Collaborative Processes

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. 

Thinking Systemically - Environmental Funders Network


I was recently asked to write a blog for the Environmental Funders Network (EFN) 

Pioneering funders play such an important role in tackling root issues - we need funders now, more than ever, to take a systemic approach to there funding.  Here's why.......

Thinking Systemically

By Jen Morgan, 3rd December 2015

“The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think.” Gregory Bateson

So what is the difference between how nature works and how people think?

As empowered change agents, how can we help to align human systems so that they are in harmony with our natural systems?

This is something that I have been exploring for the last 12 years working at the nexus of sustainability and finance as a change practitioner with WWF-UK and The Finance Innovation Lab.

How Nature Works – A Complex System

Nature is a complex system. Orit Gal of Regents University’s Complexity Studio explains that the characteristics of a complex system, such as in a rainforest or a pond, include:

• Many simple actors whose interconnected relationships make the whole
• A collection of local actions – there is no ‘one actor’ in control
• Many interactions between actors – some interactions have surprising effects
• Actors learn and evolve over time and this leads to changing dynamics and patterns

However, through our prevalent thinking, we have designed our human systems with underlying principles of ‘self’ as independent, hierarchal control, predictable cause and effect and siloed expertise. Our predominant thinking has solidified through the influence of religious, scientific and industrial eras. As a result, we have become disconnected from ourselves, from each other and from the universal operating principles of nature that enable the conditions for life to thrive.

The most important thing we need to do now is to help humanity to change the way it thinks. We are not facing an ecological crisis – rather we are facing a crisis of epistemology. And this is the root cause of all our ecological challenges. This requires us to work at a level of worldviews, purpose, values, behaviours and relationships. Making shifts from ‘I’ to ‘WE’, from ‘individualism to interconnectivity’, from ‘fear to love’, from ‘scarcity to abundance’.
Thinking Systemically

Donella Meadows, a pioneering American environmental scientist, teacher, and writer, co-authored ‘The Limits to Growth‘, a seminal piece of work that began a debate about the limits of the Earth’s capacity to support human economic expansion. As a system thinker, she has also helped people to understand systems and how to intervene in systems for meaningful change.

The essence of her thinking is summarised in ‘Leverage Points, Places to Intervene in a System’. In this article, she talks about different leverage points with varying levels of influence. In descending order of effectiveness, she suggests change efforts should focus on shifting:

1. The Worldviews and Values Underpinning the System
2. The Purpose of the System
3. Who Shapes the Rules of the Game
4. The Rules of the Game
5. Information Flows
6. Positive and Negative Feedback Loops e.g. incentives
7. Physical Material Flows

She highlights that the top three most long-term, impactful places to intervene are through addressing the system’s worldviews and values, the system’s purpose and the system’s power dynamics.

But where do we actually focus our change efforts? Most of the of environmental change efforts of UK philanthropists and their grantees have historically addressed the lower order leverage points for change – such as increasing transparency, internalising externalities, and reducing environmental footprints. These are important. We need it all.

However, our efforts for change are seriously not stacking up to the scale of change that is required. We need to think much more critically and progressively about our strategies for change. And this means placing a much greater emphasis on the higher order leverage points that Donella presents.

Acting Systemically

So how can we stimulate change at the root level of systems?

Over the past decade, I have learnt that meaningful long-term change needs convening infrastructure, collaborative communities and personal leadership.

Convening Infrastructure:
Social change takes time. To help to create the enabling conditions for change over time, convening infrastructure is essential to host and grow communities and programmes of work. There is an increased awareness amongst US philanthropists that ‘backbone’ organisations are important convening infrastructure for ‘collective impact’. Backbone organisations clarify context, set intention, build strategy, cultivate resources, and create processes and partnerships that catalyse change at scale. Backbone organisations need the help of philanthropists now more than ever.

Collaborative Communities:
Aligned communities are exponentially more powerful. As we have seen from history, social change is accelerated when groups of people are galvanised by common purpose and find ways to act and move together. To enable an environmental movement in the UK, we need to convene and cultivate a community of change makers, who have a joint understanding of the root issues, are motivated by an inspiring vision, have shared theories and approaches to change, are aligned through a common purpose and have joined up strategies that allow the community to come together to experiment, practice, learn, adapt and leverage their work, relationships and resources.

Personal Leadership:
We are a fractal of the system. As we have learned from complexity science, we are all part of an interconnected system and our local actions influence the whole. So every action we take matters. And our actions will be even more influential if they are all in tune with our personal purpose (and this includes organisational purpose). What is our purpose? What are our values? What are our behaviours? Where are there gaps between our purpose and behaviours? How do we address this dissonance?

What philanthropists can do?

Philanthropists have a very important leadership role to play in pioneering the progressive change that is needed for people and planet. And the timing couldn’t be better. However, we need to take a step back, reflect critically on our efforts, and build better strategies and collaborative cultures.

