LIFE-AR: inspiring change within IIED

The least developed countries’ vision for a climate-resilient future calls for a radical shake-up of the ‘business-as-usual’ response to the climate crisis. Within IIED, it’s an opportunity to embed ‘business unusual’ principles in the way we work.

Nora Nisi's picture
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9 April 2021

Nora Nisi is a coordinator in IIED’s Climate Change research group

Women and three donkeys walk in a desert

IIED will adopt the principles of 'business unusual' in the way we work to address the climate emergency with the LDCs (Photo: EU/ECHO/Anouk Delafortrie via FlickrCC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The biggest ever climate poll to date suggests over two-thirds of people now recognise climate change as a ‘global emergency’.

But global action to deal with the climate crisis isn’t working. The Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group – representing the world’s poorest nations, hit hardest by climate change – are driving a bold, new approach to reshape the climate response.

The LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR) calls on organisations working in climate and development to shift from one-size-fits-all to context-specific solutions; from top-down to bottom-up responses; from short-term thinking to long-term planning.

The initiative encourages a decentralised approach where local actors have agency and decision-making power over how to plan, manage and use finances, specifically calling for at least 70% of climate finance flows to support local action by 2030.

Being LDC-run and LDC-led, LIFE-AR enables the LDCs to put their decades-long, country-specific experience into practice to tackle the climate crisis.

This new approach – where local individuals, communities, and institutions lead the design and delivery of adaptation solutions – marks a radical shift in beliefs, behaviours and attitudes.

We call this approach ‘business unusual’.

Forging new ways of working

IIED was humbled to be invited by the LDC chair and LDC Group to take on the role of interim secretariat and support the LDCs to establish this initiative.

LIFE-AR’s bold vision calls for collective action to do things differently, and has spurred IIED to do things differently too.

So, within IIED, LIFE-AR has given us the opportunity to unpack what business unusual means in practice, and seek to embed principles of business unusual in the way we work and the way we engage with others.

We recognise we need to be more agile, inclusive, and adaptive while we support the LDC leadership at the global and national levels.

We will take a backseat – which includes supporting the LDCs only where support is requested and desired. We will be prepared to listen first and foremost to the LDCs – remembering to consult, ask permission, get guidance, copy, include and inform. We will strive to put more effective processes into practice, including moving away from fly-in-fly-out consultants and costly workshops. And we will remind ourselves to question common practices, manage expectations and hold ourselves accountable.

We shall continue to promote LDC leadership and LDC voices by making sure there are spaces where the LDCs can contribute, and by building the LDC platform that strengthens LDC voice on the international stage. We will ensure equality is embedded in our management approach so that we can ultimately work to share and shift the dynamics of power between us and our global South partners. At the end of the day, IIED is working itself out of a job.

While being encouraged to reflect on our internal ways of working, we also recognise that change can only happen within a wider enabling environment created by donors on the one hand and LDCs on the other. With support from our LDC partners, we are seeking to build evidence around the business unusual way of working, and to use this evidence to drive more effective climate action.  

Funder contracts, for example, often come with tight financial and reporting deadlines set by existing processes. With these partners holding the purse strings, our LDC partners do not have the power to push back on these contract requirements, even when unfair or unrealistic.

Inspired by LIFE-AR, we will encourage our global North partners to embrace the business unusual principles, so we can improve our ways of working together. One step is to urge donors to be more flexible, patient and adaptive in their conditions and requirements. For LIFE-AR to deliver long-term results that leave a legacy, donors and international organisations must allow LDCs to set the pace.

We are also encouraging donors supporting LIFE-AR to recognise the initiative as an iterative learning process rather than a finished idea – one geared towards holistic and flexible milestones, rather than deliverables and outputs set out in a linear log frame.

Some reflections and moving forward

The pathway to business unusual is a learning journey. It presents the opportunity for big change but accepts that the steps along the path may take time. Embarking on a new way of working will bring new challenges. Sometimes we will be prevented from taking a step forward and perhaps even forced to take a step back. However, we believe it is worth the effort for greater climate effectiveness and impact.

Business unusual is a learning process, and each step or experience along the path to change is important. IIED is giving itself the time to learn, reflect, and adapt – exploring the skills we need to truly commit to supporting LDCs and other partners to move beyond business-as-usual.

It is our privilege to support the LDCs in establishing LIFE-AR. While we work together in partnership with mutual respect and appreciation of shared knowledge, experience and capabilities, we invite the LDCs to help us build our own capabilities and knowledge, all the while challenging our ways of working.

With thanks to Sarah McIvor for her contributions to this blog.

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