Wasafiri cocreated the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship’s Transforming through Trust report, which we are excited to announce was shared at Davos this week as the Foundation celebrates the values and achievements of three cohorts of awardees from 2019 to 2022.
What stood out for us was not just the impact that these change leaders have achieved, despite being amid a pandemic, but their ongoing commitment to supporting their organisations and others to work collectively, or differently, to tackle systemic issues.
I spoke with Dr François Bonnici, Director of the Schwab Foundation about his learnings from this period and, drawing also on insights from research writing his book The Systems Work of Social Change, his advice for organisations looking to lean into wider social change.
Reflecting on our conversation, and thinking about what we see in our work at Wasafiri, I’d suggest that organisations looking to contribute to achieving real change should consider the following:
Generate the change in the here and now
Social Innovation is generating new forms of what’s possible. In doing so, contributes to wider change through directly engaging with and unlocking one piece of the system it seeks to change.
Recognising social innovation as a form of activism means we can counter our frustration with the extent to which actors on the front lines are needed to fill gaps left by social inequality.
While social innovators are often delivering a service or specific intervention, this generation of alternatives coupled with a shifting of power dynamics and an increase in the agency of marginalised groups shifts the system at a deeper level.
Catalysing is more important than leading
Thinking like a movement while deploying the strengths of an organisation opens up the aims and methods by which organisations can contribute to wider change.
This can be especially helpful when trying to find the mode of working together and the value and contribution from different partners.
Through the work that we have done with the Schwab Foundation, we can see how relatively small organisations can be catalytic for larger organisations.
Perhaps thinking about smaller actors as distinct elements of a movement, and therefore more loosely aligned might more easily create a commonality of approach. It is certainly a way of grounding the well-known idea of thinking bigger than your own or clients’ success.
Pay attention to your current role
Organisations who want to bring about change must first consider how they benefit from the current system in order to engage wholeheartedly with the issues and collaborate successfully.
It is early in the journey to taking a systemic change approach. The institutional challenges of evolving from the twin lure of scale and a technical “silver bullet” fix remain.
However, the positive traction in ideas over the last three years, piqued by the pandemic, has invited more questioning by organisations about how they should contribute and what their best role is.
Building on this evolution in thought is one of the key contributions of organisations such as the Schwab Foundation and Wasafiri who benefit from working with diverse organisations and thinking practitioners.
The big change won’t come from any single partnership
Embrace the mindset that this is a learning and building period and is an essential phase to enable greater systems change. This will allow for the risks necessary to get traction now.
Being prepared for a partnership to fail is hugely important for all parties when looking outside organisation boundaries to form unusual collaborations for systemic change.
Taking the view that the specific partnership is not the win can be very freeing when saying yes to different partners and lessening the need for a ‘senior’ partner (often a larger organisation) to take control.
Beyond the specific partnership, two big gains can be found; the lessons learned about working for change with different organisations and an increase in the agency of local organisations, building their position and voice across a range of actors and interventions. Both will shift the system in which the organisations exist, beyond the current engagement.
If your organisation wants to maximise its contribution to people and planet and is thinking of collaborating and forming unusual partnerships, please get in touch!
Read this report for more on the impact of the Schwab Foundation’s 2019-22 awardees.
According to the Davos agenda, sustainably nourishing 9.7 billion people by 2050 requires a transformation in food systems. Unprecedented, concerted action from diverse cross-sector actors is required to evolve production, value chains, market systems, technology, and consumer demand from the local to the global level.
As part of their commitment to a transformation in food systems, the World Economic Forum, the Food Action Alliance, and partners will hold the “Bold Actions for Food” Event on March 15 – 16.
Recognising the need for concerted action from diverse cross-sector actions, this event will bring together leaders from public, private, civil society sectors, and experts who are driving action on innovative examples of systems change initiatives.
As part of this convening, Wasafiri’s Good Food Hub initiative, as well as Clim-Eat, will convene a dialogue with the Nature-Positive Innovation Coalition on March 16. Our very own SME platform that has brought together food actors who are making food more nourishing, sustainable, equitable and more resilient.
In part, the event is looking at how to raise ambitions and scale leadership action this year towards bringing Food into the centre of COP27, as well as holding discussions on how to accelerate the small businesses that are bringing nature-positive innovations to millions of farmers.
Wasafiri is giving voice to these food-preneurs and small food business owners who know the importance of making our food systems nature-positive. We want to increase the recognition of small businesses that are innovating solutions that are enhancing natural capital such as water, soil health, and biodiversity.
Bringing businesses to the forefront of the conversation doesn’t just support them, it inspires us to do more too!
Join this dialogue and discuss how businesses are bringing innovations to farmers and explore how the Nature-Positive Innovation Coalition can support access to the investment, regulatory reform, technology, and commercial partnerships that will take solutions to scale.
At Wasafiri, it has been hugely exciting to support the World Economic Forum’s Georgie Passalaris and the Impact, Measurement and Management team in evaluating the progress of their new response to tackling some of the world’s most complex problems. The new grant-funded multistakeholder platforms are collaborations of diverse, cross-sector stakeholders with a shared ambition to deliver specific mission-driven outcomes.
Complex problems these platforms are tackling include mobilising climate action to reduce carbon emissions and striving for net-zero outcomes, strengthening nature-based solutions, improving water and ocean systems, and giving a focus to catalysing systems change.
For us at Wasafiri as we continue to develop our systems thinking approach Systemcraft, the following three insights have the loudest resonance:
Topics have acted as door openers to more difficult conversations – By collaborating on a challenge that stakeholders can align on, such platforms can act as entry points into more complex and interconnected challenges, expanding scopes and evolving the collaboration further.
Open and trusted dialogue is essential – Crucially, the production process can be as important as the products – joint development by public and private sector and civil society actors whose collective action is required to bring about change, builds trust for further action.
