To address the twin climate and biodiversity crises, faster action and greater investment are needed on a global scale. New ideas and collaboration across borders will be vital to connect the dots of a fragmented ecosystem in order to transform the world’s economy and finance systemic change.
At Pollination, we draw on a global team to tackle a global issue. We have brought together a diverse and unique community of the brightest minds from different industries across the world to disrupt the status quo, with a mission to build a network capable of delivering the right solutions, faster.
Continuing our series of interviews from inside the Pollination community we spoke to Pollination Managing Director Nick Anstett, based in Washington D.C., about what drew him to Pollination and the exciting next steps for the Americas team.
Nick discusses solutions to key roadblocks in addressing the climate crisis: the importance of breaking out of organisational silos, driving investments in emerging markets, and learning to work in places where there are very real, competing priorities. He also discusses the challenges of working in the industry, and draws on his own diverse experience to emphasise the unique value of having broad, cross-cutting skillsets and to exist in the in-between spaces, as a way to achieve transformation change.
What led you to pursue a career in climate change and sustainability?
A belief in the potential for business to tackle world scale challenges.
I didn’t come into this space as a climate specialist but as someone who was working with business as a force for good and as a force for change. In my career, I’ve worked on a variety of issues, from climate and sustainability to development, social innovation, health and well-being, and financial inclusion. But climate has always been the area where the crisis is most keenly felt, where solutions have the potential to be most cross-cutting in their benefits, and where the commercial incentives to act are strongest, and that led slowly to much of my work centring on climate and sustainability.
Tell us about your previous experience and how it built towards your current role at Pollination.
Throughout my career I’ve worked across boundaries—across industries, disciplines, teams, stakeholders, and public, private, and social sectors. It’s what IMD prof Amit S. Mukherjee calls the “in-between spaces” and the domain of what Harvard prof Joseph Nye calls the “tri-sector athletes.” I guess we would just call them pollinators, and there are many among us.
The depth of technical expertise across our firm is astounding. But we also need significant breadth that allows us to address multifaceted challenges, think outside the box, and make the far analogies needed to bring catalytic collaboration and thoughtful transformation to life.
It’s a remarkable person who can deliver both depth and breadth on this scale – and that’s not me! I built towards my current role at Pollination by excelling in the in-between spaces and doing what I can to support the experts in this space get the most out of the solutions they bring to the table.
What was it that drew you to Pollination?
The people. I was employee number two in Washington D.C., and maybe 6 or 7 in the US. It was a small organisation, but I knew John Morton and worked with Gavin Templeton. The other people I met convinced me this was a group deeply committed to impact and building a values- and purpose-driven place to work, while still finding space to have some fun along the way. Ultimately, at this point in my career, to be able to surround myself with excellent people with shared objectives, that’s the most important thing.
Thinking of our values, which one resonates with you the most and can you think of an example where you’ve demonstrated it in your work?
Catalytic collaboration, if you haven’t been able to tell from my past answers. Pollination is all about drawing together individuals and teams across disciplines, sectors, and regions – often all speaking different languages – and driving the messy and challenging internal collaboration needed to ensure that the external collaboration the planet needs can move along just that much more smoothly.
Climate change is an industry that can often be demoralising. What keeps you hopeful?
The industry is exciting, not demoralizing. There’s so much rapid change, growth, and renewal occurring daily. That presents so much opportunity – opportunity for impact, for economic returns, and for personal development. It’s true all of the normal egos, politics, siloes, etc. gum up the system and make progress slow or misguided. But it also takes a special skill and patience to navigate those human realities of change on the scale we seek, and I know we have a many folks at the firm who are exceptional at this. It really helps us stand out, and it’s one of the reasons that Pollination exists. We’re pulling together a group of people—both colleagues and clients—who are ready to put egos and self-interest aside to drive transformational change.
We are in the “defining decade” for climate action. Where do you think we are on track, and what areas do you think need to accelerate?
I think we’ve successfully changed the debate from indifference, to risk, to opportunity. Most serious businesses and individuals see opportunity everywhere and that’s a remarkable development. But the scale of the investment needed is simply so vast that even the faster pace at which we’re moving is far, far, far too slow. And we can’t simply ask people to do more, we need to ask people to do more, differently. That’s difficult. These are entrenched industries with entrenched ways of working and entrenched mindsets. Without big external forces – large scale government policy, for one – we may move faster, but different won’t materialize.
What, in your opinion, are some major roadblocks to meaningful progress?
Siloed thinking. Too many people are operating within their own silo, convinced they know exactly how to do something, and unwilling to break out of what they do and what they know to see how others view problems or to find creative solutions. One of the special things about Pollination is we bring together people internally to break those silos, so that when that collaboration needs to happen externally, it can happen more efficiently.
Short-termism Short-termism still pervades in politics and business, often driven by earnings and election cycles. But we as climate champions must also check our short-termism. I think everyone recognises the threat posed by climate change, but it’s also not wrong to say there are other urgent threats that matter significantly to other people. Take South Africa for example. They are facing a lot of pressure to decarbonise and accelerate their energy transition. But they’re also at risk of failed institutions, and if they cannot fix those issues–corruption, income inequality, joblessness, economic instability, energy supply, water insecurity, etc.—then that’s as much an existential threat to them as is the climate crisis. This is where the Just Transition movement comes in: to remind us in the climate space that rapid action on climate, as vital as it is, can too be a form of short-termism that risks alienating communities and jeopardizing long-term progress on climate. We as a firm and as individuals, thus, need to be thoughtful in how we approach the rapid transformations we seek, and learn to navigate competing priorities both globally and locally, in order to act fast, for the long-term.
Under-investment And the availability of finance for underserved communities, countries, and industries to drive their transition. In our current international financial system, it remains very difficult to get capital flowing to the places that need it most. Reasons for this are infinite, but if we don’t dedicate significant time and resource to overcoming these challenges, we’ll leave significant emissions on the table and leave a lot of people behind in terms of both economic development and the very real physical risks they’ll face. We can’t have meaningful progress unless we decarbonise the entire planet; we can’t decarbonise the planet without involving developing economies; and we can’t decarbonize developing economies without significant innovations in how we mobilize capital for hard-to-reach places.
Is there someone that you’ve met along the way in your career that has particularly inspired you?
Elizabeth Littlefield, our Senior Advisor and former CEO of the US Development Finance Corporation. She personifies the perfect blend of leadership and big picture thinking, an ability to see and communicate across silos, and a willingness – even a passion – for just rolling up her sleeves and getting stuff done. It’s thousands of individuals like that who will bring this transition to life.
What advice would you give to early career professionals working in climate change?
Don’t be afraid to have a variety of interests in this space, to want to work across a range of issues, themes and disciplines. Don’t fear that a lack of depth will limit your career if you find yourself excelling in the in-between spaces. You’re desperately needed on this transition. But it’s a harder path. It’s harder to understand your value, to communicate your value, to understand where you fit within an organisation when you’re good at the glue work, which Silicon Valley engineer, Tanya Reilly, astutely summarizes in Technical Leadership and Glue Work. But if this is something you want to do, know that there is a clear need, that those individuals are valued, that there are people to guide you along that path, and that there’s a place for you at Pollination. In fact, we won’t reach a net zero, nature positive future without you.
We are recruiting. For more information about career opportunities at Pollination, please visit our LinkedIn job board or contact firstname.lastname@example.org.