Manifesto for a thriving world

IIED’s connected ambition, 
2024 and beyond

As a globally recognised force for climate and social justice, IIED has been building a fairer, more sustainable world for more than 50 years. But it’s time for a fresh take on sustainability as it has come to be understood, offering different answers and approaches to address the world’s entrenched climate, nature and inequality crises.

Many aspects of what we have been doing in the sector for half a century are no longer as relevant or helpful as they once were and are not achieving the breakthroughs we desperately need. Equally, the certainty of a static, five-year strategy has been lost to a new era of compounding crises, deep injustices and increasing unpredictability.

Following a year of review and dialogue, this manifesto presents our refreshed approach to impact. In doing so, we acknowledge achieving our mission means we cannot continue doing more of the same and instead must challenge ourselves to take a bold new direction while retaining the best of what makes IIED unique.

We acknowledge achieving our mission means we cannot continue doing more of the same and instead must challenge ourselves to take a bold new direction

  • To overcome the risks of fragmentation of our work and to combine our strengths, we’ll focus all our attention on maximising our contribution to six core propositions at the heart of tackling the climate, nature, and inequality crises. 
     
    This contribution will involve taking a systems approach and working in dynamic teams to develop new ideas, test innovations and scale what works. We will strengthen our entrepreneurial instincts and concentrate on what we are good at. We will also acknowledge where other actors have complementary strengths, in areas like the economics of water, mitigation technologies or peacebuilding for example. 
     
  • We will do this in alliance with partners – new and old – who can each bring complementary strengths and innovations to a shared purpose. We’ll harness the quality of equitable collaboration that goes well beyond the traditional associations around a project cycle and together bring multiple ideas and solutions to different levers of change and blockers at the same time to unlock major progress on these propositions.
     
  • We will place much greater emphasis on learning so we can take the evidence and insights from our research and experiences to adjust what we do in real time.  
     
    In this, we’ll benefit from a test, learn and adapt mindset so crucial for unlocking change in a more complex, interconnected world and benefit from seeing challenges and opportunities from different perspectives, whether through our globally distributed staff or through the eyes of our diverse partners.    
IIED's theory of change diagram

Graphic visualises our refreshed approach to working on problems, in learning partnerships focused on specific propositions to progress towards a thriving world.

Dynamic alliances to face complex crises

Picture a future in which people and nature thrive together in all their diversity, enriched by different perspectives, ways of life and rich cultures. A future where our deep connections to place guide how we live well within our landscapes. Where equity and justice are valued as both a means and an end, promoting solidarity over competition and providing the basis for shared positive outcomes.

At IIED, we believe this future is still in reach. But incremental progress internationally, however well-meaning, is not getting us there and the tools and methods we are deploying are too fragmented to make a significant mark on the complex climate, nature and inequality crises we are attempting to tackle.

The world is still on track for warming of nearly 3°C by 2100, the climate resilience gap is widening, inequality within many countries is becoming more pronounced, nature collapse greatly outweighs protection and restoration success, and many indigenous languages are becoming extinct (PDF). The least culpable are the most badly affected and a series of hidden handbrakes – laws, rules, vested interests – protect the incumbent damaging system. A new, dynamic approach to unlocking positive progress is needed more than ever.

We know we need to change to make a real difference. Our 2022 External Review found that despite being instrumental in an impressive range of impacts, a series of structural weaknesses prohibited us from being at our best. Research endeavours were too siloed to effectively build on each other; staff were stressed by overwork; fundraising was a constant demand on researcher time; some of our partnerships were unequal and not strategic; and there were big questions of identity in decolonising our approach.

collage of 2 images: woman harvesting tomatoes in Kenya and climate protest in London

Left: Woman harvesting tomatoes ready for the market in Kenya (Photo: Rusinga Studios/IIED) Right: Climate protest in London, UK (Photo: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona, via Unsplash)

So we took a long, hard look at our role in challenging the current trajectory. We began a searching process of interrogating, experimenting and learning. Consequently, we made a series of decisions to:

