A passionate coalition of scientists, indigenous leaders, Hollywood stars, and other Ocean champions are trying to persuade enough governments to vote against the granting of mining concessions. Their work is an inspirational example of how to “Make it Matter” when addressing complex issues.
How might Western culture give Nature the reverence it deserves?
“Orcas have inherent rights.” So proclaimed two US cities bordering the Salesh Sea where the last 73 southern-resident Orcas reside under threat from declining salmon and warming oceans.
This assertion includes the Orcas’ “right to life, autonomy, culture, free and safe passage, adequate food supply from naturally occurring sources, and freedom from conditions causing physical, emotional, or mental harm.”
This is the latest victory for advocates of the ‘Rights of Nature’. This concept argues that all living things have inalienable rights, just like humans (or indeed corporations), and these rights should be defended in law when threatened.
Last year, Wasafiri supported the Blue Climate Summit, held in Tahiti with the aim of accelerating ocean-based solutions to climate change. Whilst delegates came from all over the world, many were Polynesian and part of a profound Oceanic culture that spans from the Maori to the Hawaiians.
Polynesians revere the Ocean as an ancestor, and, like many indigenous cultures, attribute a spiritual status to all living things. Humans are to treat Nature with the same sense of honour and care that one would afford one’s Grandma. Why wouldn’t you? It is Nature that bestows us with water, food, oxygen, shelter, beauty, and joy.
In contrast, Western culture sees humans as having dominion over Nature, with the Oceans, Forests, and Soils as God-given riches for people to exploit. In almost every sentence, I embarrassed myself in front of Polynesians. I spoke of “natural capital”, “marine governance”, and “fish stocks”. These well-meaning terms only make sense if you are discussing Nature as yours to own or control. Even “sustainability” felt awkward, as if our only goal was to ensure living things were maintained at a minimum level to continue their usefulness to humans.
No wonder we are witnessing interlocking crises for the climate, biodiversity, soils, water, and oceans. We have forgotten our place.
In the words of Deen Sanders, Worimi man and co-author of an excellent new World Economic Forum report on indigenous knowledge and conservation, “My culture reminds us that the earth, the air, the water is not ours for the hoarding. Nature belongs to none of us. We belong to it.”
When tackling complex social or environmental issues, Systemcraft asks us what hidden assumptions or mindsets perpetuate the damaging dynamics. What are the informal incentives that mean we collectively continue to act in unhelpful ways?
We are often blind to these because they are the cultural norms and values in which we swim. It is only when we move beyond our usual circles, when we listen deeply to those with different lived experiences, that our own assumptions are revealed.
A third of the Earth’s territory is stewarded by indigenous people or held as common land, and 91% of these lands are in good or fair ecological condition – a statistic that embodies the kind of positive anomaly that systems leaders must look for when seeking a way out of a crisis.
Indigenous cultures have much to teach us about living within planetary boundaries; and repairing Western culture’s relationship with nature.
Adopting the “Rights of Nature” might work to embed indigenous wisdom within Western legal constructs. If the Orcas have a right to food, then the salmon need protecting, and for the salmon we need the rivers and forests protected, and so on. This might be one of many cultural changes that shifts our collective behaviours and choices.
Indigenous languages attribute personhood to Nature by using pronouns or capitalising all living things. How will you give Nature her due rights? She has a capital N after all. Like your Grandma, with a capital G.
Systemcraft is an applied framework to help leaders and organisations tackle complex problems. Wasafiri developed the approach by combining our real-world experience with a broad body of research and theory on complexity, systems, power, adaptive management, leadership, and social movements.
There are no problems more complex than the interlocking crises relating to climate, biodiversity, water, and other natural systems.
Designed to help you scale your impact, from 2 May 2023, The Climate & Nature Sprint is available for peer leaders around the world to come together to learn about a practical approach to tackling complex issues and put new insights, skills, and tools into action.
This 8-week course helps you answer, “What do I do next?” when you need to unlock system change. It will convene a cohort of up to 16 climate and nature leaders and includes four live interactive sessions and four modules of self-paced learning. Certification is available upon submission of a final assignment.
As 70% of the planet, the oceans remain vastly underappreciated in the world’s response to climate change.
The inaugural high-profile Summit taking place on May 14 – 20 2022, is convening leaders, experts, and activists to accelerate twenty projects that offer ocean-related solutions to climate issues.
Together, these projects promise a transformative impact on people, the ocean, and the planet. Many are mutually dependent on each other.
We cannot scale mangrove restoration without functioning carbon markets. The monitoring of deep-sea mining is empty without legal protections for the high seas. Island tourism will struggle to be net-zero without transitioning energy, food, and transport systems.
In recognition of these co-dependencies, the Summit will gather participants around three collective challenges. Each challenge asks how projects might together drive much larger transitions in favour of people, the planet, and the ocean.
Marine Governance for Healthier Oceans and Communities: How to better monitor and regulate against the unjust exploitation and pollution that damages both ocean health and human health?
Equitable Blue Carbon Finance: How to accelerate flows of capital into ocean-related mitigation and sequestration while accounting for co-benefits and trade-offs?
Blue Pathways to Net Zero Islands: How can islands pioneer the transition to net-zero economies?
A Wasafiri first; helping spearhead action on ocean and climate issues
Wasafiri’s own Ian Randall will be providing strategic support as Strategy Lead for the Blue Climate Initiative. Helping to ensure the collaboration across all the projects and partners delivers a greater impact than any could alone.
We are excited to be aboard for this bold journey into a healthier relationship between people, the planet, and the ocean.
