EP #56: Katherine Brown – Transforming complexity into action 

I want you to imagine the most complex challenge on your horizon at the moment – it might be a global issue, one within your network or organisation. Here’s the question – did it arrive with a roadmap? A simple route to get from A to B? Or even some guide posts around where to start?

I’m guessing the answer is no – because – let’s face it – the more complex or high stakes the issue – the more complicated the solution.

Why? Because it inevitably involves more stakeholders and collaborations to cross the finish line. Which means successfully navigating a whole series of competing agendas. Not to mention getting the attention of those who usually (if they are in a large enough position of power) do not hand it over easily.

AND THEN – once you’ve herded the right big cats into the room – to use the words of my next guest – you need to become fluent enough in their language – to be able to translate the problem and opportunity in such a way that they are willing to commit to the solution – not just for that day – or while it’s easy – but for the long term.

Get it wrong at any of those points and the process falls down. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Do not solve the problem. Still up for it? I hope so.

From the outset – my guest today is in the business of harnessing big money. Specifically harnessing how that money it spent and invested in new ways – in order to create solutions to some of the world’s most complex problems.

As Head of Sustainable and Impact Investing for the World Economic Forum, Katherine Brown describes her day job as ‘transforming complexity into concrete action – and navigating ambiguity to find shared value’. A far cry from where her journey began – killing time in the cloakroom of a pizzeria reading investment books. More on that later…

Her role at the WEF essentially involves challenging traditional models of financial investment – including how we leverage emerging digital technology – so returns (and success) aren’t just only measured in dollars – but also in social and environmental outcomes. Posing one of my favorite questions at the highest level – what if we choose both?

In today’s conversation Katherine and I cover a lot of territory. Including:

The art of getting the right people in the room, at the right time and curating a constructive conversation
The significance of building a lighthouse – or an easily identifiable target when it comes to engaging those stakeholders
Flipping the story we tell as change makers – from risk to opportunity – and why risk will always get our attention – but only opportunity will keep us committed to a solution in the long term
The pivotal role investors and big business has to play in solving some of our world’s biggest problems
Why to be successful you have to be willing to ‘go there’’ – we’ll talk about where that is in the later parts of the conversation.
Why the Velocity, Scope and Systems of the 4th industrial revolution has the potential to solve some of the greatest challenges of our time – if we can leverage it

Anyone that’s in the business of behavior change – particularly change where the stakes are high – will tell you that collaboration at any level can be frustrating. That’s before you get to global issues such as the 70 million people are forcibly displaced globally every year and trillions of potential dollars in aid investment.

Getting any positive action in motion is complex, it’s messy.

And yet – on the 20th of September – just seven days ago as I record this. Sixteen year old climate change activist Greta Thunberg called for one of the biggest climate change action strikes the world has ever seen. 4 million students and workers mobilised and took to the streets – in a mass climate protest that could well change the course of history.

Almost exactly one year before? In August 2018 – at 15 years of age – Greta had sat alone striking outside her native Swedish Parliament. I guarantee you no one gave her a road map to get between those two points in time. Or permission to start. So it is possible.

And you know the best place to start? Listening to those who are getting it done.

With that in mind, sit back, strap in, buckle up and enjoy my conversation with the seismic force that is Katherine Brown.

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