The value of partnerships lies in their dynamic nature – They can adapt and respond to changing contexts and environments. Partnerships are helping to adapt to these changing conditions by launching innovations, fostering new partnerships, and mobilizing new sources of funding and financing. Ensuring that such partnerships have room to grow and evolve is fundamental to their success.
Making change happen needs unlikely bedfellows to work together. These platforms are leveraging the Forum’s global network to increase collaboration between diverse stakeholders. The insights tell us that it is not just the impact they have in the here and now, but the increase in real connections made that will make the difference.
Wasafiri supported the World Economic Forum in the production of this report detailing the contribution to SDGs and Paris Climate Agreement, and lessons learned. It was published as part of Day 1 of the Davos Agenda 2022.
As negotiators endeavour to recover from the caffeine hangovers and civil servants the world over work out how to operationalise promises made, many groups are already turning their attention to COP27. One of these is farmers and producers.
World Food Organisation President Theo De Jager both recognised the progress made, and that Farmers had much more to bring to global climate action when he closed the UN Food Systems Summit saying, “let us not just be called to the table, let us be called into the kitchen for the recipes and solutions on climate”.
Progress has been made. With COP26 came a series of major announcements formally launching pledges and initiatives for food and agriculture featuring many key actors. Notably, the $4bn investment directed at climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation was supported not just by 45 National Governments, but also a range of philanthropic funds, corporations, academic departments and non-governmental organisations; the Policy Action Agenda for a Just Transition to Sustainable Food and Agriculture, was led by the COP26 presidency, the World Bank, and Just Rural Transition. and informed by civil society organisations.
This is great… and farmers are ready to do more. Wasafiri worked with Race to Zero on the Producers’ Showcase of Action which was delivered as part of the Action Track panel on Natureday at #COP26. Through this work, we saw how worldwide, farmers and producers are already implementing solutions to both adapt to and mitigate climate change and making them known. For example:
In Britain, the new Agriculture & Land Use Alliance, supported by the National Farmers’ Union, hosted the first-ever Countryside COP to showcase and inspire net-zero activity in rural communities and agri-food supply chains.
In the US more than 150 of the leading companies, organizations, individuals and governments from the food and agriculture sector have signed onto the Decade of Ag, the first sector-wide movement to align around a shared vision and outcomes for the sustainable food and agriculture systems of the future.
And globally, the Climakers Initiative brings together farmers of the world to promote their lead role and the best practices that farmers are already implementing to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
In the spirit of needing to not just be at the table at COP26 but also in the kitchen generating recipes and solutions, at the close of the panel farmers marched to the kitchens.
Elizabeth Nsimadala, President of Eastern Africa Farmers Federation and Director of the Women Affairs PanAfrican Farmers Organization, Anne Meis and Erin Fitzgerald of the US Farmers and Ranchers in Action, and Mateusz Ciasnocha, Farmer and CEO of the European Carbon Farmers and Race to Zero Regenerative Youth Fellow (High-Level Champion Youth Fellow), thanked the chefs and those who served the meals across the week while honouring those who are taking action harvesting right now.
This spirit of involvement links to another announcement at COP26 that’s worth watching. Regen10 is a decade-long collective action plan targeting at scale regenerative food production systems worldwide. In the next six months, Regen10 is aiming to mobilise the global farmer community and engage stakeholders across the food system to design the first wave of interventions that will be delivered by COP27.
Look out for Regen10 and show your support for farmers and producers being in the COP27 kitchen. To scale up regenerative farming practices and shift to truly sustainable farming we need their energy, experience, and passion in the centre of collective action. Get in touch if we can help you with that.
For several years, Wasafiri has been working on a range of climate and nature-related complex problems, ranging from climate finance for African nations, soil carbon sequestration and net-zero transition. But, like many organisations, we have been asking how do we do more and do it better?
So, last year we launched a focused Climate & Nature portfolio.
Wasafiri’s Director, Kate Simpson, interviews Nikki Feltham, Wasafiri’s new dedicated portfolio lead
Nikki – it’s great to have you joining our team at Wasafiri. Tell us a bit about what brought you here.
Like the rest of the team here, I want to make a difference – and for that difference to stick.
I am really drawn to both Wasafiri’s practical approach to systems change – Systemcraft – and the positivity of everyone here in working to make change happen! I was also keen to return to my consulting roots and work with lots of organisations seeking to make changes – but with the (hard-won) experience of working within non-profit organisations.
We were super excited about the diversity of experience you bring to the team – from eight years with Accenture and eight years at Save the Children (including as their UK Strategy director). What are you excited to help Wasafiri achieve over the coming years?
Wasafiri has such a powerful combination of tools to dig in on the really complex challenges we face – consulting support, networks, and learning and capability building.
What I’m excited about is figuring out how we best bring them together to serve organisations and individuals who are driven by a purpose to unlock their full potential for impact.
There are so many amazing organisations, innovators, and ideas out there, and we need all of them to be able to work brilliantly – together – to address our collective challenges. Being able to bring my own experience and ideas into this is what’s lighting me up right now.
What is your new role at Wasafiri?
As an ex-consultant with a consultant’s attention span, I’m lucky to have three aspects to my role!
I get to build up our Climate and Nature Portfolio, steward our work and partnerships with the World Economic Forum and design how we will build knowledge and share our systems-based approach. Sounds great, doesn’t it!
Amongst all that choice (!) what are you looking forward to the most?
As well as the opportunity to contribute directly through the Climate and Nature portfolio, I’m hugely excited about being involved in Wasafiri’s own journey.
The team has had such great successes helping to address complex problems across intractable areas – it’s great to be involved in how we innovate and grow to deliver even more impact. What next is the big question!