The World Resources Institute, or WRI, is a global think tank that works with organizations to help solve urgent environmental challenges. WRI recently posted an InnoCentive Challenge, aimed at helping local communities across the globe adapt to changing climate conditions over the next years and decades. We asked Eliot Metzger, who manages WRI’s research on the Next Practice Collaborative, to tell us a bit more about the Challenge.
Hi Eliot. Thanks for being with us today. To start, can you tell us a bit more about World Resources Institute and in particular the Next Practice Collaborative and its role in advancing your mission?
Sure. As you mentioned, WRI is a global environmental think tank that goes beyond research to put ideas into action. We work with governments, companies, and civil society to build solutions to urgent environmental challenges. WRI’s transformative ideas protect the earth and promote development because sustainability is essential to meeting human needs and fulfilling human aspirations in the future.
The Next Practice Collaborative is a project we’ve been developing at WRI to help accelerate innovation and the economic transformations needed to tackle the environmental challenges we face. The next practice concept is something that WRI’s late board member CK Prahalad championed as a way of thinking about the mega-trends that will affect all of us—like climate change impacts, or population growth—and the business opportunities in moving well beyond what we see as ‘best practice’ today. One of those big opportunities and a priority for our work on next practices is advancing solutions that help economies and communities adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Can you tell us why you chose to look to InnoCentive’s global Solver network to find a solution to this Challenge?
Actually, the network was interesting to us for a few reasons. First and foremost, we were intrigued by the potential for finding fresh, creative solutions using an open innovation approach. Innovation is one of WRI’s core values and this was a chance for us to try a new innovation platform to develop climate change solutions. There is a limited universe of people thinking about climate change adaptation and we thought it would be great to expand that universe to include Solvers in several different countries, with different perspectives and areas of expertise.
And with our interest in creating a communication platform to share climate change impacts, needs, and solutions, we wanted to access a community of people with a wide range of knowledge and experience. Especially since this is a Challenge that really doesn’t fall into just one or two disciplines. We expect there are lots of great ideas out there among people who have expertise relating to information and communications technologies, or who have experience working with databases, or engaging communities. This is a great opportunity to connect with those people to try to solve some really important and complex problems.
There is sometimes debate about how serious climate change is, and how much of an impact it will have. Would you care to share your views on this?
While there was a lot of media clamor last year about the science of climate change, the facts are that several thorough, independent reviews have all concluded that the basic climate science and its fundamental findings remain on solid ground. WRI focuses on what the science suggests makes sense to do today to not only reduce the risk of catastrophic climate shifts, but also help people adapt to the changes already occurring. That includes finding ways to reduce emissions that are disrupting the climate system and preparing for changes likely to occur. Already we are seeing early indications of rising sea levels, longer heat waves, and more extreme weather events. Many of these changes are expected to accelerate and persist over the next several decades, and we know that many of the world’s most economically vulnerable populations will be hit hardest. And regardless of one’s opinion on climate change, the transition to a clean energy, climate-resilient economy can reduce economic risk, drive innovation, and offer opportunities for economic development.
Can you give us some real life examples of the community-specific problems caused by climate change that might benefit from this Challenge?
Well, a colleague of mine at WRI is from Nepal. Nepal and a number of neighboring and nearby countries, like India and Bangladesh, are facing changes in the seasonal monsoon rains that have far-reaching impacts on people in the region. He recently went to visit communities in Bangladesh where flooding has become more and more disruptive to their way of life. Local villagers told him told him the frequency and intensity of floods were increasing and flood waters would remain high for months, affecting people in all kinds of essential ways: access to land and food became severely limited, children were often unable to get to school, and even basic health and sanitation needs become extremely difficult to meet in these conditions.
My colleague did come back with some bit of good news, though. Several groups and individuals are beginning to find ways of adapting to the floods. Households are trying new methods of growing vegetables on beds of floating water hyacinths. Some aid agencies had assisted the poorest families in raising their houses above the seasonal flood lines, prompting other families in the community to do the same. A group of local women had formed a cooperative to pool finances and create new economic opportunities with microloans for livestock and other assets.
Communities like these are desperately trying to adapt to climate change. The community my colleague visited is still having trouble meeting education needs and basic public health needs amid more intense, extended flood seasons. You can imagine that an effective communication platform could help gather information about these needs and share it with those in the public and private sector who can help provide people with strategies, tools, and technologies that will make the community more resilient in a changing climate.
The impacts of climate change are so varied - while some communities might experience droughts, others will be facing rising sea levels. How does your Challenge address such a variation in problems?
That’s a good question, and one we hope the Solvers can help answer as well. Our theory is that a communication platform can be flexible enough to communicate any number of needs and connect communities with any number of solutions. You think about all the things that something like a cell phone can do these days and it is just amazing. Although not all vulnerable communities will have access to mobile networks, there are still means of establishing strong communication channels and tailoring them to share information about local climate change impacts and needs. Our Challenge is really about connecting information among people who will act on it and produce solutions.
WRI works with many partners – public and private, large and small. Can you comment on the role that these partners will play in this Challenge, particularly in any plans for implementation?
Those plans will really depend on the types of solutions that look most promising. WRI partners with organizations around the world that can help us put our ideas and research into action, and we rely on those partners to play a central role in helping implement these solutions and build them to a scale that will have global impacts.
With this Challenge, you can imagine a number of scenarios for implementation. One approach might be a broad partnership among local community and civil society representatives, national government agencies, and the private sector (both large and small businesses) who can establish a global platform. There may also be reasons and opportunities to road test the winning solution with a local network of communities with whom WRI has built a relationship, bringing in additional partners and funders to develop and roll-out the solution in other markets. A focused partnership with a few key stakeholders would help test the platform. It may be interesting, for example, to bring together a few companies that have information and communication capacities, several local communities that have urgent climate adaptation needs, and the government agencies that are working to increase climate resiliency. Lots of exciting possibilities and we look forward to seeing what comes next.
That sounds really exciting - and important. Good luck with your Challenge.