Here are few thoughts that I believe will make significant shifts for our work.

1. Develop your capacity to understand ‘systems’ and ‘systems change’– take courses, learn from other practitioners, spend time in nature.

2. Invest more in convening infrastructure for change and backbone organisations and support people and projects that are working to address root-level systems change – shifting worldviews, purpose and power.

3. Recognise that meaningful change takes time and that tackling root causes may not produce direct and tangible environmental impact for some time – but when it does it will be significant and lasting.

4. Convene and cultivate collaborative communities for shared strategies, learning and leveraged impact. Do this with within and across the ecosystems of philanthropy and NGO/environmental organisations – and over a longer period of time.

5. Align your purpose and practice with everything you do – this includes things such as aligning programme and grant activity with endowment and reserve strategies.

Jen Morgan enables pioneering leaders and organisations to design and develop systems change strategies – so that human systems can align with the planet’s natural systems. As an intrapreneur within WWF-UK, she co-founded The Finance Innovation Lab – a newly independent systems change organization enabling a fair, democratic and responsible finance system. In addition to supporting systems entrepreneurs, she is an external advisor for the RSA’s Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing programme and a Fellow at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School Centre for Social Innovation.


Why the financial system needs an innovation lab?

Here is a recently blog that I wrote for Nesta .....


It was 15 July 2008 – there was tension in the air, as a conversation started in the Royal Festival Hall, London, UK, between four likeminded people: “The challenges we face today are so complex – there has just got to be another way that tackles the roots of these problems.”

The Living Planet Report had just been published – the trend of 30% extinction of all species on planet earth continued. Little did we know that two months later the Lehman Brothers crisis would help to spark the global financial crisis.  

It was then that four of us, who worked for WWF-UK and ICAEW, embarked on setting up The Finance Innovation Lab, which is now on its way to becoming an independent organisation in order to scale its work. Work that aims to empower positive disruptors in the financial system, connect people who are changing the system, develop them as leaders and help them scale their work.

We set up The Finance Innovation Lab for five very important reasons, which are still hugely relevant to the financial system today, and which guide our work:

1. Dealing with the complexity requires a systems approach to change

For too long, the financial system and its actors have been working as isolated components in a big machine. However, the financial system is an interconnected human system that is formed by dynamics, patterns and relationships. Only when we see the system as whole, and all of its complexity, can we then focus on high potential ‘acupuncture’ points that will accelerate change. In The Finance Innovation Lab we have paid attention to leverage points such as P2P Banking and cultivating new business models in finance.

2. Shifting purpose, values and culture takes time  

Not many people would disagree that the current financial system is self-serving, rather than serving the common good. It has been shaped by values such as competition, individualism and hedonism. For the system to serve the whole, we need to strengthen cultures that are underpinned by values of democracy, responsibility and fairness. Inspiring new values and cultures does not happen overnight. It will take decades. We have built a sustainable infrastructure for the Lab in order to cultivate and accelerate change in values and culture. A key part of our sustainable infrastructure is building deep long-term, collaborative partnerships with people and organisations. This is embedded in our culture and comes through in the way that we work. Over the last six years, in co-operation with many of these partners including business coaches, Shirlaws, Tim Jackson of the University of Surrey, Nesta and the New Economy Organisers Network (NEON), we have successfully run a number of incubators such as UnLtd Futures and Campaign Lab — which is now in its third year.

3. Demonstrating ‘the new’ needs safe space for experimentation

New business models in finance and their entrepreneurs have many forces against them when they start up – they often lack resources, leadership skills, community support or the influence to shape the wider market conditions. Innovation labs are needed in order to create safe spaces to try things out, to grow and to build the fitness needed to survive in a system that does not currently support ‘the new’. Check out The Finance Foundry, an incubator for new alternative business models in finance. It will be launched in the summer of 2015.

4. Changing power dynamics requires collaborative communities

The UK finance sector is the biggest UK lobbyist in the EU. This is a powerful force that is holding the existing system in place. It is preventing more radical and deep rooted change to emerge. We need a new enabling power that serves society and environment. And this takes the convening, alignment, strategy and the infrastructure of an innovation lab in order to build trusting and collaborative communities who are able to enable a new form of democratic power. To this end, The Lab is convener of the Transforming Finance Network, a network of civil society organisations dedicated to changing the financial system. In January a coalition of civil society groups, led by The Lab, set out five fundamental recommendations for transforming finance.

5. Inspiring new narratives through collective intelligence and insight

There’s lots of noise in attempts to change the financial system – but no vision of the future. Common narratives are much more powerful than hundreds of competing voices and are more likely to inspire and influence a new landscape. An innovation lab helps to cultivate collective insights and intelligence through action learning processes. Through our incubator programme, Campaign Lab, we work with social, environmental and economic justice campaigners to help them understand the systemic political and economic root causes that they need to tackle so that they can create meaningful change. Taking the narrative of change to the door of policy makers is a core element of The Lab’s work. A recent submission, to the Competition and Markets Authority in conjunction 20 civil society and alternative finance organisations called on the government to pay particular attention to fostering greater diversity of business models within the financial system.   

