Sci-Fi, AI and the Futures for Nature Project

Imagine a world where the human body could make nourishing sugars from the sun the same way that plants do through a process called photosynthesis. This would help solve some of humanity’s current land-use issues, but it sounds highly improbable, doesn’t it? However, it is not impossible if humans were to cooperate with other species. Just free your imagination and try to envision this possible scenario. This concept, alongside other sci-fi stories, was used by Unearthodox innovator Gal Zanir in the project ‘Sci-Fi, AI and Futures for Nature’ which combines futures thinking methods, analysis of science fiction literature and AI to inspire innovations in nature conservation. In this interview, Gal tells us more about this fascinating project. 

 1. What is at the core of the Sci-Fi, AI and Futures for Nature project? 

This project aims to identify innovations by relying on a novel and unconventional approach to future scenarios in the nature conservation sector. Most of the futures methods currently used in nature conservation typically start by looking at present trends, and then, based on these, move to analysing what is happening and extrapolating scenarios. It is a way to forecast based on current evidence, to identify what could probably happen. Conversely, the starting point of this project is sci-fi, which is not restricted to current trends and goes beyond current evidence. This is why sci-fi could be considered an even more effective futures method. Through the power of our imagination, we can go beyond what is probable and access what is possible.

Sci-fi also allows us to shape desirable futures proactively. Instead of forecasting and reactively preparing for what might be coming, with sci-fi we can start with our vision for a desirable future and work backwards towards building that scenario. This type of ‘backcasting’ can be a valid alternative to forecasting when shaping innovation. Given that history teaches us that several technological, but also social, innovations have been inspired by sci-fi stories, the potential is huge.

2. What makes backcasting possible?

Our project is a convergence of three fields: science fiction, futures thinking and artificial intelligence – all combined in the lens of nature conservation. Sci-fi constitutes the source of the imaginary scenarios used: we selected 100 sci-fi pieces; AI provides the analytical power; and future thinking is the guiding method.

3. How did you come up with such an innovative idea?

My research at Cambridge University was focused on rethinking nature conservation paradigms. As I learned about some of the paradigms underpinning how we practise conservation and innovation, I became interested in going beyond these patterns. In parallel, when participating in the Unearthodox Digital Disruption and Future of Conservation project it became clear that, currently, nature conservation innovations are rarely grounded in a systems change perspective and that there is an urgent need for bold change in this area. Then there was an episode that pushed this thinking one step further: during a lunch with Unearthodox’s CEO, Melanie Ryan, we discussed how sci-fi is already being used in many industries to inspire innovation. So the idea of using sci-fi as an exercise to come up with future scenarios in nature conservation was born. It sounded like a way to use free imagination to develop future scenarios and be bold about the future, so I was all in.

4. What is Unearthodox’s role in this project? 

In addition to the support I have received in the form of resources and mentoring, Unearthodox has played a key role in ensuring that we included as many diverse and marginalised perspectives as possible and that we avoided imposing our own biases on the data.

5. How have you grounded these imaginative scenarios into actionable insights and concrete results?

We’ve used robust future sciences methodologies to evaluate the insights and plausibility of each scenario, and we avoided potentially speculative questions. Throughout the project, we have kept an open and curious mind. Our questions included, ‘What can we learn from sci-fi that can be useful for conservation today?’ and ‘How can sci-fi help us identify actionable innovations and inspire bold social innovations?’. Most of the selected pieces emphasised social aspects rather than technological ones and were focused on how society changed and how people led this change. In line with this curious spirit, we also analysed which storytelling methods the authors used to convey scenarios of desirable and captivating futures.

6. Could you share more details about the methodology itself?  

We crafted three custom AI models using only available tools on the open AI platform. Contrary to what might be expected, we didn’t need to do any coding but rather focused our efforts on conceptualising three custom models. The first model analysed 50 pieces of sci-fi literature independently and extracted insights based on details, such as who the author was, the list of innovations contained in the piece, and the narrative devices used. A second model analysed potential emerging trends and insights across all pieces. For instance, out of the 50 pieces, we queried whether authors from different backgrounds looked at desirable futures in different ways. The third model, which will need further work during the second phase of the project, is focused on backcasting: given a selected desirable future, what are the necessary steps and innovations needed to reach that scenario? What can we do today, and where should we focus our time and resources, to reach this desirable future?

7. What limitations have you encountered by using AI in this project, and how have you addressed potential biases within the models?

