Four Lessons in Sustainable Impact from Leaders in Health and Climate Sectors

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Authors:  

Matt Whale, Lead Consultant, How To Impact  

Steven Sullivan, Innovation Lead, How To Impact 

As the world is met with a ‘polycrisis’, Deepend Group’s Lead Consultant, Matt Whale and Innovation Lead, Steven Sullivan sat down with industry leaders who have broken paradigms to amplify and accelerate social change through Systems Thinking, Technology and Communications strategy to uncover their key strategies to create sustainable outcomes

It’s no secret that today the world faces a ‘polycrisis’ – an entanglement of ecological, economic, political, social, and civilizational challenges, all feeding on each other.  

These forces are inescapable – it’s a decisive moment for Australia, and its organisational leaders. In this accelerating complexity it’s crucial that we actively shape the future, particularly in climate change and health. The risks are shattering. The rewards are sublime.   

The risk of climate change is existential. 2023 broke every single climate indicator – it wasn’t just the hottest year on record, ocean heat reached its highest level since records began, global mean sea level also reached a record high and Antarctic Sea ice reached a record low. We’re in ‘uncharted territory’. In health, we’re facing a loneliness epidemic, surging mental health disorders, and a health system struggling to deal with increasing complex, chronic health conditions like obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  

The climate and health crises have also become intrinsically interlinked, with climate-fuelled health issues being driven up nationwide.  

 Despite the dire outlook, there is still cause for optimism. Reducing carbon emissions will positively impact issues ranging from drought, wildfires, flooding, poverty, health risks, species extinction, and economic well-being. By positioning Australia as pioneers in clean energy technologies and resources, we can help neighboring countries lower their emissions and bolster their energy security. It’s win-win.  

 Similarly in health, a shift to prevention and early intervention can improve care, increase access to health services, and alter the trajectories of individuals, potentially transforming their lives for the better.  

To understand how organisations are navigating the risks and rewards of sustainable impact, we hosted a panel with leaders from the health and sustainability sectors including ReachOut, a provider of youth mental health services; Eucalyptus, a leading digital health service provider; Port of Newcastle, the world’s premier coal export port; and MCi Carbon, a global pioneer in decarbonization technology, to learn about their approaches. They shared insights and lessons into creating sustainable outcomes.  

Lesson 1: Invest in infrastructure for experimentation 

Addressing youth mental health requires more than a quick fix, according to Jackie Hallan, Interim CEO at ReachOut. And the organisation backs this up: investing in social impact measurement and design capabilities to innovate early intervention services through co-production with young people.  

Their latest initiative, PeerChat, designed with young people, introduces peer support as a complement to clinical healthcare. Refined through numerous ‘design sprints’ creating multiple experience prototypes, an online experiment, and service pilots, the result is a service model that not only seeks to address the distinct mental health challenges faced by young Australians but also exemplifies how technology can enhance human connection.  

Lesson 2: Challenge assumptions with an outsider’s perspective  

Challenging prevailing norms in healthcare, Eucalyptus thrives under the guidance of four founders without traditional healthcare backgrounds. This gives them a unique perspective that allows them to question and rethink established healthcare assumptions, leading to the development of a patient-centric model that emphasises high-touch care throughout the patient’s journey.  

For Clinical Director Dr. Matt Vickers, the outsider’s viewpoint is invaluable, “It paves the way for addressing stigmatised health issues with fresh eyes, focusing on what patients truly need rather than adhering to conventional practices.” Eucalyptus’s model works backwards. It starts with the desired patient outcome and works its way back to the patient experience, contrary to the traditional medical training approach, challenging the status quo and opening new avenues for care that are more aligned with patient needs and expectations. 

Lesson 3: Let go of control for cross-sector collaboration 

Australia faces a major challenge in its reliance on natural resource exports. Simon Byrnes, Former Chief Commercial Officer of Port of Newcastle, says “We’re at a pivotal moment to innovate beyond exporting raw materials to build industries that create value.” This shift necessitates a comprehensive re-evaluation of trade and business models, emphasising sustainability and global competitiveness. 

The transition in Newcastle from coal to renewable energy showcases the necessity of integrating efforts across sectors, so the port brought together 20+ partners to prioritise key initiatives. “Our work was about demonstrating that we can achieve more by truly working together, than by adhering to conventional adversarial corporate practices,” reflects Byrnes. Building a collaborative environment required time, trust, and space outside of typical organisational norms, highlighting the critical role of shared goals, without one team taking control. These partnerships continue to chart viable routes for innovative energy models, underscoring that systemic change is feasible only through collective effort. 

Lesson 4: Hold back your story until it’s ready to ignite 

MCi Carbon’s journey began when founders Marcus Dawe and John Beever, developed a technology based on natural weathering processes to convert CO₂ emissions into products for building materials and other uses.  

Todd McHenry, Head of Communications at MCi Carbon, emphasises the importance of not jumping the gun on narrative: “Historically, MCi Carbon has adopted a low-profile strategy, aiming to under-promise rather than overhype. We have been quietly developing our technology at our Pilot Plant facility in Newcastle, whereas companies overseas in our sector have started hyping up their own solutions and products before they are outside a lab.” 

Having made progress, their stance has shifted towards advocating for urgency and activism. The company is now creating significant impact and their strategy of waiting until notable progress is now yielding dividends, generating significant momentum. McHenry observed, “Our role in communications is to bring everyone along on the journey. The challenge lies in making our technology understandable and sensitive to everyone.” MCi’s success is a testament to the effectiveness of a narrative that is both well-timed and well-defined. 

Moving from insights to practice 

In an era defined by a ‘polycrisis’ of interconnected challenges, the insights from leaders at ReachOut, Eucalyptus, Port of Newcastle, and MCi Carbon illuminate a path forward for sustainable impact: 

·        Lesson 1: Invest in infrastructure for experimentation 

o   In practice: use design sprints, prototyping and pilots to accelerate learnings, linking activity to a social impact framework to measure success. 

·        Lesson 2: Challenge assumptions with an outsider’s perspective 

o   In practice: engage with a range of diverse perspectives outside of your sector, starting with desired outcomes and working backward to explore alternative approaches. 

·        Lesson 3: Let go of control for cross-sector collaboration 

o   In practice: use shared goals to coordinate efforts, while creating enough flexibility for collaborators to learn and adapt their approach. 

·        Lesson 4: Hold back your story until it’s ready to ignite 

o   In practice: focus your efforts on creating significant progress before galvanizing others, craft your narrative to make technical concepts understandable and relatable.  

Each lesson reveals a glimpse of hope in the monumental tasks of climate change and health crises. Despite the daunting scale of global issues, dedicated collective action, rooted in shared goals, can forge sustainable impact. As we face the complexities of 2024 and beyond, these lessons serve as practical strategies to shape a resilient, equitable, and sustainable future for Australia and the world. 

To hear more from these leaders, you can see a full recording of the session, Unlocking Sustainable Social Impact for Business Growth HERE.  

 

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