How do you drive fundamental change? A diversity of lecturers and practitioners offers insights, strategies, knowledge and skills during the Masterclass Societal Transitions, to help you to become a systemic change maker. On day 4 of the program we learn how to accelerate the circular economy with Chris Monaghan, co-founder and Innovation Director of Metabolic, who will share and discuss stories and learnings from practice. How do you convert your insane ambitions into practical steps towards systemic change?
Chris Monaghan is a firm believer in the change-making potential of entrepreneurs, start-ups and businesses that are driven by a social purpose. With Metabolic, Chris and his colleagues aim to tackle global sustainability challenges using a systems approach – by offering on-the-ground, tangible and scalable solutions. The organisation employs three core arms to reach that goal: consulting, focusing on supporting organisations to make radically better sustainable decisions; a think tank, researching and developing the information and tools needed for an informed economic transition; and venture building, creating new enterprises that have the focus, design, and strategy to create disruptive solutions.
This integrated approach has generated results, not only in building a strong organisation, dedicated to and fit for tackling sustainability challenges, but also in birthing a growing variety of start-ups and projects that share the Metabolic-DNA like Sustainer Homes, Watt Now and EcoCoin.
Breaking down the answers.
With a background in international politics and environmental policy, Chris’s experiences made him realize that great ambitions need a practical translation to be taken up. ‘Politics can have massive impact, but there is much compromising on your own values. You constantly have to negotiate with yourself – at least I had,’ Chris explains. ‘It is very hard to rise above the frame and keep the bigger picture in mind in politics, but as an innovative, social entrepreneur you can develop tangible alternatives and solutions that offer politicians and policy makers the possibility to understand how things could work differently.’
‘It’s about asking these bigger questions and breaking the answers down in manageable chunks.’ – Chris Monaghan
‘What has to change in society, and how are we going to make that happen? What needs to exist that doesn’t exist now? It’s about asking these bigger questions and breaking the answers down in manageable chunks. Nearly everything about how our current economy works needs to be redesigned, and doing that through good data science, using the latest technology, and operating on human centric design principles is ultimately just a lot of fun.’
Loving the problem.
We need to break down big solutions in manageable chunks; but what does it take to design these stepping stones to systemic change? ‘We need to fall in love with the problem,’ Chris tells. ‘That is not necessarily the natural way of approaching entrepreneurship; people have the tendency to fall in love with ideas instead of problems, or with the initial opportunities they find. Problems are complex and can sometimes feel overwhelming and demoralizing. Yet, really falling in love with understanding the problem, experimenting and being open to change is fundamental in order to design the right solution – although it doesn’t always feel like progress! Talk to experts, potential users, and understand related initiatives. This requires you to adapt your ideas to new information. That is essential for finding the right strategy and developing a solution that actually makes a difference.’
In developing and testing new ideas, tools and solutions, the right partnerships are key, Chris experienced. ‘Join forces. A strategic fit with partners is extremely important for your layering impact. Take De Ceuvel, for example: on the surface, this can be a cute hub of sustainable companies with a nice café to have a drink. But during and after the development of De Ceuvel we built research and education partnerships with Waternet and other water-organisations and utilities, which ended up stimulating and feeding a huge amount of circular innovation in North Amsterdam. De Ceuvel has been a starting point for these organisations to re-imagine their own role in a decentralized system, and an essential R&D-facility and talking point for the city’s growing circular agenda. And that’s just one layer.’
Getting rid of the ego.
Like-mindedness is extremely important in these partnerships – and in the individual organization. ‘Of course, an organization has to thrive and focus on its own immediate goals, but to be effective you have to largely get rid of the ego,’ Chris says, reflecting on the open-source approach of Metabolic. He cautions that, on the flipside, working with any partner poses huge opportunity costs: values, aims, work ethic, and timing all need to align. ‘It cannot be about credit and leads. What really matters is getting closer to these larger goals. Unless you are doing it for yourself, it is not worth improving the world a little bit. Yes, we need to take practical steps – but towards the necessary ambitions that many would write off as insane.’
Get closer to reaching systemic change: find out more about the work of Chris Monaghan work on the website of Metabolic, read more about the Masterclass Societal Transition and stay tuned for new editions by subscribing to our newsletter our following us on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
May 20, 2019