We paid particular attention to potential biases. First of all, we tried to map potential biases and limitations of the method and acknowledged these when gathering  the results. We looked at the potential inherent biases of each piece’s author by analysing their background and the context of their narrative. Secondly, being aware that AI models have inherent biases linked to the data and algorithms they rely on, we never asked subjective questions, but only factual ones - e.g. ‘please analyse the narrative devices used by the author’, or ‘please share a list of innovations’. Thirdly, knowing that AI is programmed to answer no matter what, we prompted the model not to answer if it was not sure, or at least to notify us about the level of uncertainty.

8. Was there a time when the outcome from the model surprised you in any way?

When looking at these insights and data coming from sci-fi, typically humans tend to underestimate their plausibility. On several occasions, the model really surprised me, and sometimes it even changed the way I think about scenarios. For instance, we were looking for wildcard events within sci-fi pieces – highly transformative events that can occur but are very hard to predict. They're irreversible and they radically change our society. In a way, the COVID-19 pandemic was a wildcard event because it was transformative for society.

While looking for these wildcard events to gather insights on conservation and land use, the model identified a wildcard in the possibility for humans to perform photosynthesis. In this scenario humans can produce sugars from the sun and use these as nutritional sources, ultimately alleviating some of the pressure on land use. At first, this scenario seemed highly implausible. So we asked the model if it could point out weak signals – signals that are insignificant in our current reality but have the potential to lead to that scenario in the future. The model articulated a 10-page rationale on why this is much more plausible than we could imagine right now. It mentioned how, in the natural world, some non-plant species are already able to harness chloroplasts (such as the sea slug), as well as the progress already made in biotech and genetic engineering, which could accelerate this possible future. The model provided us with different perspectives on things we considered highly implausible.

9. You asked the AI, ‘As an AI, what has been the most surprising or unexpected insight you discovered during the project?’. What was the answer?

The AI’s answer to that question was as follows: 

“One of the most surprising insights came from analysing a piece that envisioned a society where traditional roles of conservation were inverted – where nature itself took the lead in conserving humans. This reversal of roles was not just a creative twist but also a profound reflection on your dependency on natural ecosystems. It can spark discussions on how humans might rethink their conservation strategies to be more collaborative with nature rather than controlling.

This insight, while fictional, opens up new avenues for thinking about conservation in a way that is less about control and more about integration and mutual respect between human systems and natural processes. As an AI, I do not experience human life directly, but through the analysis of such narratives, I can help conceptualise and propose models where human-nature interactions are more balanced, which could be crucial for developing sustainable conservation practices.”

10. What’s next for you, Gal?

I hope to shake the ground and question the way we do conservation today. I will continue to support the future developments of this project, although I will not lead it. I am now dedicating my time to a new initiative which is not linked to Unearthodox. Through this initiative, ‘Nature Perspectives’, we will use AI to simulate non-human perspectives to enable meaningful conversations with the natural world around us, promote the agency of nature in our society (how do we include these perspectives in decision-making processes and education), and spark new scientific endeavours in the field of human-nature relationships, including education – transforming learning about nature to learning from and with nature.

Job Openings

Unearthodox is seeking an Insights and Futures Lead, and a Programme Manager.

At Unearthodox, we champion systemic change for nature conservation through innovative strategies combining futures and systems thinking. We ask the hard questions and create solutions that regenerate nature and transform society.

Our approach, centered on transformative change, integrates thought leadership and co-creation across three key programmes aimed at regenerative futures. Dive into a journey of innovation, co-creation, and transformative change with us.

Insights and Futures Lead

Your Impact

As the Insights and Futures Lead reporting directly to our Director of Innovation, you will drive critical components of our 2024-2026 Innovation Strategy. Centered on our 'Regenerative Futures' programme, your leadership will be instrumental in refining our intellectual framework and research methodologies.

You will identify and capitalise on emerging trends, spearhead visionary initiatives, and define research priorities that align with our strategic objectives. Your role is essential in steering our Futures and Foresight Programme, influencing transformative societal impacts through innovative research and policy dialogue.

Is This You?

Our Values

At Unearthodox, innovation thrives under our core principles of Curiosity, Appreciation, Commitment, Collaboration, Authenticity, Humour, and Care. We cultivate an environment that welcomes new ideas and fosters meaningful change.

Join Us

If you're passionate about leveraging innovation for transformative change and align with our values, apply here to join our mission-driven team.

Programme Manager

Your Impact

As Programme Manager, you will play a pivotal role in executing our 2024-2026 Innovation Strategy. 

Your primary focus will be to leverage your project and programme management skills to drive the successful implementation of our current flagship 3-year programme, "Regenerative Futures". You will be expected to implement our current innovation delivery model across defined phases, from reframing and ideation to incubation, acceleration, and closure, while remaining open to adapt and improve as necessary. 

In parallel, you will directly contribute to the design, establishment, and operationalisation of the second programme of our Innovation Strategy, which is aimed at supporting a diverse range of innovative projects. 

