Q&A: CBA15 – is your climate innovation hot enough for the Dragons’ Den?

Juliet Grace Luwedde, joint winner of the Dragons’ Den contest at the 14th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation (CBA14), talks about her experience, what she learned, what she gained and how we can make this year's Dragons’ Den event even better.

Article, 31 March 2021

Since 2005, the internationally renowned CBA events have been bringing together practitioners, grassroots organisations, local and national government planners, policymakers and donors to develop locally-driven initiatives to support community-based adaptation.

The events offer opportunities to learn directly from peers knowledgeable in their field, and to build their skills through a series of trainings.

During the Dragons’ Den sessions ('Dragons' Den' is the name in the UK of a popular TV programme where entrepreneurs present their business ideas to investors), participants learn how to turn their ideas for local adaptation projects into proposals and create supporting business plans.

Mentors guide them through the process, including how to pitch their ideas to donors and investors. In the final session, the ‘dragons’ – a panel of people with investment experience – assess the pitches, offer feedback and select a winner.

The dragons at CBA14 were impressed by Juliet Grace Luwedde’s idea for a ‘Climate Action Media Mobile Van’ and its vision to build young peoples’ understanding of climate change and inspire action in their communities. We caught up with Juliet Grace (JGL) on project developments and advice she’d give to those entering the Dragons’ Den at CBA15 in June.

Q: How was your Dragons’ Den experience? What did you enjoy?  

JGL: Working with the mentors was great. Throughout the process they were always ready and available to assist with questions and to help you refine your idea. I found their support particularly useful when preparing my pitch – it was the first time I’d ever done anything like this. In my practice run with the group, I got some great feedback on how to really bring my idea to life. There were so many comments, it was in some ways overwhelming. But incredibly helpful at the same time.

The comment that has stuck with me until now was during my pitch, when one of the dragons noted how relevant my idea was: we need to be communicating much more about climate issues in the media, so my idea for a media van idea was really timely.

Another thing that came out for me was the profile the winners received and the attention that followed. The joint winners – myself and Ineza Grace from Rwanda – were announced via the social media platforms of all the CBA15 partners. It started a real buzz, particularly on Twitter. All my friends who had seen I had won the Dragons’ Den wanted to know more about my idea and what would be happening next with the project.

The visibility I got was the biggest win for me. It gave me confidence in my work and in my idea, and inspired me to share more about the Climate Action Media Mobile Van with as many people as I could.

This kind of promotion on social media is great, because it’s where civil societies connect, it’s how ideas are shared, it’s where conversations start. Through this coverage lots more people got to know about my idea and about the organisation I work with, the Uganda-based Media Challenge Initiative

This kind of coverage opens up opportunities to tell more people about what we do, to get young people talking about climate change, get them talking about how we’re going to solve issues around climate change. I’m a communicator! I love communicating and I love helping people communicate about climate change. The social media buzz I got on the back of Dragons’ Den really helped with that.

Q: Have you pursued your idea of the Climate Action Media Mobile Van?

JGL: The whole idea behind the van is to generate conversations about climate change that are started by young people. Everyone is affected by climate change but it’s youth who are going to inherit this damaged planet. But they’re not talking about it enough. I’m a climate activist, and I have observed communities around me consuming more and more media – but none of this media reflects on the impacts of climate change, nor gives people any direction on how to take action.

Young people are increasingly leading the way in taking action on climate change. More initiatives are needed to build young peoples’ understanding of the climate emergency and inspire action in communities (Photo: Tommi Boom, via FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0)

I’ve had many conversations with friends in the media space and they always talk about how complex they find the topic of climate change, and find it difficult to write about. You come up against so much jargon and many scientific terms – all this makes communicating about it really tough. My idea was to make talking about climate change much more accessible.

The van would enter communities and give people a place to share their experiences, their ideas, their solutions. The team working in the van would be skilled in talking about climate change in everyday terms with everyday people. It would act like a mobile microphone.

After winning the Dragons’ Den, the Media Challenge Initiative started to really get behind the idea and we brainstormed on how we could bring the van to life. We talked about how we could really make it happen, how we could get the bus up and running. We recognised we may need to climb down a bit from my grand vision – perhaps starting with a smaller van?

Q: Have you been able to secure funding?

JGL: No. I’ve had lots of praise for the idea but that’s where it’s stopped. Only two funders have shown genuine interest. But from the Dragon’s Den I learnt you don’t necessarily need money, you need people who will listen to your idea and help you position it better, help you move it forward.

Winning CBA14 gave me more confidence to reach out and tell people about my idea. The dragons commented on the passion that came through during my pitch, and I took courage from that. I pitched it to UNEP and Oxfam Uganda, who are thinking about how it might fit with their programmes. These are big development players who I wouldn’t have thought about approaching before. I haven’t secured funding, but I’ve made them aware of the idea which is the important first step.

Q: How could we make the Dragons’ Den better?

JGL: There was some confusion about what the winner of Dragons’ Den actually won! I think some participants thought there was a money prize.

Yes, the question of prize money is a tricky one – and one that CBA partners have discussed at length. The risk with offering money is that it encourages people to enter who already have well-developed project ideas for which they’re seeking funding. This can crowd out people who are new to the space and may be more hesitant to come forward with their ideas. But, yes, it’s certainly something we’ve discussed.

JGL: Another idea would be to formally connect the winner to organisations who might be interested in taking the idea further, or to potential funders. There may be organisations who joined the Dragons’ Den session and liked the ideas, or heard about them later on. But there’s no formal process for connecting people after the event.

We try to give the Dragons’ Den winner and their idea as much exposure as possible, with the winner being announced in the CBA final day plenary which always draws big numbers. And all CBA partners promote the Dragons’ Den winner on social media and in follow up messages to the CBA community.

We recognise how important profile is for these brilliant climate innovations! And we’ll continue to spread the word and make sure channels are open so interested parties can connect.  

Read Luwedde’s CBA14 Dragons' Den winning presentation for a ‘Climate Action Media Mobile Van’ on IIED's SlideShare channel

Q: Finally, what advice would you give to people thinking about participating in the Dragons’ Den at CBA15?

My advice to anyone thinking about entering the Dragons’ Den? Do it! No idea is too small. You’ll have thought about your idea for a long time, so you know it’s got potential. Faith in it is all you need.

You never know who you’ll meet in the room. They might be the people who will help you realise that your small idea is actually grand. And this could be the breakthrough the world has been waiting for!