  1. Retain and enhance our strengths: there is much that makes IIED effective that we want to cherish and nurture. We will retain our focus on combining evidence, action and influence in partnership with others. We’ll reinforce our commitment to tackle key aspects of the triple crises of climate change, nature loss and inequality, and commit to retaining our highly developed capabilities (see below) and our global reputation for practical, high-quality, locally anchored research and influence.
  1. Rethink our approach to impact: our ways of working, focus, tactics and measures of success have been rethought to maximise the contribution we can make to tackling complex crises. After identifying and drilling into the big blockers - the obstacles that hold in place and perpetuate the interconnected crises facing us, we identified opportunities for IIED to address four of these big blockers and set out six focused and interconnected propositions around which IIED will organise its efforts.

    Around these propositions, we will form dynamic, multi-skilled, time-bound teams, each bringing new ideas, innovations and solutions to scale. This will help us to overcome siloed working and make the most of the talented people in IIED, while creating a portfolio of actions.

    Around each proposition, we will also help catalyse alliances of diverse, complementary organisations who share a purpose and can bring multiple pressure points simultaneously to help unlock bigger change. This enhances our theory of change by placing IIED’s unique contribution in a systems change context and amplifies its potential impact through combination with others.

    Our critical assumption is that we can make a greater contribution when tackling complex challenges by being part of curated alliances that can approach the problem from different angles, link problems and solutions, and learn and adjust their tactics together.
Protester and woman in street collage

Left: People holding signs during an environmental protest (Photo: FG Trade, via iStock) Right: A tea seller in Eastleigh, Nairobi. She is a refugee from Somalia who now lives in Eastleigh with her children (Photo: Arete/Brian Ongoro/IIED)

  1. Build an anticipatory and adaptive organisation: commit to test, learn, and adapt as we go, so we do not get stuck with underperforming structures or tactics and can anticipate and react to the rapidly changing context. We noticed how we struggled to adapt sufficiently to COVID-19, Black Lives Matter, the cost-of-living crisis and major conflicts in our last strategy period, and we want to be more agile in the future. To help us achieve that, we will:
  • Invest more in learning, both with alliance partners and in generating insights across our propositions about how we are doing in shifting blockers.
  • Focus on creating a highly skilled, globally distributed workforce that can help us see problems from different angles, understand local contexts better, connect with partners and attract talent. We’ll place more emphasis on enhancing the skills of our people and offer an environment where colleagues can bring their full skillsets to work through taking on different responsibilities.
  • Seek more unrestricted and flexible funding, and funding partners who can help us be innovative and opportunistic, while advocating for more philanthropies and governments to change the way they think about maximising impact through working in agile, trusted partnerships and alliances.
  • Streamline and adapt our governance structures, supporting distributed, equitable leadership and devolved decision-making, and ensuring different perspectives and experiences inform the way we manage risks and serve our people and impact model.
  1. Put justice and equity at our heart: in developing our refreshed approach, we have reflected on the privilege that IIED has enjoyed, the colonial model of aid and development that we have benefitted from and often perpetuated. We have begun a journey of listening better to our partners in different parts of the world and with different ways of knowing, learning about challenging structural racism and exploring a pathway to decolonising with care. While this continues, we will:
  • Develop and apply a set of principles and standards for equitable partnerships and anti-racist narratives. This will include actively challenging Euro-Western development and environment constructs and embracing different epistemologies and models of wellbeing and justice for tackling the climate, nature and inequality crises.
  • Change our values to reflect our commitments, embed these in our culture, policies and practices, and make learning about being actively anti-racist and supporting decolonisation a personal commitment of everyone in IIED.
  • Do more to challenge the systems that perpetuate injustice, acknowledging our responsibility, including by raising our voice to expose and strive to reform the hidden handbrakes holding back progress, and progressively seek to dismantle unfair funding terms that transfer the risks to those least able to cope. This means we will place more attention on working in and on centres of power in Europe, North America and Asia than IIED has done in the past, acknowledging the deeply interconnected nature of the systems affecting climate and social justice in the most vulnerable communities.

Focusing our efforts for impact

Climate change, nature loss, inequality, and the destruction of cultures and languages: the crises we face as a planet are existential and inextricably linked.  