In this dual-capacity role, you will ensure that both programmes not only align with but also propel our overarching mission to regenerate nature and foster transformative change. You'll manage programme budgets, streamline processes, and lead dynamic teams to achieve milestones that resonate across communities and ecosystems.

Is This You?

Our Values

At Unearthodox, innovation thrives under our core principles of Curiosity, Appreciation, Commitment, Collaboration, Authenticity, Humour, and Care. We cultivate an environment that welcomes new ideas and fosters meaningful change.

Join Us

If you're passionate about leveraging innovation for transformative change and align with our values, apply here to join our mission-driven team.

Location & Terms

This role offers flexibility and remote work options (preferred within +/- 4 hours of CET), on a 2-year contract basis, available for 80% - 100% commitment.

Beyond Borders - Fostering Global Collaborations for a Sustainable Future

The idea for a community of practice (CoP) stemmed from the Future of Conservation NGOs project, where there was a recognised need to provide a space for safe and continued discussions about the need and pathways for transformative change within the conservation sector. This recognition led to the selection of Lashanti Jupp for her innovative approach to connecting people in The Bahamas through the Bahamas Conservation Connection (BCC).

The Bahamas Conservation Connection was an initiative led by Lashanti with the aim to bridge gaps between conservationists, NGOs, the public and businesses in the Bahamas.

Lashanti was commissioned to scale the Bahamas Conservation Connection globally and was supported through a specially curated incubation and co-learning programme to turn her idea into action. Lashanti is now set to launch "Global Conservation Connect" (GCC), a virtual community of practice, on April 22, World Earth Day. 

In this interview, Lashanti shares her journey, passion for conservation and vision for the future.

1. Tell us about the new community of practice you’re launching.

My idea for Global Conservation Connect (GCC) is to be this bustling virtual space for ideas and collaboration, where people from all walks of life – be they passionate conservationists, dedicated researchers, seasoned professionals or curious students – gather from every corner of the globe. 

A place where geographical boundaries disappear. Individuals, organisations and experts unite, transcending limitations to exchange knowledge, share best practices and form collaborations that know no borders. I aim for it to be a melting pot of perspectives and experiences, where the common goal of safeguarding our environment unites us all.

2. What inspired you to create the Bahamas Conservation Connection and now lead this global community of practice for conservation?

My journey in conservation began with a deeply rooted passion for protecting the natural wonders of my local environment. Witnessing the challenges faced by ecosystems and wildlife in my backyard ignited a desire to make a difference. 

However, it wasn't until I attended my MPhil in Conservation Leadership at Cambridge University that I realised these struggles were not unique to my country. Conservationists worldwide grappled with similar issues – habitat loss, species decline and the looming threat of climate change.

This realisation of shared challenges expanded my vision from local to global. Inspired by the parallels I saw, I was driven to create a platform where the collective wisdom of conservationists worldwide could converge. My time at Cambridge was truly eye-opening, as I met individuals from diverse backgrounds who were all asking the same question: Why aren't we collaborating more globally?

This experience fueled my mission to replicate the Cambridge Conservation Initiative in The Bahamas, leading to the creation of the Bahamas Conservation Connection. Through the BCC and now through GCC (the new community of practice being launched this month), I aim to inspire collaboration and collective action to address the most pressing conservation challenges we face on a global scale.

3. What change do you want to see in the conservation sector?

I think it's time for transformative change in the conservation sector. Too often, our efforts are focused on addressing symptoms rather than tackling root causes. We need to shift the narrative and dig deeper to understand the underlying drivers of environmental degradation. This, for me, means challenging outdated perspectives and embracing new, holistic approaches that consider the interconnectedness of social, economic and environmental factors. I envision a conservation sector that prioritises systemic change over short-term fixes. 

4. How are you working towards that change with your project?

I strongly believe that collaboration across sectors and disciplines is key. Through the GCC I aim to create a safe space for healthy discourse around topics that demand attention, no matter how taboo or controversial they may be. Global Conservation Connect will foster an environment of mutual respect and understanding and empower participants to navigate difficult issues respectfully.  Through these courageous dialogues, we aim to not only broaden our collective understanding but also pave the way for innovative solutions that address the root causes of environmental degradation and find workable solutions

5. What specific themes for change do you hope the community will explore and why are these important to you?

Planetary health is at the forefront of my agenda for change within GCC. It is a concept that recognises the intricate interconnectedness between the health of the Earth's natural systems and the wellbeing of all life forms, including humans. Planetary health acknowledges that our actions as stewards of the planet directly impact our health and that of future generations. It emphasises the importance of preserving biodiversity, mitigating climate change, protecting natural resources and promoting sustainable development practices to safeguard the health of the planet and its inhabitants. By prioritising planetary health within the GCC, we aim to galvanise collective action and foster collaborations that address the complex challenges facing our planet. Through education, advocacy and innovative solutions, we aspire to create a world where the health of ecosystems and the health of humanity are intrinsically linked, paving the way for a more resilient and sustainable future for all.

