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Learning from our experience in partnership
August 04, 2023

In January 2023, with CO2 Foundation funding, Preventable Surprises and partner Ethical Systems hosted an online dialogue on climate finance and behavior, intended to help better understand how the experience of severe weather events can catalyze accelerated climate action and to incubate practical responses by the financial sector.

The week-long text-based conversation used the Currnt platform, and explored the role of people and human interactions in accelerating the pace of climate finance. “Provocateurs” who started the discussion each day were asked to consider the role of extreme weather events in sparking individuals’ awareness and preparedness to act; organizers say this focus served as an essential catalyst for the dialogue, but wasn’t in the end one of the most active themes of the discussion.

For five days, a group of over 60 finance professionals, activists, academics, and other experts from five continents discussed a range of topics, such as their own experience and social currency, the value of truth and agreement, the role of economic and emotional incentives, the role of group dynamics and the power of storytelling. During the dialogue, there were 367 contributions – making this Preventable Surprises’ busiest dialogue yet.

The outcomes of the generative dialogue are still being processed. As Preventable Surprises’ Jerome Tagger puts it in his summary of the event, “several leading concepts or ideas emerged, with the potential to reinforce existing projects or toolboxes, or lead to new ones: ultimately, the organizers believe everyone can apply these ideas in a range of settings, and with a range of audiences – from households to finance decision makers, to voters to politicians, in a range of countries.”

One participant asked: “How do you “bubble hop” to get some of these questions reflected on by a broader population? [This event is] asking important questions about how we stop going round and round the same hamster wheel without getting anywhere.”

Some of the takeaways the organizers pulled out from the dialogue include:

  • “The bottom line is that knowledge – of which we have plenty – needs to be complemented by deep relationships – which are scarce. The question to all is: in a world full of noise and with myriad relationships to manage, we need to invest more of our time and capacity to create more listening spaces. Just how do we do that?”
  • “There is a need to provide more platforms for finance professionals, NGOs, climate activists, and others to engage and educate themselves on the social dimensions of their work. Multiple opportunities exist, including the development of academic curricula, continued education courses for professionals, and spaces where groups, like the one that convened for this dialogue, can gather, and discuss real-life case studies and news related to climate finance, and better comprehend the human factors involved.”
  • “As humankind, we can accept an ecology of theories of change – not all equal, not all equally honest, but ground zero to support real change. For all, but particularly those in business and finance, this means letting go of illusions, of the sometimes-excessive promise of progress, leadership, and innovation to tackle the unknown, that is often a veil for the security and comfort of what we do now and know well.”

Next, Preventable Surprises will be proactively engaging its networks on these questions, looking to reconvene participants to apply learnings to real life stories and case studies in finance as they emerge, and speaking with others in the field to find ways to engage a larger set of actors in finance on the questions raised in the dialogue. Ideally, the team would like every individual in institutional finance to have an opportunity to grapple with these questions.

And in the meantime, as Rebecca Solnit puts it in her Not Too Late essay “In Praise of Indirect Consequences,”

Too often, people seem to think that if there are not immediate and obvious consequences, there’s failure. In reality, what happens in response is often more subtle, delayed, unpredictable, incremental, and indirect—and yet still valuable and significant, sometimes more so—than simple formulas and short timelines account for. Often those consequences continue to ripple outward and unfold for decades afterward.

For more in-depth content from the dialogue, see the slide deck here.