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Helen Mountford is the president and CEO of Climate Works Foundation, a philanthropy platform that has granted more than a billion dollars to worthy projects and grantees in more than 50 countries. She’s a key partner in a World Economic Forum initiative that launched this year called GAEA - Giving to Amplify Earth Action - and she'll tell us why philanthropy can be an important way to fund and experiment fore new ideas and to create an ecosystem to make big change possible.
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Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks We need a range of solutions, we need a range of strategies, and we need to be pushing on all fronts all the time.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader Welcome to Meet the Leader, the podcast where top leaders share how they are tackling the world's toughest challenges. Today we talked to Helen Mountford, the president and CEO of ClimateWorks Foundation. She'll tell us about the power of an unsung tool to make a difference for the climate: philanthropy.
Subscribe to Meet the Leader on Apple, Spotify and wherever you get your favourite podcasts. And please don't forget to rate and review us. I'm Linda Lacina from the World Economic Forum and this is Meet the Leader.
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks What gives me hope is that we actually do have the solutions. We can actually do this.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader Philanthropy has made change possible for so many important issues, but historically, just a fraction, less than 2% has gone to one of the most important issues of our time: climate mitigation.
That's important because philanthropy has a few advantages over other types of funding. It can bring together a range of groups like science and business and civil society and government, all to create an ecosystem that can help drive big change.
And importantly, it can be more nimble and de-risk investments, all helping to test ideas that can then be scaled out further to be bigger and better by groups like the private sector.
Helen Mountford knows this well. She is the president and CEO of ClimateWorks Foundation. That is a philanthropy platform that has granted more than $1,000,000,000 to worthy projects in more than 50 countries.
ClimateWorks Foundation is a key partner in a World Economic Forum initiative that launched this year called GAEA: Giving to Amplify Earth Action, and that launched with more than 50 major philanthropic, public and private sector partners, all to help generate the trillions needed from public and private sources to really tackle climate change and nature loss. She will tell us all about GAEA but first she'll talk a little bit more about climate, philanthropy and its potential.
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks Philanthropy is private and foundation giving for good causes. Climate philanthropy is really looking at how we can use the sort of small but catalytic funds from philanthropy to really drive change more quickly.
And so, how can we use that to leverage public and private funds to actually explore new areas, develop new areas which the public sector, the companies, can then come in later to take forward, such as technological solutions on climate, and how can we help to bring down the risks of some of the investments that others will be taking.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader So what are the advantages of this method? You know that maybe other types of funding don't have?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks Where climate philanthropy can do the best is actually be it by being catalytic, by really looking at where there are areas that are new that need to be explored further, where we can set some of the guidelines and approaches that can help the whole community move forward, and to be agile.
So as we see things shifting, often climate philanthropy can be the first to actually shift direction. If there's a new crisis, a new opportunity that emerges, to really sort of lead the way. So at its best, it's really very agile. It's able to take risks and it's able to be catalytic.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader Why is it that it can be more agile than other types of financing or funding?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks Well, because it's up to the individuals and the foundations to actually set the direction. And, you know, working with their boards or if it's an individual, obviously, the individual, they can actually move fairly quickly.
Often what we see in the public sector or the private sector is this very strong rules and guidance. There will be processes that are quite thorough and often quite complicated to get through, particularly with public funding, to actually move the money to the ground.
Every foundation will have, of course, their own rules, their control system to actually make sure what they're doing is in accordance with their mission, their values, the approach they're trying to take. But they have that ability to be a bit more agile.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader Everything has advantages and disadvantages. What are the disadvantages of climate philanthropy?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks One of the challenges is, of course we need to actually save trillions of dollars to really deliver the climate crisis and philanthropy will only ever be a small part of this.
So it is small. We see it as a small but mighty pea amongst the philanthropy, public and private. It really does need to work together with and help to leverage what can happen in terms of public and private finance. That's one of the challenges that we see.
The other that we've seen is that there's a lot of interest from philanthropy, a lot of foundations who haven't been investing in climate and want to or individuals who want to. But what they're struggling with is where should they invest?
Climate is complex. It covers everything. Now we are seeing the impacts around the world all the time, and we know we need radical transformation of all of our sectors to actually tackle the climate crisis. And of course, coming into this, all new funders say, well, where should I best invest? And that's where we and others in the community are trying to help them identify those opportunities.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader There is a special initiative, Gaea, the Giving to Amplify Earth Action that is looking to bridge a $100 trillion gap. Tell us about the initiative and why it's important.
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks Absolutely. So, I mean, this is an exciting one because it actually is looking at what are the partnerships where we have public and private sector come together and then some of that really catalytic philanthropic capital to help actually accelerate and boost action on climate beyond what we're seeing right now.
We have a number of successful initiatives starting to move, taking forward climate action, but just not at the scale we need. So how can we actually identify some of these partnerships that can really, really accelerate action?
