Jacqueline Lim, our Climate Safe Lending Fellowship 2023 Co-Lead reflects on three transformative tools explored in the first month of the Climate Safe Lending Fellowship leadership development programme for climate champions working in banks
In January 2023, 18 people from across the globe embarked upon a six-month Climate Safe Lending (CSL) Fellowship programme to accelerate their work as climate ‘intrapreneurs’ – banking professionals who are embedding climate action within the core strategy, operations and culture of their institutions.
Jointly delivered by the Climate Safe Lending Network and the Finance Innovation Lab, the CSL Fellowship is a leadership development programme for ambitious banking professionals across a diverse range of roles within private-sector commercial banks. The programme exists to build Fellows’ knowledge, networks and skills to enable their institutions to make a credible transition to a trajectory that will achieve the climate goals of the UN’s 2016 Paris agreement, making sure the world does not cross the dangerous 1.5 degree of warming threshold.
On joining the programme, Fellows identify a ‘critical shift’ they want to create that would make a significant difference in enabling their bank’s climate transition. This serves as a focus area to which Fellows can apply new insights and tools from the Fellowship.
A space to unlearn, listen and reflect
One of the first tools introduced to Fellows was Theory U, an awareness-based method for changing systems, developed by Otto Scharmer of the Presencing Institute. Fellows practised key skills associated with Theory U: learning to listen actively, ask generative questions and approach existing challenges with different perspectives. Fellows shared how this transformative tool challenged their perspective. For example:
I am finding that the first month has been an intensive lesson in thinking differently. As Theory U suggests, learning or re-learning different ways of approaching the building blocks of knowledge – how to listen, how to ask questions, how to reflect, how to express – seems basic and almost unrelated, but my mind has been whirling with re-framed ideas.CSL Fellow 2023, Senior legal professional from a major global bank
Being present to what the world needs from banks
We explored the limitations of current approaches to implementing changes to environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) and impact within their banks and began to reimagine what it would be like to meaningfully contribute towards a thriving human society within a healthy global biosphere, instead of undermining it, through ‘Doughnut Economics’ and ‘Matereality’.
Erinch Sahan from the Doughnut Economics Action Lab introduced the Business Redesign Toolkit, which outlines five areas businesses must address to become more regenerative and distributive. Over time, these can shift culture and practices within mainstream banking systems. Erinch shared that:
Often, ideas are up against rigid internal models that hold them back […]. We are all stuck in a system – everyone feels trapped. The way that change has happened is by starting in the margins, creating hybrid versions and challenging what’s possible. Change happens really slowly to start with, but can happen really fast once we reach the tipping point.
Lorraine Smith, an independent researcher, writer, speaker and guide, introduced her work on Matereality, an alternative approach to typical ESG materiality processes (which are to do with the level of importance that an organization attaches to specific ESG factors). Lorraine’s new approach repositions the company in a context of a more desirable future aligned to people and planet. Instead of asking “what issues are material to a company?”, she challenged Fellows to consider “what is a company’s stated purpose?”, “what is its actual purpose?” (i.e. how does it earn its revenue) and “what does the world need from this company?” She invited Fellows to expand the range of stakeholders they work with in order to be more attuned to reality – including people from indigenous communities and the Global South, and non-human stakeholders, such as rivers or animals.
Experimentation as a way to move forward
Using the Three Horizons model, created by International Futures Forum member Bill Sharpe, Fellows explored ways to address the limitations of the status quo in their bank (Horizon 1), while creating conditions that enable the desired method of working (Horizon 3) to become more embedded in their banks through transitional interventions (Horizon 2). One Fellow shared his reflections:
As I am working on some decarbonisation targets for the bank for retail portfolios, I have come to realise it will be difficult to have any meaningful targets or narratives without integrating ‘just transition’ considerations. The fact is that not all our customers can buy an EV [electric vehicle] or a carbon-neutral house today. However, is that fact the main obstacle or excuse not to act or set targets at all? So my challenge is to find a way to reconcile decarbonisation targets and just transition issues so that internal buy-in for retail targets can increase.Julien Manceaux, CSL Fellow 2023, Senior Economist at a large North American bank
Fellows will continue to learn and experiment with ways of working at the personal, interpersonal and wider system levels and apply these to their ‘critical shifts’, alongside peer coaching and bespoke support from the Fellowship team and the wider community. Through this experience, they will collectively serve as guiding lights for how transformative change can happen within banking.
We will share more transformative tools, reflections and insights over the course of the Fellowship.