Growing the power of people to make change

Aim 7:

Grow the strength of the people-powered movement(s) that Friends of the Earth is part of, from the local to the global.

Aim 8:

Reflect the diversity of the UK, starting with gender and ethnicity in all areas of our network – including our Board, staff and volunteers, community activists and national supporters.

Friends of the Earth exists to make transformational change that lasts. If the next generation are to enjoy an environment that’s getting better, we need deep social and cultural change across law, economics, technology, business and culture. Incremental and reversible changes in legislation are, by themselves, insufficient. In the current context, even securing legislative progress at the UK level requires us to be more powerful than we currently are.

Winning each of the campaigns we support takes us closer to our goal of turning around environmental decline for the next generation. But as well as being ends in their own right, each campaign is a way of building the power of individuals, communities and the wider movements in which we are involved, in order to achieve even greater changes in economic and political systems, and in values and attitudes. Only growing people power can achieve the scale of change we need.

Friends of the Earth’s power lies in the networks of people coming together to take action at every scale, with the smallest local community group playing a role in the world’s largest grassroots environmental network, Friends of the Earth International. In many cases, the people we work with will not identify themselves as Friends of the Earth per se, but are, for example, independent community groups or branches of other organisations. Building people power is our priority even at the expense of short-term parliamentary wins.

It is rare that we will be able to make change happen as Friends of the Earth alone. We will work in a range of principled alliances with other people and organised sections of society, from ad-hoc agreements around a particular tactic to long term formal partnerships. We work with other environmental groups, but we equally work with businesses, charities, trade unions, human rights and development groups, community organisations and consumer groups that share our hopes for the next generation. Our alliances are frequently international.

While we might lead from the back in supporting any particular group, ensuring space for communities to take the credit for their own victories and lead on innovation, our strength comes from the way we link groups together and focus their cumulative power on system change.

While we will spend the majority of our time working with people and communities, staff have a key leadership role to play in developing the analysis of the issues, the policy evidence base, campaign aims and strategy, in providing thought leadership and commentary, and in focusing pressure on political and business decision-makers at key moments. The emphasis will be on doing so to help our networks to growth in strength and to win campaigns.

To be more effective and relevant – and because it’s the right thing to do – we will become more representative of the communities we serve at every level. We will invest in best recruitment practice and training to ensure our staff and Board at every grade accurately reflect the demographic diversity of the UK, starting with gender and ethnicity.

In addition and given our next generation focus, we will test new work to support young people (starting with higher and further-education students) taking action, and to bridge generational divides. Particularly post-EU referendum, young people are trying to reclaim control of their futures. Students and young people’s innovation will be key to powering new skills and ideas to protect people and the planet. This is also a long term investment in securing our future base of changemakers – including future donors.

Practical action and the changemaking journey

We will combine our policy research expertise and experience in making powerful, targeted interventions with politicians, with a new emphasis on practical action. Practical projects can help to make a positive future an attractive, attainable mainstream proposition that people want to be part of: it isn’t a fad, a protest or fringe activity, it’s simply working. Often practical action will be led by parts of the network and supported and amplified by us – as where local groups have founded recycling, food or transport social enterprises.

 We see five key roles for practical action in making systemic change:

  • Action such as planting wildflower seeds at home or in your neighbourhood is an easy, satisfying entry point for people wanting to start taking action with a tangible pay-off. We will ensure that people who want to go further have a clear journey towards more collective ‘political’ action that can change the big picture.
  •  Action such as citizen science can involve people in an eye-opening and empowering way to create the evidence base for wider change.
  • Action such as creating new wild habitats or investing in community energy schemes showcases how many of the solutions we need already exist and provides a powerful demonstration of public support for change. Taking decision-makers to see the results can make the benefits tangible and encourage MPs or business leaders to go further.
  • At sufficient scale, practical action – from supporting new, disruptive businesses to the behaviour-change of reducing meat in your diet – adds up to system change all by itself.
  • In some cases, the support we can provide for practical action to resist change around particular site battles can stop or transform negative systemic change.