The role of creative leadership for climate change mitigation

What can design do for landscapes?

I’m a creative and I’m a bit impatient. And somewhat optimistically frustrated. 

I want to do my bit to help solve the climate crisis, and I’ve met many similar minds. However, as a collective we can’t seem to get our ducks in a row and start collaborating consistently. There is a lot of effort getting sidetracked into dead ends.  

Over the past three years, I’ve met with global thought leaders, hard working farmers in developing countries, and everyone in between. I’ve worked with NGOs, nonprofits, and been part of an international network coming together to discuss what could be done. (Which is a lot) I’ve been largely working with a focus on “landscapes”, a fairly new term and yet not well known among laymen. In short, a landscape is an operational way for a defined bioregion to reach the SGDs. The ultimate goal is reaching resilient markets and regenerative natural systems under the umbrella of circular economy. 

We have deep insights into the right and the wrong paths. Skilled people and experienced organisations have identified the issues, challenges are validated. However, implementation of new initiatives are at best disjointed. What is the cause and why isn’t it done on a bigger scale?

It boils down to 3 things in my opinion: lack of funding, lack of proof of concept, and lack of deep innovation. Which is turning out to be a bit of the chicken and the egg situation. 


Financing

What are the new models of blended finance that support development at all stages? Who is willing to underwrite innovation for climate smart solutions in landscapes? Who are the daring investors willing to invest in long term complex portfolio deals in developing countries? 

The number of NGOs is on the incline while traditional financing is on the decline. Public funding is being cut and the numbers don’t add up at all. The competition for the decreasing amount of available funding is often causing fierce competition instead of collaboration between NGOs. 

The NGOs have a hard time catching up to the financial requirements of the private financial sectors. Most tied to public funding still operate within a traditional mindset of developing work, not innovation work. 


Proof of concept

Where have we seen a successful landscape that goes beyond restoring and regenerating natural systems, but also encompasses the human factors, stabilizing the local economy? How do we know the assumptions will work? That systemic market development will result in sustainable regions? We know design and systems thinking is a proven method to arrive at solutions that stick. We know developing communities, rewilding and restoring nature and improving supply chains works. Marrying these worlds is likely successful. We need to support the current initial projects that will lead the way for others. 


Deep innovation

The role of design and innovation is the missing piece in my opinion. Essentially it will cause landscapes to cultivate their business opportunities which is needed to attract the private finance sector. 

When you work in developing countries as a creative, all you see is opportunities everywhere.You feel the passion and the hard work of the people wanting to create change and you can see many paths to help enable that. To arrive at solid investment cases, you need to have solid innovation methods in place to make sure the highest potential is nurtured and developed. You want to jump in and inject ingenuity, invention and creativity to the initiatives. Which the design methods support. 


Next steps?

After spending considerable time in the field, lately in places such as Honduras, and after working in Africa and South America, I’m humbled to the challenges of development work.

People need to understand the immense effort that goes into making an initiative investment ready, especially from challenged context. If you see an investment ready deal, if you’re looking at a portfolio of impact deals coming out of a landscape, understand that 5 -10 years of on the ground cross-collaborative presence is a direct prerequisite for that to happen. This is traditionally underwritten by public funds, on a strictly donation for delivery on promise term. 


The really big take away

With an increase of money into early stage development, we can increase in capacity, including innovation profiles, which equals collapsing timelines and getting to results much faster. Many hands not only make light work, many clever brains and strong hearts in collaboration can rebuild entire societies. 

I believe we can shorten the time to investment ready considerably. I’ve taken a good number of corporate executives into the field and taught them how design research can help them align their business with a new audience. New opportunities are out there, many ripe for the picking. I have never failed to see the light bulb moments when people realise how impactful and rapid the process is. How quickly they connect to core opportunities they can direct new business to. “All“ it needs is a solid process of engagement and contextual interaction through design research methodologies, and human contact. 

The genius of the NGO work is the ability to create lasting relationships and build trust. With this level of access in place, it’s a shoe-in to start the process of deep innovation. 


It is time for building bridges. 

Do we need to define an enemy? I think we need to be ready to open up to everyone, be inclusive. Industrialisation has taken us here, finite resources have offered their power to catapult humans from riding horse and carriage into walking on the moon within one century. We owe a lot to industrious capitalism and it is now time to take the next step in our human evolution. Now we are smarter, not only intellectually but also emotionally. We could, if we wanted to, turn this around. It means readjusting power structures and it means leaving depleting processes behind. It means being inventive and collaborative. Giving way to the new, cross-collaborative creative sustainable solutions will help stabilise the planet. We know circular economy demands paradigm shifting, especially in how we see wealth distributed. Not to forget, a raise in consciousness also leads to larger community inclusion which in turn has immense benefits in societies. 

In my opinion, climate smart solutions should be at the center of every new initiative. I’d like to see us navigate from a compass of empathy and sound business acumen. 

Creatives who know how to navigate these processes, can truly help. I see and feel the hunger out there for placing creatives in the heart of development work. 

I’m in this for Mother Earth. I pulled the plug on commercial design work 3 years ago to use my powers for the wellbeing of the planet. I can’t stand suffering. Of nature, of wildlife, of people dealing with poverty, crime and climate disasters. 

I offer my creative services.  


Issun StudioComment