In this blog, Natalie Tucker, co-lead of the Climate Safe Lending Fellowship, highlights three challenges commonly faced by banking ‘intrapreneurs’ and shares lessons from participating Fellows on how to overcome these hurdles. The insights emerged from the action learning process the Fellowship follows and build on our 2022 report Fellowship: Incubation that can shift a system.
1. When intrapreneurship gets tough, community makes all the difference
Making the transition to banking compatible with net zero requires total bank transformation. Every individual involved will need to develop some form of new mindset or behaviour. This kind of organisational change is notoriously difficult, especially in established institutions like banks. For banking ‘intrapreneurs’ – those seeking to embed climate action within the core strategy, operations and culture of their institution – progress can feel frustratingly slow.
Through the Fellowship, we found two aspects particularly helpful for maintaining intrapreneurs’ motivation and momentum:
- Community: Fellows consistently describe how inspiring it is to be in a community working towards a shared goal, facing similar challenges, and even overcoming them.
- Reflective practice: Taking time to reflect can feel counter to the pace of working in a bank, but it’s vital for making change. Robin Alfred, a speaker at this year’s Fellowship, highlighted the importance of building a daily reflective practice to digest, and ultimately act, on new insights. On the Fellowship, we build time for reflection into every session, and this year introduced a structured learning journal to encourage reflection between sessions.
2. Learning from good practice isn’t always possible; practising new skills is
Intrapreneurs often work alone within their organisations and thus tend to look for success stories from the wider banking community. Since the banking system remains far from where it should be in relation to climate, often these examples don’t exist at all or don’t feel relevant.
In the absence of transferable good practice, we focus on equipping Fellows with the knowledge, skills and tools that can help them work towards it in their own contexts. Fellows can experiment and discover what works best for them.
Some of the skills and tools which this year’s Fellows found most useful included:
- A coaching mindset: Listening more deeply to other perspectives, and asking open-ended ‘generative questions’ to learn more and better spot opportunities.
- The Three Horizons framework, which helps build a vision for the future, place current interventions on different possible trajectories, and identify opportunities for innovation.
- Framing and reframing how we talk about climate and the need for change, as neatly summarised by James Vaccaro, who led a session on this topic.
Unlike stories from elsewhere, skills and tools are usually transferable, so an intrapreneur can take these with them if they move on.
3. Individual actions drive greater systems change, even if the connections aren’t always easy to make
For intrapreneurs, it can be difficult to relate the steps they take to the wider system-level changes needed. We work with Fellows to develop a ‘Critical Shift’, describing the change they would like to create for their organisation. Throughout the programme, Fellows work towards this Critical Shift, further contextualising their actions in relation to the wider system through a curriculum that explores the following levels and questions:
It’s similarly difficult for us to connect the actions of a disparate group of individuals to ultimate systems change. We believe the Fellowship contributes to wider systems change through:
- Equipping Fellows with the skills, tools, knowledge and networks to implement change in their organisations
- Empowering Fellows to influence others in their organisations to implement change
- Gaining insight into what’s happening inside the system in terms of opportunities and challenges for driving change and sharing this publicly (look out for our Insights Report to be published in September).
As we evaluate this year’s programme, we’re seeking to understand the extent to which Fellows and their collaborators are implementing change with the potential to create meaningful organisational or system-level change, as a result of their learning on the Fellowship.
Systems change starts with personal change
We support intrapreneurs, driven by a vision of a better banking system, to make changes in themselves, and inspire and influence others to change along with them. The goals they set for transforming their organisations are ambitious, and the routes there are challenging. With our support, they feel they stand a much better chance of getting there:
“The Fellowship provided me with additional tools to be successful in my role as a sustainability professional, including those to help with communicating systems change, supporting the transition strategy and determining the best way to influence those in power.”2023 Climate Safe Lending Fellow
As do their colleagues:
“[The Fellow’s] work on her Critical Shift is providing tangible support to our company’s approach to customer-facing internal engagement and ultimately engagement with our customers on climate issues. Her access to a network of peers to support our company’s work [is] very valuable…. As she prepares to take on more of a leadership role…, the Fellowship has been helpful in providing tools and new ways of thinking about internal relationships and power/influence dynamics. Understanding these kinds of issues provides a significant tactical advantage…. This enhanced understanding will most certainly result in more effective and efficient leadership and program implementation.”2023 Climate Safe Lending Fellow’s Manager
Through fostering community, encouraging reflective practice, and equipping fellows with the skills and tools to make individual changes and connect these to wider systems change, the Climate Safe Lending Fellowship empowers banking intrapreneurs to drive meaningful change to shift the banking system closer to net zero.