The Courage to take Risks, the Audacity to Fail, and the Distance we can Travel with Trust and Transparency

SELCO Foundation
3 min readFeb 23, 2023

Huda Jaffer in conversation with Per Heggens on the role of failure for better philanthropy.

In a deep-dive chat with Huda Jaffer, Director, SELCO Foundation, the CEO of IKEA Foundation, Per Heggens, brought his decade of experience in philanthropy and spoke his perspective as a leader in the climate space. Per had been at the controversial COP27, and he did not mince his words when he said,

“In many ways, COP was really a huge disappointment because we didn’t make any progress on the key issue of cutting fossil fuels, we had to fight to actually stay on the Paris agreement, which is not the way we’re going to make progress in the years and cut greenhouse gases by 50 per cent in the next eight years.”

In a more positive outcome from COP27, Per observed cautiously, “A commitment was made to set up a loss and damage fund so that people who have the least responsibility for the impact of climate change but suffer the most, receive compensation in one way or another. Now, I realise this is just a commitment to put a fund in place and there’s nothing more to it right now. My concern is that the commitment that the rich countries made in 2009, in Copenhagen, to raise a hundred billion dollars a year to support the poorer countries in the world has never happened. And I wonder if the loss and damage fund is going to have the same trajectory, I hope not, I hope that we’ll be able to see something very different.”

Despite the urgency of the crisis, Per kindles hope.

“What gives me hope are the partners we fund, and the huge progress we’re making in driving for positive developments on the climate side. But what makes me most optimistic are the interactions I have with young people and the fact that young people have different perspectives. They are the real victims of climate change, I belong to the first generation that really felt the impact of climate change and I feel a huge sense of responsibility for it. Young people encourage me to go faster and to do better.”

IKEA is audacious about failure, showcasing it as an opportunity to learn. The founder of Ikea sometimes came to meetings and asked bluntly, “So, what have been your latest failures?” He believed so strongly in learning from failure and was convinced that failure was a far better teacher than our successes were.

Per explains, “Hiding failures is a sin at IKEA, which also means that we need to have a good system to capture the learnings, so we put a lot of emphasis on making sure we have a robust system for monitoring and evaluation that we rely on to create evidence so we can build our future investments on that evidence. If the evidence is not available, we will probably take a lot of risks and that’s important because we are one of the few organisations that can afford to take risks and fail, as long as we fail responsibly and capture the learnings. This means we need to have a partnership that is built on trust on transparency so that we can talk about course correction in the middle of a programme.

“We’re not in a competitive environment we just want to create as much impact as possible for the money we have available and if others can avoid making the same mistakes that’s good because we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time,” he added.

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SELCO Foundation

SELCO Foundation seeks to inspire and implement solutions that alleviate poverty by improving access to sustainable energy to underserved communities.