Many people ask me, why would someone who has been in the corporate and commercial world his whole working life, choose to set up a not-for-profit climate change accelerator? For me three things were clear when I considered the climate crisis: the future of our environment is at risk. We need to move fast. And we need a much more accommodating legislative framework.
I have always considered myself a bit of a pioneer, an early innovator, a “disruptor”. And I have always known the power of networking and sharing. Of open-sourced data and technology in particular.
But I also understand the blockages that come from corporate and political bureaucracy. With science and economics degrees behind me, I cut my teeth in the ‘90s coding systems and helping to launch the UK’s and the world’s first internet-only bank. It offered a “first of its kind” credit card and soon attracted two million customers.
That early tech startup experience, followed by a partnership in a global professional services firm, and then a move into corporate and ventures advisory, including setting up and running a venture capital business, formed even stronger connections with the start-up and innovation economy.
Add in a growing family, and I had a pretty major “ah-ha” moment. I realised I could point my diverse technology and business skills towards some of the world’s most wicked problems – including climate change, sustainability and biodiversity destruction.
I could support my ongoing passion with our natural world. And doing so in the ‘not-for-profit’ world would allow me to apply my experience to first navigating and then changing the entrenched bureaucratic processes that slow progress.
That’s where Subak comes in. Its ancient Balinese name refers to the process by which Bali’s early rice growers shared their critical resource – water – before returning it to the river. It was and still is about sharing what was needed to be successful. And survive. And that cooperative, open sourced, sharing ideology, is the very essence of the name.
What is and what isn’t working today? We know that current climate action and policy is not preventing catastrophic global warming. In Australia we will experience severe floods, bushfires, and droughts more often. We have allowed ourselves to get stuck politically between past and future requirements when it comes to energy production and provision.
Note global government fossil fuel support doubled in 2021 to $700 billion, and of course, emissions continue to rise. Reversing this trend requires transformational change in government policy and public behaviour. We’ve distilled three principles we believe will be substantive to the solutions required.
1. Data is not being used effectively to help solve climate issues at speed. Silo mentalities block data sharing. They slow progress and increase costs. And data is now seen as a huge commercial asset. As such, certain climate topics and geographies suffer disproportionately.
2. For-profits exist for commercial gain first. Not impact and climate solutions. Policy debates are dominated by large incumbents. And early stage climate not-for-profits often fail to effectively connect with policy decision makers.
3. Most climate funding optimises “return-on-investment” rather than impact. And the allocation of philanthropic funds is concentrated on a few well-established organisations and causes. Presently there is limited, long term financial support offered to early stage, impact-driven companies.
Solutions are simple …
1. An open data environment will, and we now know does, encourage collaboration globally. It creates opportunities for pioneering solutions to be developed by some of the world’s smartest, most passionate operators.
2. By shifting the focus to impact, those organisations with significant potential to make a difference can start to do so.
3. Scale is vital to being heard. And verifiable data and derived insights are and will influence policy makers.
When the UK’s Baroness Bryony Worthington publicly launched our company in June 2021, she knew that collaboration, education and sharing open-sourced data would accelerate transformational change. As lead author of the UK’s 2008 Climate Change Act, she was determined to build a global ecosystem of not-for-profit organisations and fellows able to share data and develop tools for climate solutions.
Today Subak has delivered our innovative non-equity funded accelerator program to 15 NFP startups focused on climate data across Australia, New Zealand, Asia Pacific, UK and Europe. It has funded 20+ global data fellows. And built a Data Catalogue that has 25,100 data sets checked, indexed and shared across the world.
With our curated accelerator program, we have been able to help our first cohort raise A$23 million in follow – on funding and achieved significant consumer and policy impact. Our second year’s intake of five new not-for-profits in Australia is underway. With eight rearing to go in the UK.
We will continue to create the equivalent of “Google” for climate data with our unique data catalogue. Its verified global climate data is searchable and visible to any user.
To better understand the range of not-for-profits out there driving innovative climate solutions, look at some of the work of Subak Australia’s first cohort. Open Corridor has created software tools to help cities measure their environmental footprint against the planet’s nine life support systems.
It equips communities with intelligent, easy-to-use toolsets to assist them be sustainable. It has successful pilots now running with five local government authorities in Western Australia. New Zealand-based, Blue Carbon Services, is running a series of projects that farm giant kelp in the Cook Strait to draw down atmospheric carbon dioxide and naturally sequester it into the very deep water of the Hikurangi trench.
A second New Zealand-based not-for-profit, The Good Rating, is poised to launch its rating system that demonstrates the environmental impact of packaged supermarket products. Its goal is to be an antidote to greenwashing and give producers a commercial reason to change.
And, Unchartered Waters, has built a “Digital Twin” of the global food system with real-time data and is already making waves with big organisations in Europe currently beset with not just climate change, but an unexpected war.
There are so many innovative and incredible not-for-profits beginning to put pressure on climate policy. To really tackle the climate change emergency, collaborative partnerships need to be embraced between all sectors. Building a global ecosystem of start-ups, researchers, mentors, session facilitators and board members is the start to catalyse that change.
Chris Wilson executive director Subak Australia Chris Wilson is executive director and founder of Subak Australia