Capacity Building for a Greener World

Capacity Building for a Greener World

Beth Offenbacker

By Beth Offenbacker

If you’re focused on capacity-building for Climate Change and a Green Economy, you’ll want to listen to Beth Offenbacker’s report from the recent Green Economy: New Challenges, New Skills Learning Forum.

This two-day conference was hosted by the Organization for Economic Development and Co-operation (OECD).  

The Learning Forum aimed “to address one of the key questions for advancing a green economy: How can countries build up a critical mass of professionals that:

  • Understand the risks and opportunities of a transition to an inclusive green economy
  • Have the knowledge and skills to put in place the right policies and incentives to address identified risks”

It also focused “on the issue of learning and skills development for current and future decision-makers, technical staff in Ministries and others involved in policy design and implementation.”

Check out the report Beth mentions in the audio: PAGE (2016), Green Economy Learning Assessment South Africa: Critical Competencies for Driving a Green Transition.

Listen to the podcast in the link below, or read the transcript (also below) to hear key insights from the Forum, and takeaways that you can use to step forward in your career as a green leader or green policymaker.

Transcript:

Beth Offenbacker: I was thrilled to be in the room with all of these folks in Paris at OECD for this conference because it brought together so many threads of the work that I’ve been doing for several years. Being able to come back and share this and help other people know about it and use it is something that I always love to do because I love it when other people do that with me. I’m going to share a couple of highlights. I don’t know if you had a chance to go to the website and take a peek at the agenda, but I’m going to give a kind of a quick overview of what the conference was about and describe that experience very briefly.  Then I’m going to talk about what I see is kind of three overarching themes that came out of the session, and then share some skills-based insights that I think are really instructive for our work in building the green economy on a variety of levels

Let me start by saying that the meeting was convened with about a hundred participants from a variety of public and nonprofit organizations. There were some private sector individuals in the room, like myself, but most of the individuals there were either with multilateral organizations or with nonprofits that have a connection to the green economy in a particular way. The focus was really thinking about how do we build up that critical mass of people that understand the risks and opportunities around transitioning to an inclusive green economy.

The second piece was equipping people with the knowledge and skills so that they can put in place the policies and the incentives that address those risks and get us to accomplishing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). So they’re not just something that we all think, “Oh, that’s a great idea, a wonderful vision.” But they actually have legs and that they’re implemented in countries and communities around the world. And so the professionals that were there… there was a lot of really wonderful discussion and a lot of great networking that was wonderful to hear and meet people from a variety of institutions.

The three takeaways that I would share is that we had presenters from the Green Growth Knowledge Platform (GGKP), which if you’re aware of that, I encourage you to visit their website. It’s a platform that helps to bring people together, they’re doing a lot of the knowledge building, sharing resources and information around how do we bridge this gap? So representatives from GGKP, as it’s known. There were also representatives, people who spoke, from the Global Green Growth Institute (GGGI), which are focusing on some of these capacity building efforts really more on a policy level and within government organizations.

And then another organization which I’d known about that was really my first chance to hear from them was the Green Economy Coalition (GEC), which is a really fantastic organization of really more civil society focused groups around the world about trying to, again, bring people together and create a dialogue on a more, again, civil society basis around how do we think about this. And it was really interesting because at the same time that was when the Yellow Vest movement was starting to have their protests in Paris. And a couple of the people talked about connecting with people on their way to one of the meetings at OECD, connecting with some of the individuals in the Yellow Vests, and the passion and concerns that those individuals have about some of the issues of greening our world.

Some other representatives that spoke were from the the International Labor Organization (ILO). And that was really wonderful to hear about their work. And then the United Nations Institute for Training and Research (UNITAR) talked about some of the efforts that they’ve been pursuing on the skill building side within United Nation’s family. And finally, we heard from a representative who’s the green industry expert from the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO). So as well, one more, I’ll mention a woman who did a study, Eureta Rosenberg, with the environmental learning research center at Rhodes University in South Africa. So a real cross section of individuals working on this work.

Let me pause for a moment and then dive into these kind of three overarching themes that I saw. The first one is that systems change requires a distinctive set of skills. That the skills that we’re often taught when we think about what needs to happen on an organizational level or an individual level are similar, but distinct from those skills that we need to be able to make systems change. It really requires drawing on some of the thinking of complexity theory and some other skill sets that are a little bit more challenging because of the nature of systems change requires a lot of coordination. It requires a level of vision and a type of incentive that maybe a little bit different than what would cause an organization to make a change or an individual. How do we do that and how do we put those elements in place to be able to get to the green economy?

One of the things that the speakers talks about in building a critical mass of these rights skills, and policies, and incentives together is that we need to think about them in four different ways. We need to think about what technical skills do we need. That’s number one. Number two, what public procurement skills, thinking on the public agency side to be able to get to scale, thinking about green public procurement was something that we talked about some at the event.

