As Chile prepares to host the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 in December 2019, BMW Foundation Responsible Leader Nony Herzfeld is spearheading a push for greater citizen involvement. He believes creative collaboration is the key to meeting today's pressing challenges – especially the climate crisis already impacting upon his native country.
Nony Herzfeld is a proven expert in bringing people together in the shared pursuit of improving society. His Festival Internacional de Innovación Social (fiiS) is a unique phenomenon, connecting changemakers from all sectors with top musical and cultural acts with the goal of encouraging people to engage positively with serious issues. Even considering the success of fiiS, it was beyond Nony’s wildest expectations that he would be called upon by Chile’s president to help spearhead citizen involvement in one of the biggest impact events of all: the UN Climate Change Conference COP25. “We might not be experts on the climate crisis,” says Nony, “but we are experts in citizen involvement.” Clearly the former cannot be solved without the latter.
Chile Steps In
This chapter began when incoming president Jair Bolsonaro – a vociferous denier of climate change – withdrew Brazil as host of COP25, just two months after it had won the bid. The world’s top-level environment event was left homeless … until Chile stepped in. The country’s environment minister Carolina Schmidt lobbied hard to host the event despite the short turnaround and huge investment required. The conference entertains around 20,000 people, incurring an estimated cost of 100 million dollars. But Schmidt calculated that renewable energy and biodiversity investments alone could recoup more than 120 million dollars. Chile won the right to host COP25 and Schmidt became the conference's first female president-designate in eight years.
COP25Founded in 1994 and ratified by 197 states, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is one of the oldest and largest alliances for climate change action. Its annual meeting is called "Conference of the Parties" (COP). This year's 25th anniversary conference will take place in Santiago de Chile. From December 2 to 13, representatives of the states that are parties to the Convention will discuss how to tackle climate change.
But Chile’s interest in renewables is not just a business opportunity. Though responsible for only 0.25% of global emissions, the country has been named as one of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate devastation. Forestry and agriculture are using up water supplies, the glacial south is melting, and residents of cities like Santiago face toxic air pollution. Hence there has been an ambitious series of policy declarations, promising a steep rise in the use of renewable energy and the achievement of carbon neutrality by 2050.
These top-level moves have been accompanied by a growing focus on citizen participation. Schmidt, for example, has worked for years to involve more women in climate action, seeing as they are a disproportionately affected group. This reflects a global wave of attempts by activists and institutions to involve “ordinary” people in their efforts, appealing to them via intersectional issues, such as water scarcity and food insecurity. Without public engagement the kind of paradigm shift we need is unlikely to occur.
“We believe in motivating personal transformations,” says Nony. “We’re trying to make every person feel responsible for what they can do.” With his long experience in that area – engaging people in social innovation and impact through his International Festival of Social Innovation – he has been identified as the person to make citizen participation a reality at the COP.
The Origins of a Movement
“We are in a situation of urgency,” comments Nony about the fiiS approach. “We don’t have time to create traditional solutions, so we use innovation.” Perhaps this problem-solving began in his early career as an engineer. Through a persistent sideline in organizing music and cultural events, he honed skills that would come in handy. “When I was looking for a sponsorship for an event, someone suggested the idea of social entrepreneurship. I found this contest for impact entrepreneurs in the US that culminated in a music festival and I was blown away.” He took the opportunity to realize one of his dreams: holding a huge music festival in a park – except he combined the acts with talks from social impact pioneers. Under the inspirational slogan “You can’t fight music,” fiiS has since expanded from Santiago de Chile to 14 cities across Latin America. This year it is crossing the ocean for the first time, to Spain, and it’s unlikely to stop there.
Festival Internacional de Innovación Social (fiiS)Festival Internacional de Innovación Social (fiiS) is a movement of people and organizations that dream and work for a world of love, peace, and joy. By showcasing solutions that the world needs now in a fun and innovative way, Nony Herzfeld and the fiiS community aim to generate a personal and collective transformation towards a society based on respect and understanding. The spirit is that there is no time to find traditional solutions, change must be based on disruptive innovation.
Speakers have included the likes of Starbucks co-founder Zev Siegl, Brazilian social entrepreneur Fábio Silva, and Indian democratic participation expert Edwin Maria John, typically alongside popular musicians such as Kevin Johansen and Auténticos Decadentes. “People from the artistic worlds are brought to the arenas of street activism, human and animal rights, and vice versa,” explains Nony.
This cross-pollination is also central to the mission of the BMW Foundation Herbert Quandt, which works to achieve the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals by inspiring, connecting, and empowering Responsible Leaders from all sectors and from around the world. When the BMW Foundation’s Responsible Leaders Forum was held in Santiago de Chile in 2017, it took place alongside fiiS – a festival of 30,000 people discussing and combining social innovation and the arts. Both sides were equally impressed. “The network is unbelievable,” says Nony. “All Responsible Leaders are people who we dream of getting in touch with. We are all part of the same community of purpose.”
The importance of this network to Nony’s work, especially in the context of Latin America, was clear. “The BMW Foundation inspires us to believe there’s an organization that will take care of us and that will work with us,” he says. “You see doors opening in a way you’ve never seen with other organizations. In Latin America it’s very difficult to connect with the big foundations – we don’t have this kind of unifying influence. Latin America has a lot of passion, while over in Europe you have the history, generations of thinking, and the structure that can help harness that passion.”
Like fiiS, the BMW Foundation is about fomenting powerful collaborations. Nony knows that this is always a challenging issue: “We’ve learned over time that collaboration requires compromise and letting go of a part of yourself so you can realize your shared dreams.”
Enter the Citizen
“FiiS can have a crucial role in bringing people together,” says Nony, “as this is something we have accomplished in other areas.” Thanks to his work, the Chilean COP administration invited Nony to join an advisory table for public involvement. There he has joined two long-time friends and fellow Responsible Leaders, Leonardo Maldonado and Gonzalo Muñoz – with Muñoz occupying the role of ambassador and champion of the initiative. The three go way back, as long-time collaborators and members of the BMW Foundation Responsible Leaders Network.
As of June 2019, the advisory table has had 16 members from all sectors, including representatives of some of Chile’s indigenous communities. Its work complements that of another table concerned with high-level negotiation, featuring luminaries like Chilean ex-president Ricardo Lagos. One table is effectively concerned with top-down efforts, while the other is working from the ground up.
“They asked us to see if we can help connect what’s happening in the COP with the projects that are developing in Chile,” says Nony. “This means the people who support such initiatives will be involved, but it’s just as important, if not more so, to reach out to the people who are against it – the ‘angry’ people.” Consequently fiiS is being held at the same time and in close contact with the UN climate conference. Many of the festival’s partner organizations will be involved across topics like reforestation, sustainability, and animal rights. It is time to bring these organizations to the conversation. “My dream is that we can demonstrate our citizen involvement to Chile and the world,” says Nony. “These initiatives for the environment and sustainability can inspire people, raise awareness, and initiate personal transformation.”
“We don’t have time to create traditional solutions, so we use innovation.”
Clearly humanity requires greater levels of collaboration if our environmental and social crises are to be resolved along the lines of the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals. Having created a thriving international network of social innovation, Nony’s dreams may not be so far-fetched. “I have this vision of a United Nations of organizations like ours that can influence governments.”
With social innovation pioneers firing up people power alongside the high-level discussions at COP25, the climate seems to be shifting.