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Donors and NGOs: we must change the way we work

Donors and NGOs: we must change the way we work

Our organisations share the same mission: to make the world a better place. One of us works for an international NGO, the other for a funding agency. The organisations that we work for seek to reduce poverty, and in particular our work seeks to enhance the ability of vulnerable populations to adapt to climate change. Our organisations support research, evidence-based policy making and informed, contextualised practice.

We believe values are powerful. Passionate teachers can have a lifelong impact; we can think of a few great ones that made an impression on our lives. Businesses can create new opportunities for economic growth; principled ones can do so while also making the communities within which they work safer, happier and healthier. We believe that our organisations can have a greater impact if we, the people who form them, reflect these values in our personal and professional lives.

Institutional change

Individual and behavioural change is difficult. It took decades of work to reduce smoking. It took almost as long to transition to a society that recycles and composts. Shifting the change from an opt-in behaviour to an opt-out option provides a great opportunity. For example, at one of our offices the lights are always on, even in unused spaces and often after hours. The system requires each individual to decide to turn them off one by one. However, changing this system so that motion detectors turn lights off automatically in unused spaces such as washrooms, and in all spaces after regular working hours, shifts the adjustment from individuals to institutions. While we recognise this change is relatively minor in the grand scheme of global greenhouse gas emissions, we believe – as organisational advocates in the climate change sphere – that we should be meeting these minimum standards.

office work
An empty office with motion sensitive lights. Photo from Flickr.

Low carbon economy

Our organisations promote a transition to a low carbon economy. We believe that we should take the lead in doing so. For example, in many countries there are options to purchase 100% of energy from renewable sources. Making this choice not only reduces emissions, but also supports a broader transition to a low carbon economy. Not all choices are this easy. For instance, since the aviation industry runs on fossil fuels, should we continue to pay for our employees to fly business class? Doing so does not signal that we are ready and willing to make changes towards establishing a low carbon economy. Making serious, systematic changes so that our organisations embody the values of a low carbon economy require vision and courage. Not everyone will be happy about these changes.

business work
Business class seats…helping establish a low carbon economy? Photo from Wikimedia.


Some changes communicate our values more vocally than others, and not everyone is always comfortable with those positions. We believe our organisations should have the courage to make these value-based statements. For example, while we do not believe that everyone within the organisation must be vegetarian, we do believe that serving vegetarian food in our cafeterias and catering events with vegetarian meals sends the right message. Similarly, while individuals can make their own choices, we do not think that alcohol at events should be paid for with public or charitable dollars. The changes we make within our organisations will not end world hunger or significantly slow the flooding of deltas due to sea level rises. However, we believe that these courageous value-based statements and organisational choices will contribute to global efforts, strengthen our work and move ourselves toward the global goals we seek and promote.

Walk the talk

There’s a long list of phrases that encapsulate the importance of living values: practise what you preach; actions speak louder than words; well done is better than well said; and if you talk the talk, you have to walk the walk. There is great social value attached to these phrases, and they continue to be widely used. They demonstrate the need for organisations to embody their values. Our organisations seek to promote transformational change, but need to be more transformational themselves. While we speak about the radical shifts that will be required to reduce emissions and adapt to climate change, our own adjustments have been incremental. As we work to support others to change, we must challenge ourselves to change too. Together, that is powerful.

Featured image from Pixabay.

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