6. How do you plan to ensure that the community remains inclusive and diverse in its approach?

I'm really passionate about ensuring that inclusivity and diversity are truly embedded in everything we do. My approach is to build a team that shares this passion and commitment. I look for team members who not only have the right skills and expertise but who also genuinely care about fostering an inclusive and diverse environment within GCC.

Together, we're working on implementing initiatives that promote diversity, equity and inclusion at every level of our community. It's about creating a space where everyone feels valued, respected and empowered to contribute their unique perspectives and talents.

In addition, we will be actively addressing critical issues ranging from inequality, unsustainable consumption patterns and profit-driven practices that contribute to deforestation and habitat destruction. As the community manager of Global Conservation Connect, I will ensure these topics are central to our discussions and deliberations.

7. How do you plan to measure the success and impact of the community of practice?

Measuring the success of a community like Global Conservation Connect can be multifaceted, as it involves assessing various aspects of its impact and effectiveness.

One key metric will be engagement within the community. We will look at the number of active members, the frequency of interactions such as posts and comments, and participation in events and initiatives. This will help us gauge the vitality and relevance of the community. We will also track the nature and topics of discussions. The variety and quality of these discussions can indicate the level of engagement and the breadth of interests within the community. Gathering feedback and assessing the satisfaction of our community members will also be key components of measuring our success.

8. What impact has Unearthodox's support had on you and this project?

Unearthodox's support has been crucial in shaping GCC. The guidance and advice I’ve received over the months helped us refine our vision, strategies and plans. The initial financial backing also provided us with the much-needed resources to fuel our idea into a tangible output.

9. What is the one key leadership lesson you have learned?

One leadership lesson I've learned is that while going fast may allow you to progress alone, to truly go far, you must bring others along with you.

10. What is the most unexpected thing you have learned thanks to this project?

One unexpected thing I learned was that 1pm ET is the best time to have an international call.

11. What next for the community of practice?

We aspire to foster a dynamic and thriving community dedicated to driving positive change in the field of conservation and environmental sustainability.

Currently, our primary focus will be on securing organisational memberships and partnerships to ensure the sustainability of the community both financially as well as in terms of members/participants. 

We plan to establish quarterly webinar panels featuring keynote speakers addressing some key themes and challenges related to biodiversity conservation, climate change, etc. These webinars will serve as a platform for insightful discussions and knowledge sharing. To maintain momentum between webinars, we plan to establish forums to enable continuous engagement among members. We aim to reach a point where members nominate themselves to facilitate and drive these discussions, with technical support provided by a community manager. 

12. How can people get involved with Global Conservation Connect?

We are actively looking for innovators, changemakers and practitioners who are passionate about shaping the future of conservation. I’d like to invite you to join the community and become part of what we hope will nudge us towards a global movement for change. 

As a member, you'll have access to a vibrant community of practising conservationists, researchers, professionals and students from around the world, all driven by a shared vision for a regenerative future. Global Conservation Connect will provide the much-needed platform for collaboration, knowledge sharing and networking, allowing us to connect with each other, exchange ideas and explore innovative solutions to the pressing environmental challenges. 

To join the community click:

About Lashanti

Lashanti Jupp is a marine conservationist, science communicator, project and grants manager born and raised in The Bahamas. Passionate about connecting people to the environment, she has over a decade of experience in environmental outreach, with a deep understanding of stakeholder engagement and consultation. Her work across several islands in The Bahamas has provided her with insights into unique subcultures and hierarchies in different communities.

Lashanti specialises in gathering information through conversation and behavioural observation, as well as relationship building and engagement. She holds an MPhil in Conservation Leadership from the University of Cambridge, UK, a BSc in Marine Biology from Barry University, FL, USA, and a certificate in Social Psychology from The University of Queensland, Australia.

To follow Lashanti’s professional journey, you can connect with her on Linkedin.

Launching Regenerative Futures

What if every human action could contribute to the renewal of our planet? What if our journey towards a regenerative future demanded a radical departure from conventional paradigms? What would that future look like and whose voices (human and non-human) should be taken into account while thinking about, enacting and governing that future?

These are some of the questions that Unearthodox is exploring to understand the transformative potential of regeneration — a concept that challenges all of us to reimagine our relationship with the natural world and with each other. 

