Setting our egos aside: the only way to make progress on climate

In a world where information – and misinformation – pours in from all directions, the call for radical collaboration is underpinned by two sobering realities. First, climate change is an enormous, complex and all-encompassing threat in which even the mightiest of organizations, regardless of their clout, can scarcely make a dent on their own. And secondly, save for the occasional example, existing in the information era makes standing solo synonymous with getting lost in the cacophony. The scale of the challenge demands a united effort from humanity, where embracing radical collaboration becomes the pivotal strategy in overcoming the climate crisis.

The urgency and scope of the climate crisis demand a transformative effort that goes beyond ingrained organizational habits. These include deeply rooted biases toward self-promotion, a strong attachment to individual brands and campaigns, and the (understandable) reluctance to share credit with others. Professional ambitions and egos often drive the setup of multiple parallel initiatives, fueled by a desire to claim ownership. However, addressing the climate crisis requires that we set aside these tendencies and embrace a new way of working. The stakes are high and we must rise above these limitations. In doing so, we can collectively channel our energy and efforts toward a common cause, and forge a collaborative path that authentically addresses the monumental challenges before us.

Drawing inspiration from unconventional collaborations

Throughout my career, I have been greatly inspired by the transformative power of radical collaboration – when individuals, communities, organizations and institutions that would not typically be seen as allies have worked together towards a common goal. Examining milestones in our recent history reveals a compelling truth. While activists play a pivotal role, often spearheading the path towards a better future, their impact is magnified when they are joined by a broader, more varied coalition – one that transcends conventional boundaries, and ushers in transformative breakthroughs.

Take for example, the US marriage equality movement, building on the years of determined efforts by activists, proactive employee groups within major corporations advocated for policy shifts affecting themselves and their colleagues, and rallied in public support as well. Pride marches resonated globally, uniting not just the public but also sympathetic allies, including brands that championed the cause of both pride and marriage equality to mainstream audiences. Unanticipated voices in pop culture, like Jay-Z advocated for love and equality, and TV shows like “Friends,” “Rosanne,” “Will and Grace” and “Ellen” normalized same-sex relationships, driving profound shifts in societal attitudes. This shift, in turn, laid the foundation for significant policy changes – and continues to see a trickle effect, sparking discussions beyond the US borders.

The anti-Apartheid movement being led by activists in South Africa, was boosted by the actions taken by individuals across the globe to manifest their solidarity. Concerts and sports luminaries leveraged their prominence to spotlight the need to end Apartheid, while various sports bodies and brands withdrew their support for South African products. Consumer boycotts aimed at South African brands gained momentum, and sporting events turned into rallying points. The cumulative weight of these actions helped generate international pressure to change the status quo, reverberating across cultural and artistic domains. This collective momentum reconfigured global perceptions and standards, contributing to the path of game-changing policy and societal shifts, and ultimately the end of the Apartheid government in South Africa.

Radical collaboration involves unexpected coalitions of people, organizations and institutions coming together to solve complex problems that no entity can solve alone. Embracing this collaborative spirit means uniting as a diverse tapestry of individuals and groups, each contributing with their unique strengths and perspectives. Together, we amplify our impact and have the power to shift persistent norms which are failing.

The transformative force of collaborative climate action

What makes radical collaboration powerful is that it weaves a compelling narrative that transcends traditional boundaries, uniting us in a shared mission to safeguard and improve our world. In climate, collaborative efforts must be grounded in the rock-solid foundation of science, guided by meaningful objectives that leave no room for complacency. Trust becomes the glue that binds us, forging bridges between actors with diverse backgrounds and sparking mutual empowerment. At this critical period of the climate crisis, our focus is on fostering momentum, prioritizing collective endeavor over the desire for perfection.

We have learned a fair bit about radical collaboration through our endeavors at Count Us In. Diving into a specific example, we forged a partnership with broadcasters, communities, and football leagues and clubs to create and deliver an initiative leveraging the power of football (soccer) to tackle climate change – Green Football Weekend. This innovative campaign reached an audience of more than 30 million, delivering impactful climate action messages and sparking vibrant engagement from approximately 39,000 dedicated fans online, who championed 63,370 climate-positive actions and pledges. Beyond the stadium’s roar, Green Football Weekend nurtured an understanding among fans about the intricate connection between their cherished sport and the urgent call for sustainability. Fan support for the campaign conveyed a clear message to clubs, reaffirming the collective demand for climate action. Simultaneously, it empowered fans deeply concerned about climate change to adopt meaningful, emissions-reducing behaviors, illustrating its potential to incite long-lasting transformative shifts beyond the immediate event.

Other commendable examples include initiatives like Playing for the Planet, where the UN, campaigners, social scientists, and gaming studios harmonize to weave climate action into the influential domain of gaming. Similarly, within employee engagement, a community of action platforms fosters collaboration, even among direct competitors, to normalize climate action within workplaces spanning a range of industries, pooling their influence for a more extensive effect. The Climate Content Pledge in the UK showcases broadcasters, often vying for content and audiences, harmoniously educating their viewers about climate realities and the road to net-zero, a concerted effort designed to heighten awareness.

These examples mirror the defining attributes of fruitful collaboration that we hold in high regard: endeavors aimed at forging fresh pathways for climate action engagement, uniting organizations that might traditionally be competitors but come together under a shared purpose. These initiatives embody a mosaic of skills and resources drawn from diverse sectors, highlighting the potency of collective impact that extends well beyond contractual agreements.