Global heating is already breaching the 1.5°C threshold this decade, with more than two million animal and plant species facing extinction. Earth’s well-documented climate change and nature loss affects the poorest and most marginalised people (PDF), deepening inequality and in turn eroding the solidarity and collective action needed to find sustainable solutions together.

We know these crises are huge and urgent; we know they are the product of powerful systems and practices.

The crises we face as a planet are existential and inextricably linked

From 2024 onwards, we will focus our research, ideas, innovations and influencing efforts on weakening and overcoming four big blockers to progress — connected systems, structures and beliefs that stand in the way of the radical changes needed to tackle climate change, nature loss and inequality. These are:

  • Destructive economic models: where wealth creation comes at the cost of people, nature and pollution, with recent examples being the mega profits made by fossil fuel companies, where enormous government subsidies and paralysing legal contracts continue to support industries that are bad for the planet, and the deforestation and soil degradation wrought by damaging mono-cropping commercial agriculture is often worsened by further damaging subsidies. Our research has shown that the terms on which small-scale producers have been integrated into global value chains hasn’t delivered for them or the environment
     
  • Unjust power dynamics that repress rights: discriminatory and hostile regimes that protect the powerful at the expense of others, stripping the rights of refugees, Indigenous Peoples and local communities, people who identify as LGBTQIA+, disabled people, and other marginalised groups. Weak rights facilitate extractive models, such as land grabs from local communities for mineral access or where people living in informal settlements are deliberately blocked from rights and excluded from decision-making.
     
  • Mindsets and discredited ideas that perpetuate poverty: entrenched ways of thinking and outdated approaches to problem-solving, governance, policy development and policy implementation, can lead to actions that are often ineffective and even detrimental. For example, fortress conservation, the forced creation of protected natural areas, or carbon offset schemes which can dispossess Indigenous Peoples and local communities of land and resources while doing little to secure sustained progress. Or project-by-project, short-term or fixed approaches to climate change adaptation, commonly associated with hard infrastructure interventions, that can often increase people’s vulnerability as they are designed without their voices at the heart and do not foresee the complex unintended consequences.
     
  • Protectionist laws and rules that bring benefits for incumbents: since the Industrial Revolution, many laws, regulations and practices have been designed to defend and protect the status quo. For example, trade deals and international agreements protect investors in fossil fuels and mean they can sue the governments pursuing bold climate and nature policies that might impact the value of their investments. Sovereign debt holdings in low-income countries and the systems to protect creditors – often private banks – mean that repayments from poor countries to wealthy countries, companies and individuals far outstrips aid or climate finance.

These big blockers represent critical drivers of the triple crisis facing the world today and a status quo that is fundamentally incompatible with a thriving world for all. IIED sees real opportunities to change and overcome these blockers – such as working with social movements to reclaim decision-making rights, reforming the governance of financial flows and institutions, demonstrating that planet-positive business models work, and building collective action examples between rich and poor people based on principles of solidarity and justice.

Beekeeping in Tanzania and IIED staff at COP28

Left: Community members in Esilalei, Monduli District in Tanzania have learned beekeeping to adapt as climate change has made it harder to find pasture for animal grazing (Photo: Roshni Lodhia/Panos/IIED) Right: IIED staff with the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group and ministers before the closing plenary at COP28 (Photo: UNclimatechange, via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 DEED)

Our propositions

To maximise progress towards our mission through systemic learning and collaboration, both within IIED and beyond, we have identified a set of six interconnected propositions (or goals). These six propositions define the systems in which IIED will tackle the big blockers and the broader triple crises and help to focus our work.

They are the result of an intensive conversation between members of IIED and our partners and are deliberately designed to be overlapping, making the most of IIED’s signature capabilities, networks and track record. It also means that the full portfolio of interventions and the dynamic teams assembled to advance them, can connect in deliberately planned and unexpected ways, and offer a rich landscape for generating insights and learning.

Help migrants, including displaced people, to have brighter futures

Rationale

People move for a variety of reasons. As of 2020, there were over 280 million international voluntary migrants. An additional 120 million people were forcibly displaced internally and internationally by the end of 2023. The majority end up in urban centres that need to be equipped to absorb additional populations safely and protect human rights in the context of a changing climate.

