IIED at 50: protecting people and planet for half a century

In 2021-22, IIED turned 50. To mark the anniversary, we looked back at some of our biggest achievements, and looked forward to how we will continue to make a difference on the global stage.

50 years

50 years linking local to global (image: IIED)

From 2021-22, we celebrated IIED’s 50th birthday. We didn’t reach the anniversary alone: we wish to thank all those who have been instrumental in our journey: partners, donors, supporters and challengers.

A series of events and conversations recognised our achievements and the crucial role our partners play in them; we also looked to the future and invited voices from new places and spaces to join us. Our celebrations included:

  • Shining a light on the work and ambitions of some of our partners
  • The creation of an ‘alumni group’ on LinkedIn, comprising former staff and friends, to help tell the story of the past five decades
  • A series of articles with IIED staff – from the longstanding to those just starting out – considering our evolution, future ambition and what we have learned on the way,
  • A series of interviews with partners about the future of environment and development, and
  • Publishing a paper that considers how we have worked within or influenced ten major sustainable development movements, including the drives for global climate justice, grassroots sustainable urbanisation and an inclusive green economy

Podcast: Making sustainable development a reality – movements that inspire change

As part of the birthday celebrations, episode 17 of our Make Change Happen podcast saw four established members of the IIED family reflect on key movements in the journey towards sustainable development.

They discuss some of the key movements that have pushed sustainable development forward in recent decades, how the landscape has changed, and what might come next. Listen to the episode.

Meanwhile, episode 15 at the start of 2022 looked back at five decades of IIED’s history and discussed future ways of working, considering the new challenges ahead. Listen to the episode.

Showcasing partners

  1. The first in a series that will showcase our partners focused on Indonesia NGO Kota Kita and how it is facilitating citizen-led urban development.
  2. The second profiled Prakriti Resources Centre, a non-profit think tank in Nepal that combines policy, research and capacity building to bring climate change action to the local level.
  3. The third featured AB Consultants, a small Kenyan consulting company that champions insurance for people on low incomes.
  4. The fourth profiled Asociación ANDES, a Peruvian NGO that protects Indigenous communities and biodiversity.

Anniversary interviews

A pioneering beginning

In the early 1970s, economist Barbara Ward and fellow visionaries introduced a new concept: that the interests of people and planet are inextricably interlinked. Today, their proposition is an accepted global narrative and at the heart of the 2015 Sustainable Development Goals.

When Barbara became director of the International Institute for Environmental Affairs, founded in 1971, she added social justice to its mission. And so, in 1973, IIEA evolved into IIED: the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Barbara Ward Lecture 2021

As part of IIED's 50th birthday activities, Rebeca Grynspan, the first female secretary-general of UNCTAD, delivered this year’s Barbara Ward Lecture on 6 December 2021.

Find out more and watch a recording of the event.

Movements, not moments

From the first large-scale UN conference on environmental issues in 1972 to our current preparations for COP26 in 2021, IIED has been a core member of the growing movement for social and environmental justice. Within it, the concept of sustainable development has been developed, embraced and challenged.

We have thrived in this space, building an unparalleled network of partner organisations – particularly in the global South – to collaborate with, learn from and help grow. Find out more about what we do and who we work with.

In May 2022 we published a report exploring the evolution of sustainable development since 1972 and reflecting on the impact of IIED’s partnership-based approach. It charts ten key movements for change, including the drives for global climate justice and an inclusive green economy.

Together, we have been part of some notable victories. But our focus is now on the world’s most urgent challenges, from climate change to biodiversity loss and gross inequality, and how we can make sure marginalised voices shape the solutions.

And we are tackling challenges closer to home: the need to develop a new narrative that decolonialises aid, further diversifying our workforce and living up to our ambition to support ‘business unusual’ approaches.

Celebrating the year

Our birthday year concluded with an event with current and past staff and many of our partners. Scroll through some of the photos from the night in the album below, or see the images on Flickr.

IIED celebrates its 50th anniversary

Your invitation

In our birthday year, we talked to friends and collaborators – new and old – to look forward with us as we ask: what must we do now to build a fairer and more sustainable future?

To join the conversation: