Back in August 2006, my friend Pippa died whilst taking a shower, while travelling in Morocco.
Pippa was the kind of person who really grabbed life with both hands. She was someone who threw herself into every opportunity that came her way with energy and grace. She was a supportive friend who cared for others and really made the most out of life.
This year marks Do Nation’s 10th Anniversary, and as I reflect back on the journey we’ve been on, inspiring climate action amongst 10,000s of people, I can’t help but think of Pippa, and the pivotal role she’ll never know she’s played. It’s a part of our story I haven’t often voiced, but it’s one that I want to share now.
It’s fair to say that my friends and I didn’t handle Pippa’s death particularly well. We were all so young, about to embark on our final year of university, and hadn’t experienced loss like it before. We locked our grief away and barely mentioned her name, but we all missed her terribly. When I graduated, I had an urge to visit the mountains of Morocco; the place she’d spent her last days. in. I felt that seeing it first hand may help to understand the loss a little better, to say goodbye.
I knew I didn’t want to fly there, because by then I’d understood the gravity of climate change and, I’ll be honest – I wanted an adventure. So I decided to cycle there with another friend from Uni – all 2,500km from London to Morocco.
This journey became Do Nation’s founding story.
I knew that cycling that far would be a challenge, and that made it a great opportunity to raise support for what I firmly believe is the most pressing issue of our time: climate change. But I didn’t like the idea of asking people for money, not least because I knew that the environment needs people’s action more than it needs their cash.
And so we asked our friends and family to support us not by donating £10, but by making a climate action pledge – pledges to cycle to work, waste less food, plant a tree. All sorts of simple, personal actions.
It was an unexpected hit. We raised 345 pledges in total, and I got to nerd out over data and calculate that together our friends’ actions saved as much carbon as 84 flights from London to Morocco.
When I got home people started asking me if they could use the same idea to raise climate actions instead of cash to support their own challenges. So I went about turning this one-off idea into a platform that anyone could use to encourage climate action within their communities.
The journey to building Do Nation was tough, far tougher than the cycle to Morocco. I had zero idea how to go about building a simple website, let alone a fully interactive data driven platform. Nor did I know the first thing about running a business – raising funding, hiring a team, or building a business model.
But I knew that what I was doing mattered, and I was bubbling with purpose.
Whenever things got too hard – which in those early days was darn often – it was Pippa’s spirit that kept me going. Her loss made me acutely aware of the privilege of being alive, and having opportunities ahead of me no matter how hard they may be. Every time I got a new notebook I’d rewrite the poem that was read at her funeral, re-reading it whenever my motivation dipped.
We finally launched Do Nation in 2011, focused for the first few years on people raising support for challenges such as bike rides, marathons, or 5k runs – support in the form of action instead of cash. In 2013 we learnt a pivotal lesson: that we could reach a lot more people and create more impact, while earning some welcome revenue, by working with organisations and helping them engage their employees in climate action.
However, the original concept of Do Nation has remained close to our hearts, despite being the purely non-profit part of our work. So in 2015 when Paris hosted the COP21 climate conference, I jumped at the chance to organise a great cycle from London to Paris.
Great for most. Only I managed to break my collar bone on day one. I did manage to make it to the protests and celebrations in Paris though, albeit aided by the support vehicle.
As we mark Do Nation’s 10th Anniversary, I’m so glad to say we’re entering a new, exciting chapter of growth and impact. The team has grown from 2 to 17 over the last 14 months and we’ve now enabled .
Collectively, we’ve now helped 40,000 people to adopt healthier, more environmentally friendly lifestyles, saving 10,000 tonnes of carbon in the process.
Not only that, we’re still connected to our roots. In 5 days time, I’ll be setting off on my biggest cycle since Morocco: riding from London to Glasgow for COP26. This time, I’ll be joined by almost 200 others, all in the name of climate action.
The goal of this ride – Ride the Change – is threefold:
- Building community – Build a community of climate champions, through the shared challenge of the ride. Even before Covid, this felt important; now, it’s even more so.
- Experiencing the positive impact we can all have by showing leadership on climate action, through raising climate action pledges to support the challenge.
- Influencing leaders – By sharing the story of the ride, the communities we pass through, and the carbon savings we inspire, we aim to inspire individuals to take action and to influence decision makers to be bolder in their climate commitments.
Of course, there have been many times over the last 2 years where we doubted it’d happen – so it feels surreal but wonderful for it to finally be happening.
While she won’t be there in person, I know that I’ll be thinking of Pippa a lot on the ride, grateful for her memory and the drive she’s given me over the years.
I’m pretty sure that she’d have been supporting me with a pledge to do Passion fashion or Fix it, probably getting her sewing machine out to upcycle some old clothes into icons of style. She was talented like that.