IIED’s illustrative portfolio of interventions (ideas, innovation, scalable solutions) to weaken and remove blockers

  • Build narratives that normalise mobility and migration as part of development practice and as an adaptation strategy
  • Advance the case for cities hosting refugees rather than camps
  • Secure commitments for portable benefits to be honoured for displaced people, including through cross-border agreements
  • Create helplines, support services and entrepreneurship opportunities, including help for mental health.

Examples of what we will build on, including networks and alliances

IIED’s evidence on the cost of refugee camps and the drivers of migration/displacement. Supporting displaced people in cities, by amplifying their voice, integrating them into existing systems and promoting inclusive policies. Relationship between displacement and loss and damage, and modern slavery.

Shift trade, finance and investment to benefit people and planet

Rationale

Only 10% of climate finance reaches those who need it most30 and there is a net transfer of >US$2 trillion per year from the global South to the global North (commodity flows, debt payments for example). Trade regimes and business practices are failing to adequately consider environmental and social impacts.

IIED’s illustrative portfolio of interventions

  • Promoting responsible business, investment and green economy approaches
  • Bring pressure for change on trade regimes that protect fossil fuel investors and quash ambitious climate policies
  • Amplify value of investing in the adaptation economy
  • Scale legal protections and rapid response legal support to prevent land grabs for critical minerals
  • Design new financial compacts and layering debt sustainability tools for resilient prosperity.

Examples of what we will build on

IIED’s body of research on debt sustainability, investor state dispute settlements, legal tools for land protection and Money Where it Matters. Hidden Handbrakes campaign. Hosting of the Green Economy Coalition. Partnerships with governments and alliances to bring pressure for change, including national fiscal reform and investor platforms.

Evolve cities as places of inspiration and justice

Rationale

68% of the world’s population are expected to live in cities by 2050. Cities consume 78% of the world’s energy and account for 60% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. Now 1.1 billion people live in informal settlements and many hundreds of millions are exposed to climate impacts despite only having marginal emissions themselves. Cities can be hotspots for innovative forms of governance, technologies and inclusion.

IIED’s illustrative portfolio of interventions

  • Tackle the housing crisis by supporting civil society and grassroots groups to influence decision making, policies, and forms of housing that address environment and social challenges
  • Scale neighbourhood reform through approaches that put people in informal sector/informal housing at the heart of city governance
  • Work with cities as testbeds of innovative adaptation technologies linked with entrepreneurship opportunities.

Examples of what we will build on

Progress in establishing an international hub for housing justice, hosting of Environment and Urbanization journal, scaling neighbourhood approaches to strengthen joint decision making for climate resilience and decarbonisation, longstanding partnerships with key cities and grassroots organisations.

Promote forest, farm and fisheries systems that feed and nourish people and planet

Rationale

About 30% of all emissions and 80% of all biodiversity loss are linked to agriculture and food systems, and 25% of all cultivated land is degraded. Investing in informal food systems, landscape-level approaches to natural resource management, securing land and resource rights, and regenerative agriculture can repair soils, conserve biodiversity and water, act as carbon sinks, enhance climate resilience, and support nutrition, health and wellbeing.

IIED’s illustrative portfolio of interventions

  • Bring pressure to remove and repurpose harmful subsidies and investments
  • Champion the transformative potential of smallscale producers, pastoralists and other informal and traditional food systems, to improve livelihoods, environments, resilience and diets, and to conserve agrobiodiversity
  • Harness the potential of sustainable aquatic food systems, including by strengthening rights and reducing vulnerability in small-scale fishing communities and incentivising participation in fisheries management.

Examples of what we will build on

IIED’s record on local, informal and Indigenous food systems, food subsidies, agroecology and innovation to support fishing and pastoralist communities and champion forest-farm producer organisations. IIED’s role in being a knowledge broker and intermediary with diverse local actors to help scale successful experiences of local producer organisations and Indigenous Peoples.

