Robin Oakley, Urban Movement Innovation Fund: “Times are urgent – we must slow down”*

The IKEA Foundation helps many organisations accelerate their efforts in combating climate change. Facts and figures speak for themselves, but who exactly are the people behind this extraordinary work? In this storytelling series, we spotlight brave individuals who move mountains in their climate action strategies and solutions. Today: Robin Oakley, Executive Director of the Urban Movement Innovation Fund.

I grew up in the 1980s in a seaside port in the northwest of England. It’s close to an old nuclear facility called Sellafield, which has made the sea in that area quite radioactive. Like many young people at that time, I was aware of news about the threat of nuclear war and environmental pollution from radiation.

Around my eighth birthday, I went on a tour of a Greenpeace ship while it was visiting my city. From then on, I had an awareness that not only were there these scary problems in the world, but there were also people revealing those problems and finding solutions.

Fifteen years later, I got my first professional job working for Greenpeace. Arriving in an organisation that I’d seen as a child was a very important moment for me. Working there, I gained a sense of what could be achieved with movement building and with people acting at scale.

Climbing a moutain

For me, understanding impact has been a slow building of awareness over time. A campaign success, a positive response from a political advocacy push or good media coverage for an activity – these things start to give you a sense of achievement. But it takes a bit of distance – like climbing a mountain – to look back and see how far you’ve come and how much of the landscape is suddenly revealed.

For example, as a young campaigner I worked to support government action for renewables in the UK. I remember producing a report that looked at the potential for offshore wind turbines around the coast of Britain. Since then, there have been milestones where that vision has not only happened but has been exceeded.

Now a huge majority of electricity generated in many European countries comes from renewable energy, and that the rest will follow. Rather than thinking about when that process might begin – or even if it might happen – the battle is about how quickly we can go 100% renewable. For me that’s like standing high on the mountain and looking back at a very long journey.

Solutions on the ground

At the Urban Movement Innovation Fund, it’s a real privilege to be able to make grants to organisations and people working on solutions on the ground. I’m proud of our partners and what they’re able to do, and of helping them achieve their vision.

One example that’s been particularly powerful is a project in Durban, South Africa. A group of organisations came together to work with folks who live in unplanned parts of the city, with no access to basic utilities. Through a really inclusive process, this community decided they wanted solar power. Then the local organisations worked with them to install it. They now have uninterrupted electricity, where many in South Africa experience regular blackouts.

These communities have become advocates for renewable energy, with a stake in big questions that are being asked in South Africa about the energy system. Some of the most marginalised people are bringing a powerful voice and relevant personal experience into a national conversation. This shows that those communities  most affected must be at the heart of decisions around climate change.

Challenging moments

Some of my most challenging moments have been when it’s been impossible to turn strategic thinking into a reality. For example, in the early 2010s, I and many others were thinking about cleaning up corporate vehicle fleets. But it was really difficult to get anyone to take it seriously. 

Now, there’s an understanding that these fleets are a huge source of pollution and that they contribute to climate change. Some companies are trying out bicycle deliveries and electric vans and a shift is happening. It’s disappointing knowing it was needed so long before and not being able to find a way to push this issue into the conversation sooner, but people just weren’t ready, other issues were more important to them.

The learning point is that it’s critical to meet people where they are. We need to understand why people are upset about something, like a wind farm on their doorstep, that for others seems so obviously needed. Understanding and responding to people’s needs – and what their stake is – could move us forward faster and bring people on board sooner with our strategies

We’ve got to take people with us and include many people in the conversation. Even if that means that we have to be a little more indirect in our approach. There’s an adage that many people are quoting lately: “Time is short, we need to slow down.” I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that.

Inclusive conversations

As a white European man, if I had the chance to speak at COP28, I would give the microphone to a woman representing an indigenous community. Someone who can speak from the lived experience of people who are routinely left out of these conversations and decisions.

My personal hope is both for the success of the climate movement and including people in decision making. I hope social justice and democracy can be the driving force for tackling problems that, on the face of it, don’t seem to have anything to do with them. It can be challenging to understand how issues like racial justice or gender rights are connected to emission reductions. But if we find a way that many people can be part of shaping the transition, something really beautiful can happen.

I imagine modern, more livable and equitable cities connected by clean transport, and between them vast areas of rewilded or protected nature – with careful, regenerative farming, providing good nutrition for all. But for me, the most important vision is less about the material side and more about how people can become agents of shaping the changes they see. 

There are signs of this happening but, of course, there are no guarantees. These things need to be nurtured and protected. Those who believe in them need to invest their heart and spirit  to make sure they grow from seeds of ideas into reality. 

About
Robin Oakley is one of the co-executive directors of the UMI FUND (UMIF). He runs the fund to get grants and support to people-powered movements that are trying to find climate solutions.

UMIF is mobilising the many people living in cities to take climate action and create solutions that will protect the planet and improve quality of life. The IKEA Foundation is supporting UMIF because we believe that urgent climate action in cities is essential to protect our planet – and that this calls for broad public support, innovative policy making and effective leadership.

*“times are urgent – we must slow down,” is a quote from Bayo Akomolafe

Partner

UMI Fund
Urban Movement Innovation Fund

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  • Our food systems are not working for people and the planet. We must transition to an approach that respects the environment and ensures the wellbeing of people now and in the future. 🥕

At the World Circular Economic Forum our Programme Manager, Annelies Withofs, talked about the Circular Food Systems for Rwanda programme which supports farmers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shift towards #RegenerativeAgriculture and circular systems. 

Learn more about the programme via the link in our bio 🔗

#ClimateCrisis #ClimateSolutions #SustainableFoodSystems #wcef2024
Our food systems are not working for people and the planet. We must transition to an approach that respects the environment and ensures the wellbeing of people now and in the future. 🥕

At the World Circular Economic Forum our Programme Manager, Annelies Withofs, talked about the Circular Food Systems for Rwanda programme which supports farmers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shift towards #RegenerativeAgriculture and circular systems. 

Learn more about the programme via the link in our bio 🔗

#ClimateCrisis #ClimateSolutions #SustainableFoodSystems #wcef2024
Our food systems are not working for people and the planet. We must transition to an approach that respects the environment and ensures the wellbeing of people now and in the future. 🥕 At the World Circular Economic Forum our Programme Manager, Annelies Withofs, talked about the Circular Food Systems for Rwanda programme which supports farmers, entrepreneurs, and businesses to shift towards #RegenerativeAgriculture and circular systems. Learn more about the programme via the link in our bio 🔗 #ClimateCrisis #ClimateSolutions #SustainableFoodSystems #wcef2024
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