Jem’s Quarterly: Le Freak, Ain’t Chic

Are yoChicfreaku freaked out by climate change? We should be. But it is difficult to stay freaked out for long. So I’ve often distracted myself with other important things to do. Or with fun. Or retreated into existential naval gazing. I’ve sometimes thought about tuning out and living lightly. But I’ve kept coming back to the question: “if the shit’s coming, how I am helping?” Wondering about the meaning of life, being nicer to mum, or stopping flying, just doesn’t seem to cut it.

It has become a conversation I have with colleagues quite often: “Given what we think we know, how are we helping?” Our discussions helped me to realise that everyone will find their own answer for what to think, feel and do, and what is key is asking ourselves the question. Regularly. In my case, whatever hat I’m wearing, I’m mostly a communicator. But since the 90’s, raising the alarm hasn’t seemed enough. Instead, I focus on promoting insight and action on two areas that are key for rapid mitigation at scale, and preparing for the troubles to come. I call them “sustainable leadership” and “sustainable exchange”.

When scared or frustrated, we may look for leaders. But this can be counterproductive. Because there’s no one coming. We all need to take our turn; to lead in some way, together. And those of us who have knowledge and networks to attempt more systemic change have a responsibility (and opportunity!) to try. But as professionals in sustainability how often do we ask ourselves if our actions respond to our awareness of the challenge? To trigger such discussion, my article “Carry on Flying: why activists should take to the skies” was a touch provocative. I’d welcome your thoughts in the Sustainable Leaders LinkedIn group.   

Having a “theory of change” is something we explore on the Sustainable Leadership course that I tutor, the next of which involves 6 days in the English Lake District this September. I was pleased to see the global management trainers Impact International conclude that our courses are cutting edge.

One idea we explore at the Institute is whether we are so encased in our corporate lives that we need opportunities to awaken to our ecological selves. So I’m pleased to welcome Jo Chaffer to study for a PhD on the role of wilderness in leadership development. She has been taking people into the Himalaya for leadership development for years. Jo tells me “Heart Mountain is a trip of creativity and exploration. Seven days’ magical trekking under the eyes of Everest region staying in luxury lodges.” This November, Jo guides the trek with Jamie Catto, the creative genius behind the band 1GiantLeap. If you fancy some adventure, personal development, coaching, and playfulness, see here

I will be co-leading a wilderness-based leadership development course in Costa Rica, for 5 days from January 3rd. It is a project with another student at IFLAS, Georgia Wingfield Hayes, who used to work in the nature reserve we will visit. Profits from “Leading Wild” are going to support the amazing place. Georgia is writing some great poetry that evokes some of the essence of what we work on. If you know people in either Central America or the Indian subcontinent (for Heart Mountain), please forward them the info on these two retreats.  

My theory of change involves transforming economic governance. Part of that means aligning global capital markets with progress on the various “sustainable development” issues. I wrote about that here for the World Economic Forum and here for the Huffington Post – and took this message to the WEF’s ASEAN Summit, among other events. With other WEF Young Global Leaders, we will launch an initiative to promote investment aligned with the Global Goals for sustainable development (if you work with an institutional investor please get in touch). Much can be done even within existing rules, as we are discovering at Trimantium Capital, where we make significant investments with an “impact investing” mindset.

Another aspect of this agenda is far deeper and tougher: changing the monetary system so it doesn’t drive us toward unsustainable maldevelopment. One approach to that is currency innovation, and so I gave a keynote talk at a conference of local currency innovators, focusing on implications of the end of cash for local pounds. Innovation doesn’t happen in a policy vacuum, so I pitched in on the Brexit debate, with an article in the Daily Telegraph, about the need for regulations to support financial technology start-ups to compete with the big banks. I also promoted fresh thinking on these topics on the World Economic Forum blog, suggesting Capitalism could use a little Marxism. This summer at IFLAS we host retreats for both the Finance Innovation Lab and the Positive Money campaign and offer our free online course on Money and Society (over 4 weeks from August 21st… so this is your last reminder – enrol!)   

I’m doing a bunch of talks and seminars in Cumbria and Lancaster this summer, so if you are nearby, the best way to keep in touch is by joining the email group that participants of the LeadingWell events have set up.

All of this can seem quite far from climate change, but not if you understand it as the outcome of economic governance shaped by worldviews that undermine our ability to collaborate for the common good.

And at least it feels better than freaking out.  

Dr Jem Bendell

Professor of Sustainability Leadership, Institute For Leadership And Sustainability (IFLAS)

Non-Executive Director, Trimantium Capital

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