Transform climate action and governance so people and nature can thrive

Rationale

Warming is still projected to be >2.5⁰C by 2100, with 1.5⁰C limit temporarily breached. Climate change increasing some extremes and with slower onset impacts, causing loss and damage. Adaptation actions not achieving positive results at scale, coupled with only modest resources reaching local level.

IIED’s illustrative portfolio of interventions

  • Embed locally led adaptation (LLA) principles in climate finance flows
  • Expand the demonstration value of solidarity finance initiatives — like LIFE-AR — to get money where it matters
  • Scale practical solutions to tackle loss and damage including anticipatory social protection
  • Link local experience to global climate change negotiations.

Examples of what we will build on

IIED support to the LDC Group, our hosting of the interim secretariat of the LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience (LIFE-AR), hosting of the chair’s office of the IPCC and LLA communities of practice, leadership on loss and damage and climate justice. Championing nature-based solutions that support people as well as nature.

Champion community-led nature governance and stewardship

Rationale

One million species are now threatened with extinction. The Global Biodiversity Framework (GBF) sets a target of 30% of land/seas being protected by 2030, along with a strong call to have this stewarded by Indigenous Peoples and local communities (including recognising the importance of Indigenous and traditional territories). The GBF also highlights the importance of the use of biodiversity as well as its protection.

IIED’s illustrative portfolio of interventions

  • Deliver change that places Indigenous Peoples and local communities at the heart of the governance of protected, conserved and sustainably managed forest, savannah, mountain and aquatic areas, and respects their customary rights
  • Design debt sustainability interventions that enhance nature protection and climate resilience, especially focused on LDCs and SIDS
  • Explore the potential of the biocredit market in a way that respects Indigenous Peoples' and local communities’ demands, and promote alternative decolonial conservation paradigms such as biocultural heritage.

Examples of what we will build on

IIED’s leadership on Indigenous Peoples' and local communities’ governance and stewardship of protected, conserved and sustainably managed areas and biocultural territories, as part of the 30x30 commitment of the Global Biodiversity Framework. Hosting of the Reversing Environmental Degradation in Africa and Asia (REDAA) initiative and the IUCN Specialist Group on Sustainable Use and Livelihoods.

Developing IIED’s theory of change

IIED’s current theory of change suggests that improved capability, stronger connections between different stakeholders and new evidence is the way of driving progress towards equitable/effective governance, more resources, and strengthened voice and rights for people living in poverty and exclusion.

We believe that working on these six propositions by bringing together a dynamic portfolio of IIED and partner interventions through alliances will help overcome key blockers and create fast and large-scale positive change. To test this, we are enhancing our theory of change and to track progress in advancing this manifesto we are building on the strengths of our existing robust system for institutional monitoring, evaluation and learning by enriching it with innovative learning processes and tools.

Learning is at the core of IIED's theory of change: it’s embedded in the ways we work individually, in our teams, across the institute, and across an ecosystem of partners and stakeholders

Calling those ready for change

The choices being made today are determining the future of life on Earth. But our world is changing too fast and too unpredictably for well-worn project planning and fixed-term goals to deliver the scale of impact we need.  

In the five years covered by our last strategy we witnessed the first global pandemic for 100 years, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a global cost-of-living crisis, the murder of George Floyd, and a whole raft of other unanticipated impacts; amid all this, the strategy we had felt inflexible and unfocused.

Conversations during CBA17 conference

Conversations during CBA17, the 17th International Conference on Community-Based Adaptation to climate change in 2023 organised by IIED and partners (Photo: Anne Schulthess, IIED)

We believe that it is within the messy business of experimentation, collaboration and learning that the best solutions to the biggest problems lie

This manifesto sets out how we aim to be more responsive to climate change, social and economic shocks and to be more agile. Rather than setting fixed targets and narrow objectives, we outline a clear direction of travel and principles for ways of working to serve as guiderails, creating the conditions for work programmes to be started, completed, and lessons taken and shared in an agile manner.

The roads will not be straight lines. The challenges we face call for bravery and a different appetite to risk; there will be failures along the way. But we believe that it is within the messy business of experimentation, collaboration and learning that the best solutions to the biggest problems lie.