These five objectives underpin all our work to create a financial system that is democratic, responsible and fair. This is a critical time when more radical and disruptive social change is urgently needed and consequently investment in ‘systems change infrastructure’ is essential. The recent funding award to The Finance Innovation Lab, from Friends Provident Foundation and Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust (JRCT) of a combined total of over £250,000 was given specifically for the purpose of establishing systems change infrastructure.  

The funding will provide the financial flexibility that The Lab needs as it transitions to independence, to invest in the core costs needed to support our work in building collaboration in civil society, to grow communities, capacity and solutions for transformational change. For people and for planet.

To find out more about the Finance Innovation Lab see: This blog is part of our March edition of Lab Notes - a monthly digest for public sector innovators.

- See more at:

Photo Credit: tolkien1914 via Compfight cc

Collaborative Communities

I love train journeys ……they speak to my soul…… to my sense of adventure.

The potential for discovery…… traveling into unknown territories……meeting new people.

As a pioneer of social change, I love discovery, stepping into the unknown and meeting new people.

I am on the train back now to London having been in Vienna for the past 4 days.  I have been hosting a group of people,  who are responding to UNEPs Inquiry into the Design of a Sustainable Financial System.

We are a collaborative community.  We are entrepreneurs, social bankers, systems thinkers, academics, writers and activists.    We are seeking to grow the values based banking market to enable positive impact for people and planet.

We started from a seed of an idea that I helped to plant 9 months ago at The Institute of Social Banking Summer School.  Since then we have been developing our intention, our community and our work.  We are building momentum.

This community is working well and has a magnetic aura about it.  People are committing significant time on their own free will.  It is fun, it is focused and we are friends.   
The world needs more collaborative communities like this:   Conscious people who intentionally come together to co-create solutions over a long period of time to tackle some of today’s complex challenges.   People who want to travel together – far and well.  They are people who are bravely practicing new ways of relating that are based on love, trust, appreciation- and serving the needs of both the individual and the common good.
As a practitioner, I want to share some thoughts on seeding, building and growing collaborative communities.

So why is this community working well?   I believe it is working well because there is:

1.    Someone with a vision who seeds possibility
2.    An initial champion who supports that person with the vision
3.    A compelling  invitation to co-create
4.    A foundation of shared values and culture that is based on wholeness – the heart, the head and the hands
5.    A regular heartbeat which convenes people to develop their relationships and learning
6.    Participatory processes such as meditation, check-ins, action learning, appreciative inquiry, world cafes - lots of post it notes!
7.    A safe space where people can openly express their needs and be heard – this includes not just emotional space but an informal and comfortable physical space too
8.    An ongoing common understanding and alignment of the challenge,  the opportunity,  the collective vision and intention and a solid strategy for implementation
9.    Clear roles of accountability and decision making
10.    A feeling of being valued for one’s contributions and having a chance to evolve one’s own growth and personal evolution
11.    A sense of informality and fun!

What Makes a Good Invitation?

An attractive invitation landed with me the other day to join a special leadership retreat in India.

I am energised to go.

It got me thinking….

“What if we created higher quality invitations – would that inspire greater movement action?”

Being curious about this I’ve reflected on the invitation and why it was a good one.

A few quick notes on what worked for me ….


Personal Resonance

I resonate deeply with the people who invited me. We have met several times before and I know we share similar purpose, values and vision.

Feeling Needed and Wanted

I felt that my hosts specifically wanted me to be there.  “Jen, we’ve been thinking about you - we’d really like you to join us for the PowWow in India’.

Fait au Complet

Although I have yet to confirm if I am going, I have already received joining instructions and Simon’s excitement of ‘Jen we are so pleased you will be part of it’.

Credibility and Trust of Hosts

I have had several meetings with my hosts before.  I know that they do high impact and quality work.  I know they engage with special communities of people who also do high quality work.


Being part of something Special and Important

Something about this event feels special.  It is invitation only and there are limited number of people are going, many of whom are amazing leaders in their fields.

Removing Barriers

My hosts have gone as far as to suggest that they will help me in considering costs of attending.  “Jen don’t worry about costs I am sure we can work it out’.

A Special Place

The retreat is in Rajasthan, India.   I feel allured by India as an important place to explore deep questions of leadership and sustainability. (Although carbon miles are likely to be a deal breaker for me!).

Return on my Intention

The conversations and the connections are likely to be aligned to my strategic work of systemic culture change for people and planet.  It will be a rich learning experience.

…. So we’ll see!