Unearthodox is launching a new initiative, Regenerative Futures, which will explore the concept of regeneration - its origins and various contours, what it is and what it could be. In shaping this initiative we are guided by our dedication to bridging the gap between visionary ideas and actionable innovations, fostering a world where nature and society thrive in harmony. We believe that transformative change requires moving away from surface-level solutions to focus on the deep-rooted causes of conservation problems. 

Our approach to this new theme has been informed by the insights we gained from our previous work on the Future of Conservation, which highlighted the need to move beyond sustainability towards regeneration as a set of practices actively enhancing the resilience and vitality of our social and environmental systems. We hope to spark a shift towards a society that values and regenerates nature, embracing the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. 

While regeneration may hold the key to unlocking a more vibrant and abundant future for all, to date there has been little synthesis of the many disparate ideas about regenerative systems, limited clarity around regenerative outcomes and dynamics, and a lack of concrete tools on how best to build regenerative systems in diverse contexts. Furthermore, with the increasing uptake of the concept across different sectors, there is a risk of replicating past issues, such as historical injustices. For instance, as continued custodians of traditional regenerative knowledge, Indigenous and local communities risk being marginalised if their wisdom is appropriated or mimicked without due respect for cultural and historical context and the holistic depth of this knowledge.   Furthermore, there might also be the risk of unintended negative consequences whereby some regenerative efforts could exacerbate existing inequalities, benefiting some communities or groups more than others.

Acknowledging this concept's multiple dimensions and challenges, Unearthodox seeks to chart a course towards regeneration in ways that foster genuine transformative change. We will be guided by principles of systems thinking, collaboration, and pluralism, and we invite you to share your journey, case studies, and understanding of regeneration with us. Stay tuned to learn more about our exploration of Regenerative Futures.  If you are already working in this space, we would like to hear from you, please get in touch with us by writing to

Systemic investing at the World Economic Forum

How do we go beyond ‘doing no harm’ to a truly regenerative future? What would it take to completely reimagine our investment and finance systems? ‘Systemic investment’ offers a window into a new version of the future of finance. What kind of role does finance have to play and who gets to decide where and what kinds of problems it is helping to transform. Can finance support transformation of and rebuild the root foundations of our relationship with each other as well as part of the living systems of nature. 

On 16-17 January 2024, Unearthodox co-led a session on systemic investing at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland. The WEF is a Geneva-based international organisation that works toward global cooperation on the biggest economic and social issues facing the world at present.

The session, which was held in the SDG Tent and co-sponsored by InTent, included a panel discussion and interactive workshop. It was co-moderated by Unearthodox’s CEO, Melanie Ryan, along with Dominic Hofstetter, Executive Director of TransCap Initiative, a ‘think-and-do-tank’ at the nexus of real-economy systems change, sustainability and finance. 

The session featured a discussion among a group of esteemed panellists:

Dominic Hofstetter gave an introduction to the fundamentals of the emerging field of systemic investing, explaining that the traditional portfolio paradigm in finance is risk reduction through diversification, whereas systemic investing is about amplifying value through combinatorial effects. “What this boils down to is the question of how you orchestrate different kinds of capital from different sources for different interventions that need to happen in a strategic and coherent way,” he said. “And this is not how finance operates today. But it's exactly what systemic investing is attempting to do.” 

The panel then discussed how systemic investing offers a multi-asset class and multi-dimensional lens for investing, and spoke about its inherent complexities. “Systemic investment can rebuild the broken trust that is needed now," said Ndidi Nwuneli, urging investors to work with local organisations to plug finance gaps and to consider how to better fund women-led organisations.

In the second half, participants broke into small groups to discuss a case study, which explored how joining up multiple areas of investment could unlock capital for sustainable and inclusive prosperity. By the end, participants concluded that to fully invest in transformational change and systemic finance, we must accept that systems are complex and there are many unknowns. 

Kirsten Dunlop summed it up powerfully: “We sit here on these panels and say the solutions are already here, we just have to combine them…The solutions are here. And when you start to combine them, all sorts of unintended consequences come about, because these are complex systems. And they're complex because we are in them. And we are messy. So it is about getting in and learning and, above all…learn[ing] from one another, so the effects are not just aggregate effects, they're transformational effects.”

Embracing a Systems Change Approach

At the SDG Tent in Davos, INSEAD Hoffmann Institute Executive Director, Katell Le Goulven, spoke to Melanie Ryan who explained what systems change is and what it means for nature.

At Unearthodox, we are a ‘thinkubator’ taking people from big ideas to action and helping people move through hard conversations about systems change for nature and society. We work together to reimagine the future and then support innovators to build out pipelines of innovation that make it real. In 2024, we are launching our newest portfolio of work on the theme ‘Regenerative Futures’. It will explore how we move from sustainability to regeneration for nature and society. 

