The IPCC Report calls for urgent change. What we need is Regenerative transformation. This includes the humanitarian and development sectors.
The second week of August 2021 saw the public release of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest assessment report. Formed in the late 1980s, the IPCC releases rigorous reports on the state of climate breakdown every eight years. Confirming what perhaps many of us feared to be true, this latest report is by far the most damning, indicating that drastic changes must be made as soon as possible if we are to sustain human life as we know it. Our planet’s climate systems are changing beyond recognition. We will continue to experience the drastic effects of climate breakdown, and the many interrelated ecological crises such as large scale species’ extinction, more and more-so over the next 50 years and beyond.
As climate breakdown continues to worsen, we know that people living in the Global South, and volatile or challenging contexts, will be the hardest hit. The UNHCR estimates that around 20 million people are already displaced each year by extreme weather and natural disasters. Many say this is already a conservative figure. With more wildfires, super storms, floods and droughts happening in many regions than ever recorded, the amount of people experiencing displacement will only increase drastically.
Global governments must hold the world’s biggest polluting companies accountable, as well as making seismic changes to the systems which have enabled corporations to profit from the violent exploitation of people and planet. We are often told that our individual choices will make a difference to climate change. Re-Alliance does not submit to the narrative that individual choices will create the level of change needed, because this approach is often the veneer that corporations use to pass focus away from their own crimes. But there are also drastic changes that the nonprofit world needs to make.
We urge NGOs and aid agencies to look toward their own policies and practices, to see how our own activities are impacting on our world’s climate and living systems. Change needs to happen drastically everywhere. But to start us off, Re-Alliance suggests these three, immediate actions:
1. Let the people experiencing the most drastic change be the ones who help shape your policies and decisions. And pay them to do so. Re-Alliance tries to avoid the term “beneficiaries”, because it is disempowering. It also implies a transactional relationship, with some people ‘benefiting’ from the work, and not contributing. This is a very limiting way of framing complex relationships. There will be people who NGOs work with who experience the harsh effects of climate change, ecological collapse, or other crises, in ways that people in NGO offices (especially in the Global North) do not experience.The people who are experiencing the harshest effects of climate change and other crises also often have the greatest insights into traditional, nature-based solutions that can help us to regenerate social and ecological living systems. Despite this, these people are often left out of the policy meetings, or their voices are only highlighted in a secondary way through reports. Re-Alliance advises that NGOs forefront less-heard and less-visible voices, in a way that is also respectful, always consensual, not tokenistic, and does not bring up trauma for people.
Perhaps it should go without saying, though shockingly it is still not always practiced, that people should be paid for their time. How do you start conversations like this? Re-Alliance has a membership of regenerative practitioners from all over the world, many of whom are on the frontlines of devastating ecological breakdown. Our members showcase how regenerative responses can add health to human communities and the environment. You can read about some of our members on our case studies and articles page, and many of our members are available for consultancies.
2. Skill up your organisation’s decision makers in systems thinking and regenerative design. And hold them accountable. The core decision makers in NGOs usually spend the least time on their own learning and development - most probably because they have tight schedules, or they perceive their own continued learning to be a low priority. If organisations have hierarchical structures in place, we must make sure that their leaders have all the tools they need to make policy decisions that create the most health, value and healing for ecological and social systems. Re-Alliance would argue that we need to completely reevaluate our ways of making organisational decisions, using tools and frameworks such as Sociocracy to make decisions more dispersed and efficient. NGO leaders need to become systems thinkers to recognise and unravel the destructive, unintended consequences of our work.
Then, NGO leaders must put these regenerative principles into practice, using systemic and nature-inspired solutions to radically update policy. Importantly, we must hold the decision-makers in our organisations accountable. Leaders in aid agencies, for example, might be used to making life or death decisions, but the stakes are only getting higher. Re-Alliance is happy to give your organisation free recommendations of regenerative learning courses that would be right for your needs. We can also create a programme alongside our skilled members at an affordable and scaling fee. Contact us for more information.
3. Don’t be afraid of trying something radically different. In our experience, one large barrier for NGOs uptaking regenerative principles and practices is that they seem very different to embedded and long-used organisational norms. NGOs and aid agencies tend to replicate the same conventional practices again and again, because these practices have board approval, they are seen to be efficient, and they have some level of research showing that they are effective. But often, these conventional approaches are tested in one context and exported around the world, and may not be appropriate or meaningful in other contexts. In many cases, such practices can cause longer term harm in the communities and ecosystems where they are implemented. But what’s the alternative? Regenerative solutions seek to create healthy cycles of abundance using nature-inspired patterns and principles which are tailored, or emerge from, the context where they’re used. This is a new way of thinking to some people, but it’s actually inspired by ancient, tried-and-tested practices.
You can see examples of effective regenerative practice on our video page, with many of our members having run long term humanitarian and development interventions in many different contexts.
Get in touch with the Re-Alliance team if you would like to discuss how your organisation could transition to becoming more regenerative. If you’re not sure how to start these conversations within your organisation, we will endeavour to help.