The leading international civil society organisations (CSOs) are not always (or even often!) seen as movement actors or leaders, and this has always puzzled me. How can organisations that exist to further the public good and create social change not be?
As a student activist I assumed all CSOs were comprised of people who were, first and foremost, part of movements, and the staff all comprised as activists first and foremost.
It was only much later, when I had the opportunity to participate in the fascinating Network Leadership Innovation Lab, that I began to understand why that may not be the case. 350.org, the climate change advocacy campaign where I currently serve as Executive Director, was selected to be a part of this learning group because we are at once an organisation, existing within a network, existing with a movement.
The distinction lies in that organisations make decisions that focus, often, on the organisation: its own growth, its budget and revenue, its liabilities, its pursuit of its mission. But what about all the other organisations whom we work with? What about the campaign successes and failures that we encounter working side by side with others? And the learning we do with other organisations – sharing examples of policies and practices, for example? And —if you look at networks the differences are even bigger: joined together they form an engine for social change that doesn’t have one mission, one executive director, and one budget, but multiple strategies in their midst.
I challenge all organisations to see themselves in this way: to make their borders porous. How else can we possibly reach the mass mobilisation potential that would make our visions real? How else can we begin to tip the political balance away from big money and towards big movements?
It may seem daunting to do this, and here is where divestment comes in. By mirroring what movement actors are calling on institutions to do, we become part of movements. We act in concert with others, be they local governments, churches, pension holders, or universities. This acting with others, side-by-side, is one crucial way to recognise movements in action.
I invite and challenge the large international CSOs to join the fossil fuel divestment movement: Dig into your finances and find out what fossil fuel companies you are holding. You can do this by requesting a list of company holdings from your investment advisors. If you have money in the markets, it is likely you are holding some amount of coal, oil and gas. Talk to your investment advisors about fossil free options. And here’s the most important part: connect with players in the divestment movement to discern when and where your fossil fuel divestment announcement would have the biggest movement bang. Finally, talk to your peers about joining you, this is a movement, after all!
There are many paths towards movement integration: but we all are limited by time and interest. I encourage my peers to ride this wave, to join it, to learn as others in our movement learn.