The third piece was around skills that engage the citizenry. The value of engaging the public around some of these issues and help them to understand and deliberate about the benefits, and drawbacks, and the trade offs that are involved in getting to these goals, which are good for all the reasons that we know. And then the fourth area is really around collaboration and networking. How do we help co create that future that we all want? And so I’ll return to these themes in a little bit.

One of the points that got quite a chuckle in the room at the beginning of the meeting is that we’re all learning as we are going through this. This was a conference on green economy learning and that we constantly are learning that we need to encourage societies, communities to continually learn about how we adapt, how we transition to this future. What we don’t want to do is go in with what one speaker called Hippopotamus Syndrome, right? Where we have these little tiny ears and this really big mouth where us as people who are maybe experts in this field are doing all the talking. It was a really, I think, a cogent observation that we have that tendency to do that. We were really having a good dialogue about this idea of how do we help people to know, but to take action to do and as organizations providing that nexus and helping individuals and communities to do that with each other as well.

That brings me to the second point that democratic system do not naturally make room for understanding, and identifying, and working with what’s emerging. When we talk about green economy and what that means in place and the SDGs, those of us who are in the sustainability world, we think from a systems perspective, right? We think about the whole. We think about the effects that behaviors and choices have, on a short and long-term basis. But systems of government are not designed around a systems approach, right? It’s around supply and demand in an economic model that is very different. How do we create spaces that can let people have these dialogues and learn and adapt these behaviors that get us to where we want to go?

Eureta Rosenberg with Rhodes University talked about some of the work that she’s done. She talked about the Partnership for Action on Green Economy (PAGE), which is one of the cosponsors of the forum. Thinking about being able to facilitate that kind of learning on several different levels, on the individual level for individual learners, if you will, on institutional level, on the workplace level, which is the institution too in some ways, but in that particular specific workplace and then on a systems level. What was exciting was that the Green Economy Coalition is, again, focused on that. There’s some really wonderful materials. I encourage you to check out their website if you’re not familiar with what they’re doing to help facilitate that.

It’s almost like consciously creating “fixed spaces” where we can encourage these kinds of conversations and these kinds of learning behaviors that take us where we want to go. Ralizing that the responsiveness from a political sense that often happens on a local level. Or on a national level, we think about the Yellow Vests and what’s happened with that. That’s, I think, an instructive example is a different model than we think about with systems thinking sometimes, right?  We need to make room for identifying what’s emerging from a systems perspective. There’s a friction there, right? It’s not an easy dance between the economic system that we live within as a society and this systems approach to thinking about building this future.

The third point that I’ll share is that policy makers and others on a community level, you just serve as policy entrepreneurs or program entrepreneurs to create and sustain structures and practices that enable green growth. That includes our educational system and this gets to one of the points that Dr. Rosenberg made. She has led a study, which I’m happy to share with you, on learning needs in the green economy and a meta study that was an assessment of what are the key competencies that we need. And so they really fall into three different areas.

The first area is the technical dimension. How do you build and operate a wind turbine, for example. And those are very important for building a green economy. The second dimension is around relational competencies. How do we get along with each other? Those interpersonal dimensions that are about having dialogue with others, having these deliberative environments that let us think and learn and get to that future with key people on our teams, but also in the broader polity.

And then the third area is about transformational competencies. How can we help people see that bigger vision and experiment to try to get to the vision that we all have for a greener and more sustainable world. What is really wonderful about the study that she did, it’s about 50 or 60 pages and it’s very substantive, is that she has broken down these competencies into some specific areas and in the report you’ll see there are five of the most commonly mentioned competencies. She has also talked about five different kinds of professional areas of emphasis and how they might apply.

For example, I’m looking at the one now that has to do with someone who might work in sustainable development and policy planning as it relates to that. There are a range of technical competencies such as the ability to work with qualitative and quantitative data, ability to set up intelligence data gathering and data management systems modeling, sustainability, evaluation, etc. But then you’ll see on that same page talks about relational competencies. Stakeholder engagement, which is the ability to build partnership coalition, shared values, and ownership in the face of diverse values and mandates. Another, there is the ability to communicate value to diverse stakeholders.

And then also the transformational competencies. One of them listed is context responsiveness, the ability to analyze context, match the initiative to it, think laterally, see new connections and opportunities in complex situations. This report has a couple of similar diagrams for some other areas that fall within the sustainability field. And I think it’s very exciting to see how these different competencies have been pulled out of the data because they point us to the fact that the technical dimension is really important. But without these other skills, that I would loosely call them leadership capabilities or competencies, we aren’t going to get to where we need to go as a society, as a world, as a community.

Dr. Beth Offenbacker is the Director of Training and Education, Leaders in Energy. Beth is also the Founder and Principle of Waterford, Inc. Beth’s core expertise is in developing and implementing talent management and development programs for emerging, established, and senior-level professionals. Her programs focus on developing the skills and talents green leaders need to make a positive impact in the world, at an individual and team level. You can read more about her here.

Editor’s note: this article orignally appeared on Waterford

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