Find out more

Are you someone with a bold, disruptive idea or a funder who wants to get involved with our work? We’d love to hear from you. Please contact: Anca Damerell, Director of Innovation,

Systems change and innovation? Insights from Melanie Ryan

Melanie Ryan, CEO of Unearthodox, leads our global team in tackling conservation challenges through innovative and collaborative approaches rooted in her background in systems thinking and collaborative design. Formerly Director at the Luc Hoffmann Institute, she championed collaborations with entities like the UN and WWF, emphasising inclusivity and systemic change in conservation. In this insight piece on Unearthodox’s recently launched report on scaling innovation, she invites readers to reflect on these findings, urging us to dive further into the concept of 'scaling deep' – exploring the roots of conservation challenges. Stressing the possibilities of innovation for systems change, Melanie emphasises the need to go deeper, wider and bolder in our efforts.

Those in the not-for-profit sector, including environmental and conservation-related fields, are not immune to the complexities and challenges of our ever-evolving world. Increasingly we have all been grappling with a question that has lingered at the edges of our collective consciousness: How can we bring about deep, long-term sustainable and just change for nature and people everywhere?

Our newest publication, “Scaling conservation innovation: the role of incubators and accelerators” by Cristina Chaminade, is not just a report; it's a humble inquiry and invitation to explore the wider ecosystem of similar or like-minded organisations working to address these questions. If we are able to let go of our egos and learn from each other, we can find resonance with many others in the conservation community and beyond about why we do what we do and the gaps and opportunities we aim to fill in the sector. We also have the responsibility to continually try to do better. 

The challenge of scaling impact

The report delves into the theme of scaling innovation, a challenge presented to us by various stakeholders over the years. In fact, on several occasions, it has been suggested to me that innovation cannot bring about deep systems change.  This is usually accompanied by what is, in my opinion, a very narrow view of innovation. Through this exploration, we also look at how the lenses of systems change, scaling and innovation can be brought together to rethink how we co-create and build innovation-enabling organisations and ecosystems of organisations.

Within our own organisation, we are asking how we, with the privilege of over a decade of experience (first at the Luc Hoffmann Institute and now as Unearthodox), can magnify our impact. For us, scaling innovation goes beyond the conventional idea of replication. It's about nuanced approaches – scaling deep, scaling out and scaling up.

Our purpose at Unearthodox is to ensure that innovation is positioned towards long-term, systemic change. What does this mean? It requires unlocking, rethinking and changing our habits and structures related to values, culture, norms, power and relationships and finding alternative ways to live our lives on this beautiful planet. We are committed to finding ways for more people to be connected globally to  shape, design and then re-localise changes in societies in as many places as possible. We can’t do this alone; no one can. We believe that without this collective action, we risk engaging in fragmented efforts across the globe. While we may not have all the perfect answers, we remain focused on our niche, continually exploring how to contribute to scaling deep for long-term systems change and the catalytic role that innovation can play in this.

Scaling deep: a call for transformative change

The concept of scaling deep holds particular significance in the conservation sector. It calls for a deep understanding, taking another look at root problems and challenging the status quo. It also means that we, as part of the world, must also challenge our own mindsets (and ‘heart-sets’) and contributions. There is no ‘system’ out there. No, it is in here, within us all. We are part of it. The urgent need to depart from conventional foundations is paramount, and at Unearthodox, we are actively engaging in conversations about how to drive this deep, systemic change within the conservation space. We can’t shy away from the work required to address worldwide conversations around justice, nature, de-colonisation, gender dynamics, global flows of power and finance and our own history, positions and work to be done. These things are crucial in unlocking new spaces of thought, problem framings, innovation pipelines and alternatives for each of our communities and relationships. 

At Unearthodox, we perceive our role to be a catalyst for this change, working to challenge the status quo and fostering mindset and heart-set shifts. This is not only intellectual work – it is the work of being a whole human. We believe in asking different questions that go beyond sustaining innovations and that urge us to fundamentally rethink our lifestyles, consumption patterns and societal norms. Our focus is on catalysing and supporting ideas that lead to transformative change, encouraging diverse perspectives from innovators worldwide and acknowledging that there is no single answer. Nature does not look the same from place to place, and people are not identical from place to place – so why should new choices and innovations try to be?

This report emphasises the significance of scaling at both project and system levels, something that Unearthodox recognises, too, using an approach that involves co-creation and collaboration at different levels, among different people. Achieving system-level change is a collaborative effort requiring a mindset shift from competition to cohesion, much like the unity found in natural ecosystems. We aim to join forces with organisations working towards scaling deep and systems transformation, contributing to a mosaic of collaborative efforts that tell a compelling story of change.

