IIED at 50 – reflecting on the past, looking to the future full transcript
Host [00:00:02]: You’re listening to Make Change Happen, the podcast from IIED, the International Institute for Environment and Development.
Liz Carlile [00:00:29]: Welcome to Make Change Happen. I’m your host, Liz Carlile, and I’m delighted to have two very special guests with me today. Both are ex-colleagues and they’re going to be helping me celebrate IIED’s 50th birthday in this, our first Make Change Happen podcast of the new year.
We’ve been celebrating IIED’s 50th by reflecting back on some of the things that we’ve done. But I think, more importantly, we want to take a moment to look forward as well and to question whether IIED and our ways of working are still relevant in helping to meet the complex challenges ahead. And I’m personally particularly excited about this birthday because my career started with a role at IIED - my first very job coming out of university was here – and in this last role, where I’ve been working on the most exciting engagement in the development sector and I’ve had the honour to work with the most committed, driven colleagues and partners.
And I’m going to introduce you now to two of them who’ve worked with me in that time. Achala Abeysinghe is the Asia regional director and head of programmes for the Global Green Growth Institute where she leads the Asia programme on green growth and climate resilience. And David Runnalls, who incidentally was my first boss and the vice-president of IIED when I joined. And he’s had a long career in sustainable development and among many other roles is currently distinguished fellow with the International Institute for Sustainable Development in Canada.
So I’m going to ask you both now to fill in some of the gaps for our listeners. Can you say a little bit about how you arrived at IIED and maybe something about what you do now? Achala, can I start with you?
Achala Abeysinghe [00:02:21]: So, my journey at IIED started as a student when I was doing my PhD on international environmental law principles and their applicability in the global climate change regime. I really wanted to go and attend a COP to see how it really happens, the UNFCCC conference of the parties. So I downloaded the list of observer organisations at the time, the UNFCCC conference of the parties, and sent an email to around 40 organisations. And the first response I received was from IIED, from Dr Saleemul Huq, who was leading the climate change group of IIED at the moment. And he asked me to come and meet with him. So that’s where I started – I went and met with him in London and before I realised I was working as a research assistant at IIED. And then I was recruited to work as a researcher, then became a principal researcher and head of programmes of global climate law, policy and governance programme at IIED. And I was there for a very good ten years.
Liz Carlile [00:03:59]: And Achala that kind of makes me laugh, thinking about your approach when I look back at the amount of time you have spent sitting on the side of a hotel bed sending emails at three or four in the morning. You certainly had the COP experience full and hard [laughs].
Achala Abeysinghe [00:04:17]: That’s right!
Liz Carlile [00:04:18]: But, David, can you tell us a little bit about, you know, what got you into IIED? You were its first employee.
David Runnalls [00:04:26]: Yes, I was. I had worked for Barbara Ward as her sort of factotum and research assistant when she was teaching at Columbia University. And you have to remember that IIED is essentially a child of the Stockholm Conference, you know, the original UN environment conference in 1972. And it’s very interesting because the Swedish government had proposed holding the conference. It became perfectly obvious that the developing countries were either hostile to the idea or weren’t going to come. And so there was a big shuffling of chairs at UN headquarters and Maurice Strong – the Canadian who ran the Canadian aid agency – was brought in as the secretary general.
And Maurice started out, set out right away, to travel extensively but also to find a way to involve developing countries much more thoroughly in the preparations and to begin to look at what environmental problems that the global South suffered from, which were quite different from the ones of the north. And he turned to Barbara Ward and Barbara had written many books on development and the state of international relations and the role of the rich in helping the poor and thought, well this woman can write this stuff and I’ll hire her. And Barbara and René Dubos - who was then a very well known French microbiologist – set to work writing this book. And I directed the… well I did the research for her. I set up in her attic and read books.