Polynesia is a novel context for Wasafiri. Polynesian culture has a profound relationship with the Ocean, relating to it as a relative or ancestor, with all the reverence and respect that this implies. It is a striking contrast to Western culture’s relationship with nature as a resource for exploitation.
Donella Meadows, the matriarch of systems thinking, pushes us to ask deep questions about the mindset or paradigm out of which the system arises.
Listening to Polynesians it is clear we need to go beyond technical solutions to the damage that humans are doing to climate, land, and oceans; and seek a cultural renaissance that reconnects us to our interdependence with natural systems and their fundamental right to exist.
Tahiti may seem a long way to go for a climate conference, but we have so much to learn by being here.
The Summit is a program of the Blue Climate Initiative and is an endorsed action of the United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development
Images courtesy of Tetiaroa Society/Blue Climate Initiative
Our food systems must become more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and resilient. This is the imperative set by the United Nations Food Systems Summit taking place on 23 September 2021.
Food systems touch every aspect of human existence, affecting the health of our bodies, our environment, our economies, and our cultures. Every day, each person on the planet plays their part in nourishing humanity; and, within decades, we must feed nine billion people.
This endeavour is a miracle of human collaboration, and yet, in critical ways, we are failing. Too many are underfed, overfed or poorly fed. We are degrading vital natural capital and biodiversity. We are ill-prepared for shocks such as pandemics and a changing climate.
Poverty is a daily burden for so many who labour to provide our food. Over the last year, the Summit process has brought the world together to ask how we must collectively act to transform the way we produce, consume and think about food.
Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) constitute at least half the food system. Each country is different, but SMEs usually make up over 90% of businesses in the agri-food sector, create half the sector’s economic value, provide more than half its jobs, and handle more than half the food consumed. They are incredibly diverse, from bakeries to farm suppliers, coffee co-ops to digital start-ups. Some will grow exponentially to become renowned giants, but the vast majority are hidden heroes labouring to provide food from their niche in the food system.
SMEs must be at the heart of efforts to provide “Good Food for All”. Lift the lid on the food system, and SMEs are everywhere. Sector transformation is simply unimaginable without them. At the centre of SMEs are entrepreneurs, who together make billions of decisions that shape the future of food.
They are pioneers, innovators, and influencers. On a daily basis, they acutely feel the global tensions: how do we provide our end-consumers with affordable food, whilst ensuring it is nutritious, paying fair wages, maintaining our natural capital, and being ready for shocks?
On behalf of the United Nations, Wasafiri was contracted to ensure the needs and potential of SMEs were brought into the Summit process. We asked thousands of food SMEs and their expert supporters, “How to boost the role of SMEs in providing good food for all?” Their response, with input from 137 countries, was inspiring and compelling.
Food SMEs revealed themselves as quiet revolutionaries, working tirelessly to transform food systems in every corner of the planet. Listening carefully, we heard a shared vision for rebalanced food systems that sustain past efficiency gains, whilst no longer compromising nutrition, natural capital, equity, and resilience. Their stories tell of their collective commitment to drive positive change in multiple ways:
Integrating markets to reduce poverty and hunger. Creating opportunities that improve equity.
Innovating and scaling solutions for nutrition and sustainability.
Elevating resilience to shocks, through embedded yet agile business models.
Influencing to passionately shape the future of food.
SMEs are ready to reshape our food systems for the better, but this is a formidable challenge. They will only fulfil their potential when support systems, market incentives, power dynamics, and cultural norms shift in their favour. The ask by SMEs is for cross-sector actors to create conditions for purpose-driven SMEs to flourish.
Every country and value chain is different, and so are the constraints they present to SMEs. Hence, SMEs need the Food System Summit to catalyse action by coalitions working at national-level or within specific value chains. Listening to the SMEs in each discrete context will highlight priority actions to boost their contribution as change agents. Three pathways need considering when integrating food SMEs into the prioritisation, design and governance of efforts to transform food systems.
Pathway 1: Create a business ecosystem in which food SMEs thrive
The food sector is often burdensome for SMEs. Running a food SME is hard, and market elements are frequently wrong-sized for them. When food entrepreneurs have a business environment that gives them a fair chance to compete in the market, they then thrive to the benefit of consumers, producers, communities, nature, and investors.
Opportunities to act:
Reduce the cost of doing business by improving physical and digital infrastructure, regulations, and the rule of law.
Improve access to finance.
Ease SME graduation from the informal to the formal sector.
Leverage the power of large market actors.
Target business support at food SMEs.
Pathway 2: Incentivise businesses to provide “Good Food for All”
The best businesses are not always the most competitive, so they struggle to scale up. Most consumers currently prioritise price above all other factors, and good businesses cannot out-compete those who deliver their products whilst externalising their cost to public health, natural capital, or social equity. The food system will continue to fail us until these incentives change.
Opportunities to act:
Ensure prices reflect the true cost of food, while safeguarding affordability.
Create consumer demand for “good food”.
Fast-track innovative entrepreneurs.
Pathway 3: Increase the power of food SMEs within sector planning
Small businesses have quiet and isolated voices. Compared to government or large businesses, they are relatively underpowered in their ability to collectively influence decision-making, regulations, resource allocation, and cultural values within food systems. Only once power dynamics change can we expect to make progress on rebalancing food systems in favour of the SMEs pioneering good food for all.
Opportunities to act:
Elevate the voice of SMEs.
Structure SMEs into dynamic networks.
Plan and invest according to context-specific priorities.
These messages were presented by Wasafiri in the report “A Small Business Agenda” and in a session at the Pre-Summit that is available to watch.
The Summit convenes imminently. UN member states will share plans to forge better food systems. They are far more likely to achieve their worthy goals if they work in partnership with the small businesses that are already revolutionising our food day-in-day-out.