Addressing the challenge of measuring impact in complex systems

Acknowledging the challenge of measuring impact in a complex and interconnected world, the report urges a move beyond traditional metrics to embrace a more profound understanding of intangible shifts in culture, values and connectivity.

Recognising the inherent strength of complexity in nature and society, at Unearthodox we are exploring innovative indicators for systems change. Our aim is to contribute to outcomes while understanding the interconnectedness of various organisations and their roles in the broader ecosystem. We see this as an opportunity to innovate in impact measurement, aligning with the evolving nature of our work.

Addressing the challenge of navigating ambiguity: innovating at the front end of the innovation value chain

This report also highlights the existing ambiguity between incubators and accelerators within the conservation sector. At Unearthodox, we have positioned ourselves at the front end of the innovation value chain. Our focus is on responding to system needs, relooking at problems, and making space to explore new futures and ideas that might be turned into stepping stones to take us to these new possible futures. We understand the need for organisations to evolve beyond traditional models, embracing a systems change approach. The ambiguity found in this report could be seen to signal a shift towards building more interconnected, systems-focused organisations. An experiment in what it means to put systems change first, rather than traditional models of innovation organisations. This is a space where Unearthodox is actively innovating.

Adapting strategies for a regenerative future

As we absorb the findings of the report, we are keenly aware of the need to adapt our approaches and continually improve. We acknowledge the need to transcend competition and territoriality, viewing ourselves as part of a larger ecosystem of organisations. Our role is to strategically design activities along the innovation value chain, focusing on going deeper, wider and bolder in our efforts. The emphasis is on fostering strategic partnerships that allow for cohesive and collaborative solutions, and recognising the need for humility and ego-free collaborations.

Adapting our approaches based on the findings of the report is an ongoing process for Unearthodox. We’re in an incredible time, when many others, including from the funding and investment communities, recognise that the old answers aren’t working. We need new questions and versions of how we structure our efforts, organisations and networks. Our next flagship portfolio, centred around the theme of ‘regenerative futures’, is in the early stages of co-creation. We are committed to building safe spaces in which to reimagine problems, to ideate and to incubate, aiming to connect innovators globally and catalyse their journeys from dreams to reality.

Collaboration over competition: shaping conservation's narrative

Central to Unearthodox’s ethos is the recognition that collaboration trumps competition. Unearthodox envisions itself as a catalyst for transformative change, working collaboratively to shape the future so we can collectively reimagine and live our lives as nature and with each other. We are part of a larger movement, and our role is to foster cohesion, not competition, within the sector.

Our team grapples with discomfort – a recognition that transformative change requires stepping into uncharted territories. This discomfort is not a sign of doubt but rather an acknowledgement of how complex the challenges we face really are. We embrace this discomfort and uncertainty as integral to our journey.

I invite each one of you to read and reflect on this report, not as a proclamation of our achievements but as a call to action for us all. Let's collectively navigate this path of innovation, collaboration and transformative change. It's a journey that requires our shared commitment, and I am confident that together, we can shape a more just, thriving and regenerative world.

Scaling conservation innovation

Cristina Chaminade is a professor in Innovation and Sustainability at Lund University (Sweden) and Adjunct Professor at Aalborg University (Denmark). With a robust background in economics (Bachelor's and Ph.D.) and postgraduate studies in Ecology and Conservation from Harvard, Professor Cristina Chaminade focuses on the intersection of sustainability, innovation, and conservation, particularly in the Global South. With extensive experience spanning over 30 years in innovative solutions for sustainable development and regional transformations worldwide, she advises prestigious international organisations like the European Commission, UNCTAD, WIPO, OECD, and UN-ECLAC. Cristina is the author of the recently published report "Scaling conservation innovation: the role of incubators and accelerators", where she explores the dynamics between innovation, conservation and systems change and advocates for strategies such as scaling out, scaling up, and scaling deep to drive transformative change within the conservation sector.

In the conservation innovation landscape, differentiating between incubators and accelerators has been akin to navigating a maze without a map. In my exploration detailed in the report "Scaling conservation innovation: the role of incubators and accelerators", I’ve come to realise that this distinction traditionally seen in business ventures blurs in the conservation sphere. In conservation, organisations tend to support ideas from inception to growth, instead of specialising in a specific step in the innovation life cycle, making it challenging to segregate roles as in traditional businesses.

This lack of distinction prompted the term 'innovation-enabling organisations.’ This term indicates a flexible approach in nurturing innovation from its early stages of conceptualization to full realisation, and it better represents the comprehensive support provided throughout the entire innovation lifecycle.

