Unfolding flowers and ripening fruit

Reflections on landscape readiness

In the Northern Hemisphere, the June solstice last week marked Spring giving way to Summer. It’s a time celebrated by many cultures, in forests, farms, fields and gardens, as the buds of Spring flowers open, are pollinated and set fruit. Over the coming months, those fruits that enjoyed the most favourable conditions will ripen and deliver their bounty. 

This season offers us a beautiful metaphor for the potential of landscape incubation. Just as flowers inherently hold potential – but need pollinators, nutrients, sunlight, warmth and rainfall to ripen into fruits – landscapes need the right conditions for investing in their sustainable growth too. One conclusion from the Lab’s work across many landscapes over the last few years is that investment is really only possible, or likely to yield results, when a landscape has reached a point of ripeness. We know that landscapes tend to be conducive to action when certain factors are in place – the standard conditions that we test for through our “Landscape Outline” (is there clear leadership? Is there a multi stakeholder platform? How supportive is local and national Government? among other considerations). But in addition, there are some less tangible conditions that we’ve learned need to be present for a landscape programme to thrive – for the “fruit to ripen”. 

So, what are these less quantifiable factors for landscape incubation? 

We’ve already identified leadership as a condition, for example, but what we’ve seen time and again is that nominal leadership isn’t enough – it must be inclusive, genuinely enthusiastic about change and be prepared for a long journey.

Every landscape has a history – but, has it been crafted into a compelling story? Can all actors see themselves as important in the landscape narrative, and playing a crucial role in its future? And can this future connect with, and help heal the past?

Landscapes don’t just need a business model that’s viable on paper, they need one that will be truly regenerative, inspiring to investors, inspiring to businesses and to local communities who want good jobs.

…And so on. 

These are not things that can simply be ticked off a checklist. Understanding how we harness the power of these less tangible conditions (or help to foster them in landscapes where they are not yet present) is critical for the Lab as we seek to accelerate results and ensure long term sustainability of the landscape programs we work with (and our own). It is part nature, part cultivation. And the worst thing we can do is to try to force the flowers to unfold.  We only break them if we do.

This time of year, apple trees shed a number of under-developed fruitlets in a process sometimes known as the “June drop”. It can seem counterproductive, but it’s a natural strategy for only investing the tree’s precious energy in fruit most likely to succeed. Once the “drop” takes place, apple growers will often thin the remaining small fruits even further. This way nutrients are distributed less widely, more light can reach the fruit, and branches don’t become overburdened and break. The Lab is now working on a strategy and mechanism to help us in our own landscape cultivation – to identify the landscapes that are most ripe for investment, those where we should focus our energies for the best yields.  And of course which to leave for the next seasons. 

Last week we also celebrated another change in seasons. It’s one year since the Landscape Finance Lab became an independent NGO after successfully spinning out from inside WWF, where our early landscape experiments took place. As we developed our work over the previous five years, we too, had discovered we were ripe and ready – with an energised leadership and team, a strong story to tell about landscapes, and a sustainable business plan that takes advantage of the opportunities we see for landscape finance. 

In our own journey, as with landscapes’, we value patience, curiosity and intuition… and ultimately action when the time is right – that moment when internal factors and external circumstances favourably align. Attuning ourselves to this means that when the moment comes, we know we’re in the best position to bloom, grow, and reap rewards. 

Want to find out if your landscape is ready to take the next step and explore finance options? 

Join our learning challenge themed around “Enabling Conditions” here.


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