And after the conference, various people approached Barbara and said: “You know, we need to have a non-governmental organisation to follow this up and would you be prepared to take on this thing?” which was then called the International Institute for Environmental Affairs and was very American, based in New York. And Barbara said: “Yes, but I want to move it to London and I want to call it the International Institute for Environment and Development and I want to bring my flunky with me.” So I fetched up in Pimlico in 1974 as essentially the first employee in Britain of the IIED. And I worked for Barbara from really 1968 until she died in 1981. And so that’s how I came on the scene with no qualifications, no knowledge of the environment and no idea what was going on. But, but working for a quite remarkable person.
Liz Carlile [00:06:58]: Yeah, thanks David for sharing that. I think it might be worth telling our listeners a little bit more. I mean Barbara Ward – who wrote Only One Earth wasn’t it? That’s the book that you’re talking about, Only One Earth - and that was really the sort of, the foundation stone if you like between this connection, if I’m right – and you can tell me if I am – around sort of environment and development. And this sort of… the importance of the vulnerable in the world and how this bringing together of environment and development could position them in a different space. Is that fair? Because this seemed the driver for us at the very beginning.
David Runnalls [00:07:39]: Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. And, and you have to remember that Barbara I think was one of the most remarkable women of the 20th century. She was educated in Europe in the 1930s, so she’d been in Paris when the socialists came to power in the 1930s. She had been in Heidelberg when Hitler annexed Austria. She’d been in Rome under Mussolini. So she understood what was happening in the world. She then became, at a very young age, because they’d drafted all of the men, essentially the number three at The Economist and she and Nora Beloff and the editor, wrote The Economist all during the war. And she then covered the Nuremberg war trials for The Economist and that affected Barbara profoundly and she… and this came along with the fact that she was a very devout Catholic.
She was the first woman to address the senate of bishops since 900, if you can imagine. And she also was a lifelong socialist. So Barbara had, in her brains and her guts a, a strong moral compulsion to help the poor and the downtrodden and to try and make the world a better place. And she’d seen the Marshall Plan and believed that, you know, if money was supplied in the right amounts at the right places, the gap between the rich and the poor could narrow. And we were literally, I think, the first institution in the world to systematically look at the relationship between environment and development, and that was Barbara. Barbara drove that and she kept insisting that that had to be the focus of the institution.
Liz Carlile [00:09:20]: And I think that, I mean listening to what Achala was saying about, perhaps what she responded to about IIED – Achala, would this be true, this kind of – is IIED still today a pro-poor organisation? You know is that link between environment and development, and for you particularly, you know, climate change where you’ve put so much of your attention – does that still feel very central to how we think about things and how we should think about things?
Achala Abeysinghe [00:09:53]: I think so, yes. Definitely. And I think IIED is one of the very few organisations who actually genuinely champion the voices of the poorest and the most vulnerable at global, national and local level. And IIED plays a central role, or they continue to play a central role in linking global, national and local, and vice versa. So that’s definitely true and I think through my work also when I was at IIED, and which continues to be working with the Least Developed Countries Group. And even at this COP in Glasgow that’s what IIED’s championing to do.
Liz Carlile [00:10:43]: And I think what’s interesting to me is, you know when I started life in IIED, you know, this feeling around really understanding that relationship between environment and development is now the practice that we do every day, but through partnership. We work so much more with partners and I think that’s been one of the change that I think has been very obvious. But I wanted to ask both of you – the change that I’ve seen over time is when, when I started at IIED it was about explaining or amplifying some of the key issues that were out there. And I remember, you know, we used to work with just issues, top line issues – desertification, mud buildings, renewable energies. We used to be looking and explaining issues. But things have got complex. And David, how did that feel to you at the start? What was it that people wanted to know? You know, you talked about Maurice travelling around trying to understand the agenda of, of Southern countries.
David Runnalls [00:11:51]: Well I think it’s interesting to watch because the first great environmental awakening was in the 1960s and it was almost entirely in Western Europe and North America. So the real concerns were the concerns of the industrialised countries. And I think what we managed to do, and what Barbara managed to do and what Maurice managed to do, were two things. One was that they began to understand… get people to understand that developing countries had even more severe environmental problems. They had ours, but they also had the problems of under-development, deforestation and desertification and the like. And I think it was quite important to actually get people to understand that there was a real agenda for developing countries which they did need to pay attention to and which the world needed to pay attention to. And that became the sort of coda for IIED.
