Long Term Strategy

Overview of the DSN's Long Term Strategy Process:

What: The Long Term Strategy process (LTS) aims to guide our work with more clarity and alignment. Through this process we will identify and codify the purpose of the DSN and our core strategy over the next 3-5 years. Through a series of 4 in-person retreats facilitated by Yotam Marom of the Wildfire Project, we are identifying:

  • The core challenges the DSN exists to solve

  • Our purpose within the broader movement ecosystem (this is broadly why we exist)

  • Strategic objectives for the next 3-5 years (specific pieces of the purpose we aim to achieve)

  • Our guiding policy describing broadly how to make it happen

From those core components we will develop a plan for implementing our strategy, story, and structure or “DNA” over the coming years.  Between retreats our team is engaging in shared study, workshopping, and consulting with our base and movement mentors. We plan to complete our final LTS retreat in October 2016.

Why: Over the past two years we’ve supported escalated direct action on campuses across the country, we’ve led regional convergences and training, we’ve launched a reinvestment campaign in collaboration with grassroots climate justice orgs, built a culture of grassroots fundraising, and begun to envision what comes next for our movement.  Yet, in the absence of a clear and aligned strategy over the past few years, our programs have often existed in tension and isolation.

There is enormous potential in the youth climate space to continue defeating the fossil fuel industry, while also contesting for solutions rooted in justice.  This process aims to assess with honesty the challenges we face in our movement and more broadly so that we can move forward with more clarity and alignment than we’ve had in the past.  We believe that this process is a priority of our organization because it will allow us to fight more powerfully together for the long run.  Building on our existing strengths and learning from our weaknesses, our LTS will lay a foundation for a strategy, structure, and culture that serves us better.    

Who:  This core team will be workshopping our strategy and DNA through in-person retreats. The core LTS team is made up of our national staff, and the leaders of our major programs and representatives from regional networks. We care deeply about folks beyond the LTS team engaging in this process, and we’re committed to implementing the wide range of opinions and experiences in the strategy as it develops.

Status of the process: We laid the groundwork for the LTS process at the Program Support Team retreat in January by building the container for our team, reflecting on the existing DNA of our organization, and identifying programmatic gaps in our work this spring. Check out the overview of the PST’s January retreat here. At the April retreat we dug into strategy and investigated the theory of change through which we organize. During the July retreat, we reached decisions about the core purpose we exist to serve and revised our mission statement. See the report below for more details. 


What we read:

“Good Strategy / Bad Strategy” - Richard Rumelt

“Strategy For A Living Revolution” - George Lakey


What we did:

> We discussed what constitutes “good strategy” based on the readings. Some things that came out of that conversation:

  • Strategy is not the same as goals, perseverance, a plan, or a vision. Good strategy recognizes the challenges and offers a plan to navigate those challenges

  • Good strategy is rare, bad strategy is everywhere

  • Good strategy relies on knowing your strengths and weaknesses and how to leverage them

  • Good strategy requires making hard choices that not everyone will like

  • A lot of our movement was taught to organize around values, not good strategy


> We dug into conversations about rank in our team and created space for healthy conflict and honest feedback throughout the weekend.


> We identified challenges of the climate crisis, the  youth divestment movement, and the climate movement. Some examples include:

  • Climate crisis: fossil fuel extraction and climate impacts target low income + communities of color; power and wealth continue to flow into hands of wealthy in the midst of crisis; political gridlock; the economy is transitioning but it will be rooted in false solutions unless we contest for justice

  • Climate movement: very disunified, many conflicting theories of change; reactionary

  • Divestment movement: trouble building power outside of predominantly white, middle-class environmentalists; not committed to winning or clear what winning looks like; lack of clear and aligned strategic direction


> We clarified the strengths of the DSN - these are a few we were most aligned on:

  • We believe in building political power. We’re the only students running campaigns around climate on college campuses with a power-building frame and focus on NVDA.

  • We value developing and mentoring leaders and organizers.

  • We have more access than anyone else to this young climate / divestment base

  • People think we’re smart and BADASS because of our focus on justice, national escalation, and NVDA.

  • We connect student leaders to each other.

  • We have knowledge about Just Transition and reinvestment.


> We drafted the “kernel” of our strategy based on our strengths, the challenges that influence our work, and our position in the movement ecology.  This kernel will serve as the foundation for the rest of our strategic planning:     


CHALLENGE: Climate change is forcing an economic transition. Unless we contest, this transition will not be rooted in justice.

PURPOSE (we exist to...): To build mass, popular support for a just transition.

GUIDING POLICY: We organize student leaders and run nonviolent direct action campaigns.

STRATEGIC OBJECTIVE(S): TBD. Our strategic objectives are more specific goals we aim to achieve within 3-5 years in order to work towards our overall purpose.


What comes next?

> Members of the LTS team will be talking with regional and campus leaders about how they see themselves within this organizational purpose.

> We will workshop ideas with movement mentors.

> We will develop an implementation plan at our October retreat.