And that's what we're aiming to do. And we'll be a partner in this as well as many others. And looking over the next year to really test and trial some approaches that could lead to much more accelerated action.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader So when we talk about the $100 trillion gap, what are we actually talking about? How so?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks This really is about how do we transform our whole global economy.
We need to shift all sectors to a low-carbon, climate resilient approach. And so it's really about that transformation.
Of course, a lot of the finance investment is already happening. It's just not going in the right direction. So how do we ensure that as we're working with industries, as we're working with food, agriculture systems, how do we actually take an approach that can really shift that to deliver what we need for people and the planet together?
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader You're talking about maybe trialling new approaches. What might that look like? Even if it's not in place, what could happen possibly?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks So let me give one example or possibly two examples from some of the work that we've been doing and where we see some real opportunity going forward.
One, there is a clean cooling collaborative that's been working on how do we really roll out a clean cooling, efficient air conditioning and fan systems around the world, particularly to those who are now being hit the hardest by climate impacts and are most at risk of health impacts from heat extremes. So really looking at how to roll this out.
Now, a few years ago we were working with a couple of the multilateral development banks or the private banks and looking at how could we actually finance clean cooling solutions on the ground. And they said, we don't really know. We're not sure. We understand it's important, but we don't know how.
So we worked with the philanthropic community to invest $10 million in pilot testing some ideas on financing clean cooling on the ground.
Now, by pilot testing it with them, they learned from these what worked and what didn't, how to do it, and have gone on to take from that 10 million now investing over 600 million in clean cooling financing solutions on the ground.
So that's already been quite transformative and a wonderful partnership with public, private and philanthropy. What we're now looking at next is how do we actually get all cooling systems to be five times more efficient than they currently are. And so how can you work with some of the key markets which actually produce cooling, where you see the demand for air conditioning going forward, and with the corporates who are producing air conditioning, to really actually roll out those five times more efficient clean cooling systems.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader If someone had an idea that philanthropy was more passive, where people were sort of just giving money, it's not - there's this opportunity for the entrepreneurial mindset to ferment, test and then, scale.
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks Absolutely. And mainly it's that sort of early stage - experimenting, testing, trialling - doing so together with governments, with corporates. And as they learn from them, they can take it forward.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader What, in your mind, could hold climate philanthropy back? I mean, we know we need urgent action. We've a lot to do in a very short period of time. And climate philanthropy has an important role to play. What could hold it back?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks Well, I mean, one of the things we definitely see is a challenge, I'll highlight two.
One is that we are in a period of poly-crisis and there is so much that we all need to tackle immediately, whether it's about the war on Ukraine, it's about food and energy insecurity, inflation, cost of living. There's so much.
Now what we see is that actually climate, and I think the WEF Risk Report that just came out really demonstrates as well we can't ignore climate. Climate, nature, biodiversity loss. These are the major risks we see on the horizon and we need to integrate it in the solutions to all the other crises. How do we actually take this as an integrative approach so that we're not tackling one crisis right now just to leave the next one coming one, two years down the track.
So that's going to be essential. But it is a real risk that people at the moment focus on just one crisis at a time rather than actually doing an integrated approach.
The second that we see is that there is a lot of interest from philanthropy, from other funders, to actually invest in climate action. But again, they don't know where or how and how to do that. And that's where ClimateWorks, that's one of the things we're really trying to do, is convene the community, bring them together around intelligence, data strategies, world class solutions and partnerships that can actually deliver those results and give them the confidence to make those investments more rapidly and get the money to the ground.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader Is there something that you really, really hope, aside from all the wonderful things that will come from this launch, something that you really hope moves forward for the climate this year? If there's one key thing -- 'we can do this, guys'?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks We have a lot of climate commitments that have come forward in the last couple of years from countries, from cities, from corporates, from all the net zero commitments, which is fantastic. This year has got to be about implementation and accountability. And so the focus this year has really got to be about demonstrating how we're delivering that and using that to build more momentum.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader What do you think we need to do to make sure that accountability emerges?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks There is a whole ecosystem that has been built up of the tools, the guidance, the approaches to help governments and corporates to actually set their net zero targets, to set the pathways to actually achieve those, to report transparently about these, and then to be held to account. And that ecosystem has been building. We need to consolidate it, make sure that it's got all the right tools and approaches in there, make adjustments where we need - a lot of this is still developing, even things like the scenarios for actually looking at how to report transparently on your climate related risk. We have scenarios we need to continue to refine them and make sure they're usable by all the communities that need... so need to ensure that is all in place and that it's used.
I think the other thing I would emphasize here is just how important civil society is and the climate movement, those on the outside who are able to call out where we have corporates or governments who are backsliding or are saying one thing but actually doing something different.
So all of this is about getting that data, that information out there, but then you also need that public pressure from outside to keep people on track.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader What keeps you up at night?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks The climate crisis is absolutely terrifying, right? I mean, we're at about 1.1, 1.2 degrees Celsius now. When we see the devastating impacts of droughts, wildfires, I mean, Pakistan, one third of the country was under water last year. Just absolutely devastating.
And we're trying to keep climate and global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. And this is already happening at 1.1-1.2. So that to me is just how much worse is it going to get? How much more are we going to risk? That keeps me up at night.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader What gives you hope?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks What gives me hope is that we actually do have the solutions. We can actually do this.
And one of the things I very much aspire to is what Christiana Figueres has called stubborn optimism on climate. It's optimism because we do have the solutions. We can do it. We've got the human ingenuity, the ability to work together and do this. But the stubborn part is that it will not happen unless we all really work together and actually deliver that.
So we're not going to give up. We're going to keep fighting and keep working towards really winning on climate.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader Pushing forward on climate solutions is difficult because everything is very, very long-term. Sometimes it can take many, many years for the smallest thing to sort of come into place. Given all that and given your work, how have you changed as a leader maybe from the beginning of your career? What have you learned that maybe wouldn't have occurred to you at the beginning of your career to help move things forward?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks I think one of the things and this is what really excites me about what philanthropy can do, is that there is absolutely no silver bullet. There's no one solution, one strategy, that's going to work.
So what philanthropy does is actually take a range of strategies, from funding efforts to actually provide analysis, data, information to support government action or corporate action, through to the sort of outside game of movement building, those on the street, and even litigation where it's not happening. So there's a whole panoply from technical advice to actually helping to generate the technologies and bring down the costs more rapidly through to this sort of outside pressure and litigation.
So we need a range of solutions, we need a range of strategies, and we need to be pushing on all fronts all the time.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader Is there a piece of advice that you've always been grateful for?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks So my mother came from the Midwest, so she had a lot of advice and guidance, and I'm not entirely sure I understand it all still to this day. But one of the ones that she instilled in us when we were young was, if at first you don't succeed, try, try again. And to me, that is absolutely fundamental in the climate space.
I've been working on this for almost 30 years, and we've seen enormous progress over that time. But we've also seen a lot of setbacks, a lot of delays. And we need to just keep trying and trying again.
"If at first you don't succeed, try, try again. To me, that is absolutely fundamental in the climate space.”
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader Is there a book that you recommend?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks Yes. One that actually gives me hope and inspiration is Mariana Mazzucato, Mission Economy. And I think it really sort of charts what could be moonshot solutions to actually changing capitalism in a way that can deliver on our big goals, like addressing climate change, and in a way that will actually benefit people, communities, benefit the economy, and also deliver what we need on climate. So that one is sort of a practical and inspirational guide to how we can do some of this.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader In your work, has there ever been a point where, like you were talking before, 'try try again' - is there a point where you thought, gosh, like I've just hit this wall and I'm not sure that we're going to kind of break through? It does eventually, But there's a moment there where you're like, oh, gosh. And then what did you do then I guess in that moment is when I'm curious about how did you sort of keep pushing forward?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks I hit a number of those walls. One example is in political change over in countries. Some of my previous work with OECD was really working with countries to help identify the climate and environmental policies that they could implement or how they could learn from each other to move forward. And at certain times you've got a government that's gung ho and is moving ahead and starting to really implement what they need to do. And then there's a government changeover and you might get a complete reversal, pull back.
And we've seen that in a number of countries around the world. Luckily, at the moment, we're seeing a bit of an upswing on those who want to take action on climate, sort of reversing some of the reversals that we've seen.
And again, the 'if at first you don't succeed try try again' approach, for what we did is in some of these countries, if you're not able to work with the government anymore, if they're not pushing forward at a national level, how do you then actually work with corporates, with cities, with states, with civil society to make sure there is still climate progress on the ground?
I saw this with the US. America's all in. There is still a huge amount of climate progress on the ground in the US and with corporates, with the finance sector. Even during the Trump administration, even while the federal government was walking away, you had that progress. As the Biden administration came in, they're able to capitalise on what had been happening on the ground and put that into more ambitious federal policy.
So absolutely, seen that in a number of countries, and have taken action on what can we keep moving in this time, even if we're not able to move as quickly as we'd like to at the federal level.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader And if you had one message for the leaders, what would it be?
Helen Mountford, ClimateWorks The main message is just that climate has to be front and centre in what they're doing.
It is actually critical. Climate action is going to help us in terms of achieving the economic growth we need in a sustainable way over the long term in terms of delivering jobs, health benefits, helping to build communities and resilience to the kinds of impacts that we would otherwise be seeing.
So, absolutely, keep climate front and centre and all that they're doing.
Linda Lacina, Meet The Leader That was Helen Mountford. Thanks so much to her and thanks so much to you for listening. A transcript of this episode and my colleagues' episodes Radio Davos and the Book Club Podcast is available at wef.ch/podcasts.
This episode of Meet the Leader was presented and produced by me with Juan Toran as studio engineer Taz Kelleher as editor and Gareth Nolan driving studio production.
That's it for now. I'm Linda Lacina with the World Economic Forum. Have a great day.
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