are small steps in the right direction, as we aim to inspire individuals and organizations from a wide range of disciplines to 're-think, redesign, and renew.'
This post first appeared in The Guardian.