My talk on Systems Change at European Parliament - Giving Nature Rights


I recently gave a talk at the European Parliament at the Nature's Rights Conference.    The event was hosted by 4 forward looking MEPS and was attended by over 100 people.  The idea is to establish a Citizen's Initiative across Europe with the intention of bringing legal rights to Nature.   I am thrilled to be part of this very important work.  For more information and to sign up to Nature's Rights please go to


It was a grey rainy day in the City of London.    I was working for WWF at the time and I was there with our CEO, Robert.   We just left a meeting whereby, after 4 years of negotiations, one of our corporate partners, a large global bank, decided not to adopt the Project Finance Lending policies that we were suggesting.   We walked away from that meeting in silence.

It was the same week that WWF’s The Living Planet Report came out showing that we have lost over 50% of the world’s populations of species- just in my lifetime.

A tear came to my eye.  A sense of resolve engulfed me.  And a question arose “What would a financial system look like that served people and planet?”

I was moved to help WWF think differently about change.

And this was the start of The Finance Innovation Lab.

The Finance Lab, now an independent organization, exists to enable a fair, democratic and responsible financial system.  In its 8 years of existence it has convened a community of 1000s of people who have worked together to successfully:

·      Amplify a new vision for the future of finance, 

·      Grow of dozens of new business models such as renewable energy funds and peer 2 peer banks

·      Shift policy and regulation – such as the Peer 2 Peer Lending regulation that now is enabling a more diverse system.

What I’d like to share with you today are three approaches that I feel are essential in enabling change at scale.  And will be important for us to consider as we create a Citizens Initiative for Natures Rights.

Firstly, it is important to understand complex systems

To be effective in our change efforts we need to work within the context of reality.  And the context of our reality is that we are part of a complex living system.  

And I believe, the more we can see our social, economic, and political systems as complex systems the more effective our change strategies will be.

What does it mean to understand complex systems? 

Two important examples for me include:  

·      Seeing the whole and its parts: The forest has its own unique properties as a whole system such as its micro climate and its intrinsic beauty.   And it is made of many interacting parts – trees, soil and animals.  How do we see the whole AND the interrelationship of its parts?

·      Embracing emergence and unpredictability.   A small intervention such as a match that lights a forest fire can burn down the whole forest in hours.   So, what are the small interventions we can make that have a big impact?

With The Finance Lab we looks at the whole, studies the interrelationships and senses into where best to intervene.   The Lab works with what Donnella Meadows calls ‘the highest order leverage points ’: 

·      shifting mindsets and values that underpin the system,

·      changing the purpose of the system itself and

·      updating the rules and regulations that shape the system.

Embracing a complex systems lense allows us leaders of change to be much more strategic in our efforts and I feel allow us to have a greater impact.

A second approach that I feel will be important in us enabling systems change for Natures Rights in developing DEEP CONNECTION

Another principle of a complex system, as in nature, is that everything is based on relationships.  No one thing lives in isolation - it lives in relationship to another.

This means that our work as leaders of change is relational.  For example, if we think about the great social movements in the world - their real power came from the strength of the relationships .

SO what does it mean to work at a level of relationships?    For me it means that we need to learn to:

Connect deeply with ourselves:

In my role as a leader of change I am constantly checking into:  What is my purpose and what is my own relationship to nature and the wider system that I am part of?

Build deep connections between people:

To enable meaningful change we need enduring relationships.  And we can do this by helping people to find a common purpose. This will act as a North Star that inspires and gives direction over time.

I have also found that deep bonds are built between people when we work at a level of emotions - as 97% of how we make decisions is based on emotional needs than rational ones.  

One of the most moving moments for me in The Finance Lab was when one of our participants, a corporate lawyer, stood up at one of our conferences and spoke from his heart about his relationship to his son and future generations.   This led other people to be more open and soon they were wanting to find ways to work together.

And the third thing we need to consider on HOW we will enable Natures Rights is COLLABORATION

The complexity of our challenges is so great that we need to find new ways to work together.  This is not easy as humans are not used to collaborating in our  culture that is dominated by values of individualism, competition and short-term thinking. 

There are great benefits that come with collaboration such as:

·      Collective intelligence – having diverse perspectives helps you to see the bigger picture and to move into more effective action.

·      Shared resources – pooling financial, logistical and human resources makes the community much more powerful 

·      Co- creation- working together you are able to come up with new ideas, experiment with others and learn what really works

The Finance Lab brings people together who normally wouldn’t meet such as policy makers, entrepreneurs and social activists.  And it is this collaboration that has led to changing rules and regulation in the finance system.

I’d like to leave with 3 questions to consider for: ‘HOW we can enable systems change for Nature’s Rights’

·      What are the strategic leverage points that will have the greatest impact?

·      How can we relate to ourselves, to each other and to nature in new ways that fosters deep and meaningful connection?

·      How can we put processes in place that enable us to work together and collaborate over time?

In summary, through seeing the world through a complex systems lense, through fostering deep connections and enabling collaboration I believe that we will soon bring Natures Rights to life.