Our Theory of Change

A community of Positive Mavericks

Global organisations that manage trillions of dollars and have established links with corporate decision-makers show a lot of immunity of change. Preventable Surprises approach is a dual strategy of encouraging real change from the inside whilst putting pressure where it counts from the outside. Working with positive mavericks, who are employed by large institutions that only partially reflect their aspirations for a sustainable and ethical financial system, is at the core of what we do.

With asset gathering and personal incentives playing a powerful role in shaping the culture of finance, positive mavericks are the change agents who can persuade their institutions to go beyond what is convenient or easy to do, and to act in the best interests of customers and members. Positive mavericks realise it’s time to be unreasonable in support of the public good and lead the process of change. With this network of positive mavericks, Preventable Surprises acts in three ways to bring about change.

  • Catalyst: We develop fresh concepts (e.g. systemic risk and forceful stewardship) on which we and others can build theories of change and organisational strategies which are fit for purpose.
  • Connector: We put together “positive mavericks” worldwide who can, together, develop more ambitious strategies than would be possible working in isolation.
  • Accelerator: Without conflicts of interest, we are free to push for the most rapid change possible (e.g. industrial scale resolutions).

Our Missing60 campaign, which was inspired by the 2016 AGM season, ticked all three boxes. We conceived of the phrase to put a spotlight on the institutional investors who supported 2°C stress test resolutions at oil majors in Europe but opposed them in the US, where management was likewise opposed. We used our extensive network to line up 42 signatories to the Missing60 campaign. And then we interviewed the largest institutional investors and published their reasons for voting one way in Europe and the opposite way in the US. We included our responses–pulling no punches, as we are not beholden to any investors for financial support. We have kept the pressure on the Missing60 in hopes of a more productive AGM season in 2017.


Our role as a catalyst includes in-person events where financial industry insiders and outsiders can brainstorm and network. For example, at an event co-hosted with Mercer and Oliver Wyman, we discussed how to bridge the gap between scientists and the investment community regarding the severity of climate-related systemic risk. We built on that event with others at the Bank of England and the London School of Economics, gaining wider buy-in for these ideas. 


We have held four online dialogues which bring together the ‘positive mavericks’ in the investment community and NGOs with scientists and lawyers to develop joint strategies for investor action on climate change. Our dialogues helped to stimulate the 2016 2°C stress test resolutions at Exxon/Mobil and Chevron and also resulted in the first transition plan resolution, at U.S. utility Southern Company. The latter vote, which attracted similar support to the stress test resolutions, demonstrated that enlightened investors will vote for more ambitious asks. 


We were the only group to scrutinise the transition strategy developed by BHP Billiton in 2015, using a crowd-sourced methodology to get insights from experts in the field. We are now developing guidance for companies on what transition plans should look like, and we are creating a network of experts on whom we can draw for critiques of future transition plans. We have also spearheaded the call to move to industrial scale at AGMs, so that resolutions are filed at 30% (minimum) of a given sector by market capitalisation.