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Values Exchange

Trading in the currency of hope as we work to create a just and regenerative future

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11 Jul 2022
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By ON
Senior Thinker (2027 XP)
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Trading in the currency of hope as we work to create a just and regenerative future

 

 

Trading in the currency of hope as we work to create a just and regenerative future

 

At what is a critical moment for the sustainability movement, Forum for the Future’s flagship Future of Sustainability campaign shed light on what the past can teach us about our future. These insights formed the basis of our first US in-person event in more than two years. Here, Forum’s Managing Director – Americas, Sandra Seru, shares her reflections from an evening spent trading hope.

As wars wage overseas and our own flags wave at half-mast from violence at home; as climate change predictions get more dire and a global pandemic exacerbates longstanding inequalities, what gives us hope that we can change the world for the better? That our movements have the power to transform our reality, through the systems that shape our communities and our planet? 

For sustainability and social justice change-makers who trade most in the currency of impact, not having an answer to this question can completely bankrupt our personal reserves. 

On June 7, Forum for the Future’s capstone Future of Sustainability event brought our community together for the first time in two years to celebrate our six-month exploration of  the past, present, and future of the sustainability movement,. We considered what we could learn from the recent and more distant past. Yet what most replenished my reserves was the strength and possibility of the present - the resilience and innovation we see today - and the lure of the future, which came alive through vivid visions of radical collaboration.

Our ultimate goal – no less than creating a just and regenerative world – is daunting, so I wanted to share four key reflections from the event, including insights shared by Dr. Sally Uren, Forum’s CEO; Jane Cohen, Executive Director of the New Jersey Governor’s Office of Climate Action and the Green Economy; Andrew Winston, author of Net Positive and an expert on corporate sustainability; and Kristy Drutman, a youth climate activist and the founder of Brown Girl Green.

1. The future we want is already here; it’s just not evenly distributed

Sally reminded us of author William Gibson’s wise words that encourage us to pay attention to what is growing already, to nurture it, and to replicate what’s working at scale. Our job as change-makers is to gather and shine light on stories of change, and put their lessons into practice, together with a community of peers. Our panellists told stories of victories, learnings, and challenges across sectors, which demonstrated how we can pull multiple levers of change: 

  • In business, Andrew told us about companies increasingly brave enough to set net-positive, just and regenerative goals emphasizing that the main thing businesses need to do “is just to raise the level of ambition.”
  • In government, Jane spoke to the commitment from stakeholders across New Jersey, and to recent legislation – the most ambitious and progressive of its kind – which mandates that any proposed infrastructure project in the state accounts for its environmental and public health impacts, and that it be denied a permit if it will be harmful to historically marginalized and overburdened communities. 
  • In civil society, Kristy described the activating power of social media and her own work to advance equity in the environmental movement by connecting thousands of young people of color to sustainability jobs. 

2. How we work today is an achievement in of itself

If the pandemic reinforced anything, it is that the challenges we face as a society and planet are interconnected and we need to work systemically. 

The pandemic, as author-activist Arundhati Roy says, is a portal, and we can choose to walk through it with the baggage of the past, reifying the systems that have wrought so much damage, or to activate our imagination and the mobilizing power of our communities on the road to a different future. So just how can we unlock the radical collaboration needed – be it across sector, lived experience, generation, race, or gender? 

The event shed light on what just and inclusive collaboration could look like and how to work with unlikely partners, including by making lasting connections. As Jane emphasized, “if you bring all of these players to the table, you can really figure out how to make things happen... in an inclusive way that is a win-win for everyone.” 

In the informal programming, a signal of change sparkled beneath the surface, as people seemed to show up with a desire to connect as people first and professionals second. We talk a lot at Forum about the need to bring one’s whole self to the practice of systems change, a critical step towards the humility, vulnerability, empathy and trust that we need to do our work differently. 

3. We can nurture the youngest generation while not getting in their way 

So full of passion and energy she was losing her voice, Kristy showed us that young people are ready to take action and get involved in climate justice. Andrew marvelled at the mobilizing power of youth activists like her, who speak simultaneously to Gen Z on TikTok and statesmen like Al Gore, and leverage digital platforms to bring new voices and energy into the field. 

With some of us tired and perhaps jaded, Kristy’s optimism and fire lifted many up. She underpinned the fact that young people are ready to lead the charge, but that they “need support from other folks who come from more traditional sectors who can help inform us and work together to really keep building this movement… I think there is hope in the opportunity for collaboration.” She reminded us that the future of sustainability is one where people of all backgrounds have a platform to collaborate and speak, and urged all of us to center diversity, equity, and inclusion in our work. 

4. Finally, this is tough work, so let’s remember to play

With her trademark smile and quick wit, Sally ended with a call to action and a dose of fun, reminding  us that the future of sustainability contains multitudes. That evening, it meant: 

F – being fearless, as it’s needed now, more than ever
Uusing our voices
Ttaking a full systems viewthat appreciates the environmental, social, and economic forces at play, and that identifies high leverage points to catalyze systemic change 
U using the wisdom that is all around us and particularlyacross generations
R – working round-the-table – appreciating that  multi-stakeholder collaboration is key 
E –being extra bold, now more than ever.

The conversations we had were provocative, honest, and energizing. And, as we mingled outdoors in the beautiful Foundry courtyard, in a building complex that dates back to the 19th century, we embraced simply being together once more. 

As our Chair, Rita Clifton, shared, “my experience… of the event was about the warm, inviting and ambitious atmosphere…which enabled people to speak authentically, share their hopes as well as fears, and to connect with others.” 

Thank you to all that attended, bringing your whole selves, and making me feel rich in hope. And to those reading this who weren’t there that evening, I hope the insights above resonate and give you strength to keep creating the future we all want, and need. 

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