At Count Us In, our collaborative pursuits span a diverse spectrum of partners, interlacing climate action into underleveraged channels like music, influencer-led digital campaigns, and streaming entertainment. These radical collaborations underscore the essential requirement for cross-sector alliances, and their potency in delivering impactful change that transcends conventions.

Confronting challenges and embracing opportunities in climate collaborations

The path to radical collaboration – in climate change and beyond – is not without its share of challenges (and opportunities) that ignite our passion for a better future. If we confront these head-on, we can seize the potential that lies ahead. One of the hurdles we face is breaking free from the familiar ways we’ve been fighting the climate crisis. For those deeply committed to this cause, embracing new strategies can be daunting. Yet, this shift in mindset is precisely what can unleash the power of innovation and drive transformative change. By unlearning our biases and welcoming fresh perspectives, we can open the doors to uncharted territories of climate action.

Confronting the intricacies of climate change demands genuine collaboration and stepping out of the comfort zone of tradition. Bridging the communication and trust gaps among diverse sectors is of paramount importance. Transparent conversations and unwavering commitment foster trust, bind us together in our collective mission to safeguard the world we call home.

Our path to a sustainable future requires the active participation of all, irrespective of their backgrounds, identities, or affiliations. And while governments, businesses, and civil society often speak different languages, their diverse perspectives and capabilities carry substantial power when combined. Embracing this diversity enables us to pool resources and unite against the climate crisis. It’s about harnessing a mosaic of expertise, forming a collective force for a better world and a better future.

Radical collaboration demands the participation of new entrants to the climate action arena. By breaking down silos and connecting across sectors, we can spark innovation. Together, we weave a web of interconnected solutions, accelerating progress towards a more resilient future. As we embrace collaboration, we can harness the untapped power of public engagement. Universities, cultural institutions and streaming platforms and financial institutions, among many others, are now awakening to their potential to make a difference and eagerly yearn to join forces. This fresh influx of passionate actors unlocks untapped resources and capabilities, invigorating our journey.

This interconnected approach builds bridges between sectors, propelling progress in ways previously blocked. By mobilizing the mainstream and engaging diverse demographics, we can ignite a groundswell of support, creating the enabling environment for policy changes and influencing decision-makers worldwide.

Essential elements of successful radical collaboration

In my experience, working to foster successful radical collaborations in youth empowerment, human rights, addressing climate change and other equally complex systemic challenges, five key ingredients are essential:

  1. Meaningful Objectives: Clearly defined and scientifically backed goals that address critical climate issues provide the North Star for collaborations. By setting ambitious targets that are credibly part of the solution, we inspire everyone to aim high and embrace transformative change.
  2. Willingness to Collaborate: Openness to work with unexpected partners, including direct competitors, to combine efforts and resources, and share the spotlight. This usually requires us to let go of part of our own individual ways of working to allow space for a unified approach to emerge, and greater impact to be possible.
  3. Building Trust: Establishing trust through clear communication, collaboration, and consistent actions that align with objectives. All partners have to trust that their collaborators are vested in long-term collective success, rather than short-term individual victories. Trust is the bedrock upon which radical collaborations thrive. Without it, collaborations fray and fall apart.
  4. Embracing Criticism: Forging unexpected coalitions and new strategies will be criticized by some who are wedded to more traditional approaches. Being open to receiving and learning from constructive criticism to improve initiatives are the table stakes for radical collaboration – they will come, so be ready to listen to them. They can be catalysts for growth and sharpen our focus on achieving results.
  5. Sharing by Default: Encouraging open-source knowledge-sharing to accelerate progress and collectively learn from successes and failures. If we find something that works, we have to share it widely and immediately. If we find something that doesn’t work, we have to share just as quickly. We can save others from wasting resources and efforts by being loud and proud in sharing our failures. The timeline we have to address climate change cannot accommodate our standard protective stance on sharing insight and intelligence.

Where do we go from here?

In the face of the climate crisis, radical collaboration emerges as the key to unlock our collective potential. With every fleeting moment, the urgency to deliver systemic transformation grows more pronounced – and no one can do it on their own. By dismantling barriers, fostering trust, and embracing diversity, we can build a path towards enhanced health, cleanliness, and equity – a future where harmonious coexistence with one another and our planet is paramount.

Not sure where to go from here? Consider asking yourself some questions. Who among us could emerge as new partners or unexpected allies? How might I amplify my reach and contribute to a more profound impact by embracing novel perspectives and diverse talents? How can I foster an environment that is inviting for others to join me, or invite me to join them? What resources, assets, or channels lie at my disposal to fortify existing collaborations? How might I proactively participate in the growth and enhancement of ongoing collaborative efforts? And even more immediately, explore the possibility of sharing your knowledge, insights, lessons and data with others. By disseminating knowledge and nurturing transparency, we enrich the collaborative landscape, ensuring that the pursuit of radical collaboration remains a dynamic, ever-evolving force for progress.

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This post is authored by Eric Levine, Co-Founder and Lead of Count Us In.

Count Us In harnesses the power of popular culture to inspire and engage mainstream audiences to take climate action – driving wider systems change. We reach the moveable middle through their passions and interests. We deliver impactful popular culture campaigns, facilitating unexpected partnerships in sports, music, social media, entertainment and gaming.

Get in touch to learn more.

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