Common Purpose / 12 December 2023

4 Leaders From The Global North & The Global South On Why Collaboration Is Crucial To Climate Action

When there is a common agenda, we must connect.

There’s a story Sharmita Paul recalls that cements the importance of collaboration – something she, and 49 other emerging leaders from the global North and the global South who partook in the Climate Challenge Leadership Programme have thought deeply about since they came together to build bridges and find new ways to address the environmental crisis.

Sharmita was working in the shipping industry from her hometown in India, a job which connected her to many people from many different parts of the world. One day, one of her company’s seafarers got stuck in South America. It was her job to get him onto a ship safely, but there were a number of factors that needed to come together in order to do this. At least one part of this chain had failed, and she needed to speak to an officer in charge to rectify things and get this seafarer back on track.

“I expected the officer in South America to send an email – it’s just easier because you can say what you want in a way that is comfortable to you. But often, this also results in things getting lost in translation,” she explains.

“But this officer decided to pick up the phone and give me a call, and it changed everything. He explained everything in a way that I could understand. He talked me through the process that was needed on his side, and I talked to him about the process needed on my side. By communicating our needs - while being respectful of each other’s - we came to a solution, and we rectified the issue. The seafarer was able to board the ship he needed to board.”

The ingredient here, Sharmita says, is clear: While she and the officer had different roles, geographies, and perspectives, both had a common agenda – to get this seafarer safely on their way.

This story serves as an analogy for the biggest issue of our time, and this issue is the common agenda that needs to serve as a connector between the global North and the global South: Climate action.

The AFC Climate Challenge programme did exactly this – Sharmita, along with 49 other leaders from the global North and the global South came together to build bridges, spark ideas and work on pragmatic approaches to the environmental crisis. It served as a continuing reminder of the power this collaboration can bring. 

Here, four leaders from the programme define exactly why their collaboration is so important when it comes to climate action:

“For the global economy to make progress, there is a need for greater collaboration between the global North and the global South on climate change as climate change is now one of the most topical issues of our time. Every day, people, especially in the global south, struggle to cope with the impacts of climate change as it affects the very core of their lives and livelihoods. Hence, it is essential that we accelerate climate finance for developing countries to improve their adaptive capacities to climate change impacts. Communication and collaboration between the global south and the global north is key to achieving this and there is no better time to start than now.”

-          Benjamin Okpara, Sustainability and Climate Change Consultant at PwC Nigeria, based in Nigeria.

“There are certain conversations in Africa that are not necessarily being held beyond the continent. People do not realise that Africa holds many solutions in the climate change space, and this is also true for much of the global South. There's a lot of perceptions that have not been fully explained, and so, with better collaboration with the global North, we can change our views – and disrupt the thinking that is holding us back. We must unlearn biases. By doing this, the global North and the global South can combine the essential resources they both hold to create these solutions together.”

-          Winnie Tubey, Doctor of Philosophy in Project Planning and Management, Technical University of Kenya, based in Kenya.

“Every person is different. The way they function in numerous geographies across the world is different. Here in India, I speak in my language, and other people speak in other languages. But when there is a common agenda, we connect. When there is a common interest, we make that effort to communicate. I firmly believe that when any work needs to be done, there has to be a common agenda, a common goal – otherwise, how will we ever get the work done?

The global North and the global South have common agendas when it comes to climate change – we just need to come together and collaborate to do this. We all want to do some good – whether it’s taking up a small sustainable project, or leading climate policy change - collaboration from all levels is a must.”

-          Sharmita Paul, Senior Customer Success Manager & Operations at Terragon. Based in India

You need to understand context, and that includes the environmental context. You need to understand what’s special about a place. I don’t know what it is like to live in Mexico City, or in Nairobi. But it’s so important in my work, and for the global North in general to give the global South the space, time and trust to bring their voices and perspectives to the table.

So how do you build that trust? You have to build bridges - I am living in the global North but I grew up in global South – that’s why for me, climate change is so much about climate justice. When it comes to things like the flow of money, the global North may think one way is the best way, but for the global South, that might not be the case. In order for the global North to really understand the current climate issues and their roots in the global South, you need to have frank conversations at a community level, and then at a national level. For any of this to happen, the global North must be willing to give the podium to the global South. Only by coming together and building that trust – collaborating – can you do this.

-           Yaquta Fatehi, Impact Measurement Specialist at an academic research institute. Based in the United States.

The Climate Challenge Leadership Programme increased each participant’s ability to Lead Beyond Authority, a pre-requisite to solving any complex problem. It also helped them make new connections with leaders across the global North and South - together they developed their analytical and creative skills and enhanced their influence by tackling a complex challenge within this diverse group. The results speak for themselves – they now want to build on this collaboration - 95% of the participants say that their colleagues on the Climate Challenge Leadership Programme will help them contribute more positively to tackling the climate and environmental crisis.

The Climate Challenge Leadership Programme is a collaboration between Common Purpose and Africa Finance Corporation. To learn more about this programme’s substantial and unique impact, read the full report here.


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