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Shloka Nath of the India Climate Collaborative (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)
Shloka Nath of the India Climate Collaborative (Ramesh Pathania/Mint)

Can the India Climate Collaborative make a difference?

  • Lounge speaks to Shloka Nath of the India Climate Collaborative, a platform that seeks to direct funding towards climate action in the country

On 22 January, some of India’s top corporate philanthropies and CSR initiatives announced the launch of the India Climate Collaborative (ICC), to tackle climate change and serve as a platform to bring together Indian stakeholders working on climate. A first of its kind initiative, the ICC marks the beginning of collaboration between industry leaders, including Anand Mahindra, Ratan N Tata, Rohini Nilekani, Aditi and Rishad Premji, Nadir Godrej, Vidya Shah and Hemendra Kothari to address the climate crisis. Apart from them, the ICC also has over 45 organizations as members, including The Energy and Resources Institute (Teri), the Ashoka Trust for Research on Ecology & Environment (Atree), the Centre for Policy Research (CPR), the Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) and the Council on Environment, Energy & Water (CEEW).

“We just don’t have the time, because a year is a long time in climate change," says Shloka Nath, ED, ICC, when I meet her on a cold January morning in Delhi to find out more about the work that the ICC is doing. The 36-year-old, who is based out of Mumbai, is in the capital to oversee a two day meet on air pollution, organized by the ICC. Although the body was formed in 2018, it’s only now, with the January launch, that Nath says the ICC is ready as a platform “to start delivering."

A former journalist, Nath studied public policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and graduated in politics and economics from the London School of Economics and Political Science. She also heads Tata Trust’s Sustainability and Special Projects.

She says the idea for the ICC was born while she was working on Tata Trust projects. Following over a year of preparatory work, which involved getting the various funders, government agencies and climate facing not-for-profits on board, Nath now has a clear sense of what the ICC stands for and what it seeks to accomplish. For her, the ICC is, among other things, a chance to tell a uniquely Indian story of tackling the climate crisis. Edited excerpts from an interview:

To start off, what is the rationale behind the India Climate Collaborative?

The ICC really is a way to bring organizations onto a common platform that would not only help with knowledge exchange and learning, but also drive more funding towards climate change in India. It will increase engagement on climate change and make the efficiencies around funding in climate change easier. This means capacity building, investing in things like knowledge, or data gaps that will make it easier for you to fund certain programmes. So the ICC as a platform is really a sort of marketplace, where we hope to curate, source, matchmake opportunities for funders. Everyone is working in silos. Government and business are doing their own thing and they’re not necessarily talking to each other. Meanwhile, research is sitting in institutions but it’s not being translated for policymakers or implementers.

What does the January launch of the ICC signify?

The signal is that we move from design to operation. For the last year or so, we’ve been testing the concept. One thing I would really like to point out is the beauty of collaboration. Like the fact that you’ve got a first instance of coordinated action and collaboration on this scale with these level of funders and industrialists. But it includes the whole spectrum, with smaller outfits and organizations downstream. I think creating a high trust ecosystem where people meet each other, frame the story and create a big enough tent where everyone feels represented. Everyone should feel that we can be a part of this journey together.

What are the kind of projects that the ICC is working to facilitate?

There are a variety of projects. In Mumbai, for instance, we are setting up an air quality monitoring network. That is a collaborative model where the Tata Trust is coming in with some funding and we are doing it with the BMC (Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation). And we have got other funders to come in as well, both international and Indian. We’re working with grantees or implementers who’re going to be setting up the network and build on that data for Mumbai to actually help with public awareness, citizen engagement, actively creating policies that are going to reduce the air pollution in the city.

Then we’re working with the state government of Rajasthan, where we’re training line department bureaucrats from across the board on what climate change is, how they can materially deal with it to ensure that their work on the ground is better and more robust. There’s another big meeting we’re doing on water in April. We will bring over 100 people from government and research and non-profits and universities; the entire private sector and funding community, basically whoever that’s working on this problem of water and climate change. We are also doing technical training, including training about 25 journalists last year, where we worked with the PARI network.

How do you look at projects? It may be difficult to actually show immediate outcomes, so do you set certain tangible goals?

No one has this perfect, right? I keep saying that all funders, whether philanthropies or impact investors or private sector or government, should keep money for experimentation. 30% of your portfolio should just go towards risk. You should be just willing to lose that. I think the answer is that it has to be an agreed upon set of metrics. They will be different. You may mix and match and have to determine what works.

What are you looking to accomplish, at least in the short term?

We have to start delivering. We just don’t have the time, so for me at least the first year involves getting off as many of our planned activities, making sure that they all work out. So we have a number of meetings coming up: roundtables and learning sessions. We have a number of grants that we are giving to several different organizations and we have already commissioned knowledge products like studies. A lot of our work is also about making knowledge translatable. Data exists, but how do you make the knowledge digestible? That means creating communication toolkits that address different sections (of the climate ecosystem). Not just for philanthropies but maybe for journalists, maybe for other actors in the ecosystem. We have a plan where we want to help scientists become better storytellers. I think year 1 is definitely about being open and honest about what’s working and what isn’t. Year 1 is about experimentation, finding people and getting constant feedback. Where are people finding value? What would you like to see more of? Things like that.

If we have 10-12 Indian funders today, by the end of the year I would love to increase that number to at least 20. Can I get the funders who have come with us and trust us already to expand what they are doing, in ways that they have not thought possible?

How does the curation of funding work?

The ICC is not a hedge fund. It’s not an investment fund where you put in 50 million dollars or something like that. Right now the funders are putting in money to build an institution and a platform that will help them achieve the work they want to do in climate change. My job is to bring in more funding again and again into the ecosystem. The ICC adds value. Say, if the Indian government is funding 3.1 trillion on a drinking water measure, we will never be able to match that scale. But what we can do is that if we spend 2.1 crores, then we can direct the government funding. We can do so because we have the expertise, the resources on the ground. Even if we put in 2x, we can trigger 10x in the ecosystem. Those are the numbers I want to measure. That’s the opportunity in climate change in India today: the beauty of being a country that is developing and mitigating at the same time. We can actually build from scratch, and we can build the right way.

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