6 Lessons from 6 Years

(Some of) What I Learned at Climate-KIC

Aim for the stars. It’s more meaningful — and more fun.

Today marks the end of my six-year tenure at Climate-KIC, an extraordinary organisation that I have been privileged to serve in four different roles. Here are 6 lessons I’ve learned.

1. It’s better to have 3 things going well than 30 things going nowhere.

The first time people show up, they come for the promise of your story. The second time they show up, you better have some solid progress to demonstrate, or it might be the last conversation with those folks. So rather than having many things going on at the same time — which creates optionality and diversity but spreads resources thinly — you’re likely to get more traction if you focus on a few and make sure these deliver on their promise.

2. If your organization is at the centre of a community, it’s inevitably going to be a bottleneck.

Humans tend to follow leaders. If a funding organization sits at the heart of a community — as Climate-KIC has been doing for years — community members are going to look to that organization for pointing the way and orchestrating work. Little, then, will happen unless that organization instigates and orchestrates, making it the inevitable bottleneck of action.

3. Few things about organizational change are as hard as changing your identity.

In 2010, Climate-KIC started out with an identity of a grant-making body. Over time, we started to see that we could be even more impactful as an identifier of innovation needs and a community orchestrator. But expanding our value proposition in this way demanded from our partners that they see us with fresh eyes. Overcoming entrenched perceptions about our organisation’s DNA proved to be one of the thorniest aspects of our strategy pivot.

4. Just because a group is tasked with deciding doesn’t mean there’s collective decision-making.

Climate-KIC’s consent-based portfolio process is one of the most remarkable collective decision-making processes I’ve seen in action. It’s remarkable because it works — provided that it’s curated well. The challenge, then, is in the curation, i.e. in making sure no individual voice becomes too dominant.

5. Being a good innovation funder is easy, provided you stick to a handful of simple rules.

While at Climate-KIC, I’ve been both a grantor and grantee. From those experiences, I have derived a list of best practices that I believe all innovation funders should follow:

  1. Decide fast. For innovators, the funding need is always now.
  2. Listen well. Innovators are the experts.
  3. Trust your grantees. Most of them aren’t trying to rip you off.
  4. Be pragmatic. When it comes to innovation, 80/20 is plenty accurate. And stop worrying about the pennies.
  5. Collaborate. It’s not about you (or your logo), it’s about the work.

6. Be visionary or go home.

When it comes to societal challenges like climate change, incrementalism isn’t going to cut it. We need to be bold, setting the bar high, both in terms of what we do and how we do it. Climate-KIC continues to pursue an extraordinary vision, laid out in Transformation, in Time. It’s a strategy that’s difficult to explain and even more difficult to fundraise for. But I’ve always felt proud to be part of something that is unashamedly ambitious, and I would take the pain that comes with that over the easy success anytime.

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Dominic Hofstetter

Dominic Hofstetter

I write to inform, inspire, and trigger new strategies for tackling climate change.