In 2018 the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released its report on the impact of global warming. Backed by the world’s leading climate scientists the message was clear: If global warming exceeds 1.5C pre industrial levels, the consequences will be catastrophic. With the world already at 1.1C and going up, time was running out. The only way to avoid this future is to take immediate and ‘unprecedented’ action.

When the report came out, Rowan Ryrie, a human rights environmental lawyer in the UK, was on maternity leave with her youngest daughter. Like many other parents and people who have children relying on them, Rowan was understandably shaken by the report. What kind of world would her daughter grow up to inherit? If it was a world of droughts, floods and extreme poverty predicted by the report, would Rowan be able to tell her child she had done everything she could to prevent it?

As Greta Thunberg inspired young people to take to the streets and microphones in the Fridays for Future movement (school climate strikes), Rowan wondered if she might be able to rally the support of parents,

“if they [students] could go, and you know, hold the microphone and look really scared. Making speeches [at] protests, then the parents can do it too.”

Together with a group of seven other like minded parents, they set about building a movement that would become Parents For Future

The goal wasn’t to create something new, but to work in solidarity with the Fridays for Future movement. This new movement would amplify the voices and impact of parents who were already taking action against climate change and unite more parents who wanted to get involved. 

Within a matter of months the Parents For Future had grown, to include 34 groups from 16 countries across four continents.

While the rapid growth was a clear demonstration of the success of the movement, it also came with its own challenges: How do you speak in a united voice? How do you make decisions as a movement? How do you share information? How do you ensure the movement can grow in a way that is sustainable? How do you build trust among a diverse group of members across multiple continents? 

“you’ve got a whole load of people who are all doing slightly different things and have slightly different ideas about what they want this movement to be, and you’re trying to bring those people together to get them to speak with one voice.”

Six months into launching, Parents For Future were beginning to feel the organisational tensions of growing while being pulled in different directions. 

Looking to bring in someone external who could help them work through these challenges, Parents For Future were put in touch with The Social Change Agency through UK Student Climate Network, a climate movement that we had previously worked with.

Over a series of months we worked with Parents For Future, helping them to put in place the foundational structures that would enable them to grow sustainably. A key focus of this work was the establishment of shared values alongside a decision-making framework that would help guide the movement as it scaled up. 

“It’s not like a company or an NGO where a small group of people develop a concept, a mission and vision, and set of values and you try and get other people to adopt those. It works the other way round.”

We continued to delve further into the component parts that made up the movement. Exploring issues such as onboarding new members, how to support self organisation of members and how to be effective, collaborative leaders – coordinating without creating a hierarchy.

We also became the fiscal host for Parents For Future UK, enabling the UK group to raise funds and transparently manage their money without necessitating a formal structure that would restrict the movement’s flexibility.

“It [fiscal hosting] allows us to stay a movement… It allows our work to be what leads us rather than having the organisational structure lead our work”

Since starting our work with Parents For Future, they have continued to grow rapidly. They now have thousands of parents joining hundreds of groups that have been established in over 20 countries. 

Conscious that the movement has so far been managed by the hard work of volunteers, many of whom working full time, Parents For Future are now in the process of launching a fellowship programme. The fellowship will help strengthen the movement’s sustainability by providing financial support to some of the climate leaders that are pivotal in supporting the movement’s work.

At The Social Change Agency we continue to have monthly check-in calls with Parents For Future, providing guidance and support through the often messy and complex world of movement building. 

“Movement work is messy… to have accepted that it’s not all tidy around the edges and that we haven’t got all of it sorted has been really important.”

We asked Rowan what advice she had for others who were passionate about social change and wanting to start a movement:

“If you’ve got a small team of committed people then you don’t need loads of people… We thought we needed more people to feel like we had permission to move forward and it took us a while to realise that a small group that’s really committed is enough. That you can move things forward as long as you’re doing it in a transparent way, and other people can join you”

You can find out more about Parents For Future UK and how to get involved by visiting their website here. If you’re not in the UK then you can find out about other national groups, or get help in setting up your own group, by going here.