Three Keys to Impactful Change

With March now upon us the year is already rocketing along! It’s so easy to get caught up in that merry-go-round of meetings and to-do lists. At Ākina, the approaching end of the first quarter offers the chance to step back and refocus on where we’re headed. As part of that thinking, here are three things I hope we can collectively keep top of mind this year:

1. Let the power of Impact influence decision-making

Awareness about the Power of Impact continues to build. We've all heard the call to action presented by challenges like climate change and inequality, it’s high time to move beyond the call, to action. One way to do this is to put social and environmental outcomes at the heart of our decision-making. Already this year, we’re starting to see businesses and consumers do this more and more.

According to the recently released Colmar Brunton Better Futures report, a majority of New Zealanders – 55% of those surveyed – now express a high level of concern about climate change, up a reassuring 15% from 2015. Combine this with the fact that 90% agree that they would stop buying goods or services from a company that they heard was acting irresponsibly or unethically – and the message to business is clear. This represents a significant shift in consumer attitude and behaviour, and a huge opportunity for businesses to align with their customers’ values.

On the government front we’re seeing a lot of interest in the first Wellbeing Budget, supported by the introduction of the Living Standards Framework. We’ll need to wait until May to see what this means in practice, but the signals that this shift is sending are making waves nationally and internationally. The idea behind these Wellbeing Frameworks is that to truly prosper as a nation we should be looking beyond the GDP balance sheet – could you could call that Impact by another name? Regardless of the specific outcomes of the Wellbeing Budget, it feels significant to have government leading a conversation about society and the environment in this way. However, it’s essential that it is not just a conversation being had in the Beehive or between a few loud voices in the media. This is a conversation for all of us.

Combine the Government’s ‘top-down’ approach to change with with ‘bottom-up’ demand we’re seeing from socially and environmentally aware consumers, and the bigger picture suggests real momentum. In the middle, we’re getting big businesses starting to take tangible action. The recent announcement by The Warehouse Group that they’ve earned CarboNZero certification should be celebrated, as should founder Sir Stephen Tindall’s stance that they’re about 40% of the way along their journey to true sustainability. If the story of that journey can be told effectively, and the learning can be shared, then big players like The Warehouse Group have the potential to be one of the dominos that set off a chain reaction that transforms our economy.

Traditional attitudes to investment are also being challenged. Impact investment is gaining traction, with last year’s government announcement establishing NZ Green Investment Finance Ltd which starts to add weight to the conversations generated by initiatives like the Impact Enterprise Fund, created by New Ground Capital, Impact Ventures and us at Ākina.

More and more people I talk to are already realising the huge opportunity presented by uncovering what Impact means for their organisation, whether that’s the opportunities Impact presents for investment or in opening up access to markets. Many organisations are at a crucial junction where they’re moving from awareness to action. Now that we know change is required, the message to them needs to be a resounding “Yes, you can!". We know that change can feel risky, but what are the risks of not even trying? Remember you’re not alone in needing to make change, and help is out there.

Organisations like the Sustainable Business Network, and the Sustainable Business Council are doing outstanding work to support future focussed business. Here at Ākina, alongside our work to create the conditions for social enterprises to succeed, we’re working with a range of different businesses; guiding them on the best ways to make meaningful change. We’re participants on that journey too and striving to be the best we can at advocating for Impact is one of the things that most excites me about coming in to work every day.

2. Ask how we can make room for the important voice of youth

We know that the generation that will have to deal with the most serious effects of climate change are alive now, and they’re vocal! That said, there’s more we can do to support our youth as they speak out about the issues they’re facing; whether that’s by making room for youth representation at board table, or creating safe spaces for important discussions around the dinner table.

In New Zealand, groups like Generation Zero are growing. They have an increasingly mature voice, and actively participate in the political process. There’s a lot of promise in the Government's strategic priority to make New Zealand the best place to be a child. The Office of the Children's Commissioner recently released a report entitled What Makes a Good Life? These inspiring insights from our tamariki make for tough reading. Their postcards to Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern are a powerful reminder of all the work still to be done to address poverty and inequality in this country.

