21st century democracy, climate change, and Hope for the Future

By Wilkister L Kiyumbu

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Sheffield is a very exciting place to study, not just because of the universities but also because of the exciting activities that local organisations are doing in addressing local and global issues. I found out about Hope for the Future (HFTF) when Jo came to give a talk in my Democratic Governance in the 21st century class. In this module, we had talked a lot about democratic innovations around the world. Our teacher, Dr Matthew Wood, has extensive experience in the area of democratic theory and governance. By inviting Jo to come and speak about HFTF work, he intended for us to see how “bottom up movements of citizens can change how politics works”. From Jo’s presentation, I was fascinated by the fact that it met a specific gap of giving citizens practical support to address a controversial policy area: climate change.

While we all enjoy democracy as a system of governance, it is understandable that one can feel like there is very little they can do beyond voting, to actually get the elected leaders to address the things that matter to them. For example, whether you voted leave or remain during the Brexit referendum, following the subsequent parliamentary proceedings gives you the sense that it is a big mess now that is impossible to unravel (or even understand!). Democratic innovations help to meet that gap between elections. A democratic innovation could be anything from a one-off participatory budgeting task in a given region to an online platform that enables citizens to follow up with the activities of their leaders. It is those things that allow us to strengthen the core elements of democracy that we value such as participation, inclusivity, considered judgement and transparency. So how is HFTF a democratic innovation and what value does it add to the ways of democracy in the UK?

HFTF is a non-profit organisation whose activities are what would be called democratic innovations. If I could explain what HFTF does in a very simplistic way, it would be this: 

HFTF enables individuals and local communities passionate about climate change to engage their local MPs effectively and realistically.

In other words, they help the MPs and local communities deliberate to a common ground. So for example, you may be an individual, group or school that is frustrated because you feel that your local MP does not seem to share the sense of urgency in matters of climate change. Perhaps you either have been unsuccessful in the methods that you have used before or you have no idea how to go about making climate change a primary political agenda. In these scenarios, HFTF would be a great place to start. 

In 2018 alone, HFTF helped local citizens across UK engage with 70 elected representatives through its wide range of support and training activities. Some of the success stories are extremely encouraging and they remind me of how valuable it is to get relevant help to address the issues that we are most passionate about within the democratic structures that exist. Feelings of disenfranchisement and disillusions about what democracy can or cannot achieve, sometimes come from a limited knowledge of how things actually work. Maybe that explains in part, why climate change is not a main political agenda in all the major parties. Having worked on bridging the gap between citizens and MPs for over 4 years, I think that the activities of HFTF are just the right kind of democratic innovation that we need.

In my time volunteering here, I hope to engage departments, student societies and other groups in both The University of Sheffield and Sheffield Hallam Universities to tap into the training resources that HFTF offers, in a manner relevant to those groups’ agendas for climate change. My personal goal is to have a total of at least 5 groups (from both unis) tap into this incredible resource in Sheffield that HFTF is to addressing the global issue of climate change.