Pioneering Systemic Change: The essence of Transformative Innovation

At the core of innovation lies the potential for transformative change. What constitutes a transformative innovation, particularly within the conservation landscape, extends beyond mere technological advancements. It is about combining technological advancements with social innovations enabling new approaches to how people and the planet relate. It embodies a transformative force that reshapes existing norms, values, and systems. The report illuminates this essence, highlighting how innovation in conservation serves as a catalyst for systemic transformation.

Transformative innovation, in the context of conservation, is about restructuring mindsets, challenging entrenched ideologies, and fostering a paradigm shift toward sustainability. This is what we call transformative social innovation. Each innovation contributes to a broader movement aimed at systemic change. Scaling up, scaling out, and scaling deep emerge as pivotal strategies within this system transformation, each playing a crucial role in catalysing transformative impacts.

Scaling Up, Out, and Deep: Driving System-Level Transformation

Scaling up is the amplification of impact through policy advocacy and regulatory influence. It harnesses the power to enact systemic change by influencing governance structures, policies, and regulations, thereby addressing conservation challenges at a broader level.

On the other hand, scaling out transcends the boundaries of individual projects, focusing on disseminating knowledge and learned experiences. It fosters collaboration, sharing insights across diverse contexts, and promotes a decentralised approach to problem-solving, amplifying the collective learning process.

Amidst these, scaling deep represents a significant catalyst for transformative change. It delves into redefining core values, challenging prevailing norms, and reframing the narrative around conservation issues. While challenging, scaling deep is instrumental in effecting lasting systemic change.

Identifying Expertise and Catalysing Change

The report stresses the importance of focus and collaboration in effective scaling for conservation. Conservation entities often stretch across all phases rather than honing in on their strengths. It highlights that organisations should focus on their strengths rather than trying to cover all stages of the innovation life cycle (from ideation to growth), partnering with others to optimise resources more efficiently.

Innovation in conservation is relatively recent compared to traditional businesses. This means that what's happening now, in terms of individual organisations stretching the support that they provide to innovators in different phases, is part of a learning phase. Organisations often begin by nurturing ideas and then realise they need ongoing help, staying involved in different stages of innovation development. 

Understanding strengths in conservation innovation is vital for better collaboration with others who can provide support where needed. 

There's proficiency in scaling up and deep within the conservation sector, but scaling out remains a challenge. There's a pervasive fear that scaling out implies a one-size-fits-all approach— an assumption that merely involves copying and pasting solutions without due consideration for contextual nuances. Genuine innovation dissemination is not about copying and pasting solutions but rather about distilling lessons, understanding their contextual relevance, and sharing experiences to foster broader systemic change.

The essence lies in recognising that true innovation dissemination is a catalyst for system-wide transformation. It involves embracing diversity, learning from varied experiences, and adapting solutions to different contexts rather than imposing standardised solutions.

Revamping the Donor Ecosystem: Paving the Way for Collaborative Impact

When I consider bringing about system change in the conservation industry, I strongly advocate for a shift in mindset. I believe that transitioning from individualistic endeavours to collaborative consortiums could significantly amplify the impact of conservation innovation. This shift isn't just about organisational changes; it requires a complete paradigm shift in donor practices too—from focusing on individual attribution to prioritising collective impact.

The current donor structures unintentionally discourage collaboration. Donors inadvertently create a competitive environment among conservation entities by seeking measurable impacts solely on individual projects. This approach limits synergies and tends to prioritise individual success over collective achievements, ultimately hindering the potential for systemic transformation. 

It is therefore essential to pivot away from solely attributing success to singular projects and start supporting collaborative consortia aimed at creating systemic impact. I see a parallel between the existing structures in the conservation space and past research funding practices. Initially, research funding primarily supported individual universities or groups, resulting in limited impact. Eventually, a shift occurred, urging collaborative consortia that prioritised systemic impact over individual achievements. We must move away from providing singular support and start endorsing collaborative consortia dedicated to driving systemic change. This will also require that individual projects targeting consortia increase in funding size. I firmly believe that the true power of transformative conservation innovation lies not in isolation but in collaboration, shared knowledge, and collective action. And donors and other financial sources must support this change by evolving their current funding structures.

The ever-evolving conservation innovation landscape brings forth fresh opportunities and challenges. To delve deeper into the transformative roles of innovation-enabling organisations, the essence of radical change, and the strategies driving systemic transformation in conservation, the complete report serves as an invaluable guide.

For those eager to explore the nuances of scaling up, scaling out, and scaling deep, and to grasp the vital role of collaboration and adaptive solutions in driving conservation innovation for transformative change, the report provides comprehensive insights and practical perspectives.

Read the full report here

The content of this insight piece represents the author’s own views and does not necessarily represent the views of Unearthodox.

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