Looking overseas, If you haven’t seen the viral video of United States school children urging Senator Dianne Feinstein to take action on climate change by supporting the Green New Deal, it’s worth a watch. It’s a classic example of truth being spoken to power in a way that is simultaneously hopeful and deflating. Although undoubtedly an experienced political operator, Senator Feinstein manages to tell off her young guests for being too demanding. When they tell her people voted for her to take action on legislation like the Green New Deal, she dismisses their concerns because they’re not old enough to vote yet.

Traditional power structures can be deaf to criticism. For youth, challenging these structures requires having a loud enough voice, but also requires us to recognise the importance of their voice. We need to ask ourselves, how can we can actively engage youth in political and business processes? How can their voices add value to and influence the work we do? As long as they’re on the sidelines, rangitahi can be ignored regardless of how loud their voices become.

Technology is a great amplifier, and one area where youth have the edge over older generations. Would Senator Feinstein have taken a different approach to that conversation with the young people who visited her office if she knew that the video they filmed and posted online would be seen by hundreds of thousands of people? A nicer conversation wouldn’t have led to such backlash, but what if that backlash leads to meaningful change? Isn’t that how much social change is brought about?

Coming up on March 15th New Zealand school children will ‘strike’ across the country and stage protest marches in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. This is part of a global protest action, which was originally started by Swedish student activist Greta Thunberg, and has snowballed into the global Strike 4 Climate movement. Greta has been an outstanding youth voice for the planet. At a recent appearance at the World Economic Forum in Davos she delivered a powerful review of prevailing approach to climate change when she said “I don’t want your hope. I want you to panic. I want you to feel the fear I do. Every day. And I want you to act. I want you to behave like our house is on fire. Because it is.” In the UK, students marching for the climate are being looked on by the government on as truants. This past week we’ve been seeing how members of parliament are reacting to kiwi kids stepping out of school to save the planet. My challenge to them is to listen, and to support this important, hopefully historic moment. It’s a sobering time to remember that the negative impacts of decisions we make today will disproportionately affect society’s poorest and most vulnerable. It is also our young people who will be living with the consequences for the longest.

3. Make meaningful change by working together

This year I hope we’ll see more conversation, more collaboration and more connection between businesses and community groups. An excellent recent example of this is the Social Enterprise Unconference event in Levin run by PledgeMe and Thankyou Payroll, where a group of dedicated and talented entrepreneurs gathered to share war stories and grow together. This sort of collaboration encourages us to approach problems differently, and can help renew a sense of collective purpose and collective impact.

On a bigger scale there’s the establishment of the Climate Leaders Coalition, which brings together some of our biggest businesses, each committing to do more to combat the threat posed by climate change through collective action. In a similar vein, The Aotearoa Circle is a new initiative where public and private sector leaders have committed to ‘sustainable prosperity’.

This year we will see a more organisations start to move beyond corporate responsibility; business working with the communities in which they operate, responding to problems and contributing to community-led solutions. Collaboration creates opportunities for fundamental change – naku te rourou nau te rourou ka ora ai te iwi. With your food basket and my food basket the people will thrive.

We also need to hold each other to account. Which of the 77 businesses that have joined the Climate Leaders Coalition are making meaningful change, and who is helping them to do that? The strength of collaboration means that if we follow-through on our intentions, our collective impact could be huge.

Ākina’s own partnership with government, working with the Department of Internal Affairs and supported by the Community Enterprise Network Trust on the Social Enterprise Sector Development Programme, is a huge opportunity to demonstrate the power of partnership – and we feel the weight of that responsibility. The first year of this three-year programme has been focussed on listening to the needs of the sector and mapping the way forward for the next two years. The overall focus is to enable a thriving social enterprise sector. There’s a lot of work to come, focussed on opening up access to finance and markets as well as supporting the measurement of impact. We’re also testing the creation of community-led support networks across the country. This involves trialing a place-based approach to building capability by working with local partners that are already embedded in the fabric of local communities and local economies.

We can all do more to advocate for partnership by celebrating wins both big and small, sharing what we’ve learned together and encouraging others to do the same. To really stretch a metaphor; through our collective strength we can pull the ambulance to the top of the cliff and convert it into a neighbourhood electric ride-share! Meaningful change, change at scale, can only happen when we work together to achieve it.