I think the other thing that happened, and, and this is where I think IIED should take a lot of credit, is that we’ve sort of become mainstream. I mean we were the only people really talking about this at the international level, except for various bits of the UN. And we’ve now got to the stage where I think almost everybody understands some of the fundamental relationships between poverty and, and climate change, for example. IIED understood that from the beginning. Others are just starting to catch up. But I think the other thing that IIED has done – and you, you made this point yourself, Liz – is that, you know, once you get through the getting people to understand the 30,000-foot view, then you actually have to do something. And one of the problems that a lot of the international environmental community is having is shifting from pure advocacy to the practical realities of what are we going to do. And this is what was missing from the COP as well is governments are great at issuing portentous statements about net zero but they’re not very good at doing anything about it.
My government is notorious - we sign on to everything but our performance is appalling. And I think IIED has done a great job of being able to shift gears in a way to work with partners in developing countries to actually make change happen. So you’ve got down, got your fingers dirty and have managed to establish relationships with a whole host of organisations in the developing world. Which makes you a much more strong, a stronger institution and a much more relevant player in the discussion.
Liz Carlile [00:14:24]: So Achala, just thinking what David was saying, I mean you’ve worked so hard with the Least Developed Countries Group over the years. To what extent do you think that, you know, people really do understand, you know, the situation that the Least Developed Countries Group is in for example? What is it that we have to do more to impress upon this reality? How does that sit with you, looking back and looking forward?
Achala Abeysinghe [00:14:52]: I think along the lines of what David was talking about. I think IIED’s role in the solutions space, beyond the problems statement, the narrative of the problem that the poorest and the most vulnerable are talking about, is one of the key areas that I think we should continue to work on. When I started with the LDC Group through IIED’s work, the main narrative was that they are the victims of the climate change problem. They are the first, worst and hardest hit by climate change impacts. But through IIED’s work, and through my work with the Least Developed Countries Group as the legal, technical and strategic advisor, when I started in 2010, we started to focus on creating hope. And victims becoming the heroes of the story.
And IIED actually allowed me to work in that space by bringing in evidence-based research to support the Least Developed Countries Group in the UNFCCC negotiations. We started to put together a very clear and strong strategy for negotiations. Not only focusing on those negotiators who come to the negotiations and who have to learn on the job because they have not come prepared. We put together quite a lot of evidence-based research to support them. We supported their strengthening of their capacity through our communications work, we gave them voice and visibility. And as you mentioned, Liz, we brought in quite a lot of partnerships to work with the LDC Group in the UNFCCC negotiations. So we actually, through the Higher Ambition Coalition and a number of other partnerships we pushed the LDC Group to own the narrative, not only as victims of the problem but also heroes of the solution space. And they actually very clearly and very strongly played a central role in adopting the Paris Agreement, which is one of the very few international legally binding agreements that actually address climate change in a more holistic way. And that is the story of IIED’s working in, in solutions space, beyond the problem narrative that we hear quite often in the world today.
David Runnalls [00:17:46]: And bravo for that, eh? The… I’ve been to several COPs and to say the least they are extremely confusing, extremely complex and multi-faceted. There can be, for example, at any given stage, ten or 15 different contact groups. And you’re dealing with countries that will send a delegation of perhaps four or five or six people – that’s all they can afford. And, you know, even a medium-sized country like Canada has hundreds. So the developing countries are at a huge… the least developed countries are at a huge disadvantage in these negotiations. They have a shortage of technical people and just basically don’t have the degree of back-up and university research and everything else that the developed countries have. And IIED and others – but IIED particularly – has filled a really critical gap in these discussions. Because without you, many of these countries would be lost. You’d literally find countries that have delegations of four or five people in a negotiation where in order to keep up you need at least 50 to just be able to keep up with all the issues. And having an interlocuter that they can trust is absolutely critical. And Achala and others done a great job at that.
Liz Carlile [00:19:08]: Achala, do you want to add to that?
Achala Abeysinghe [00:19:10]: Yeah, no, thank you, David. Actually it, it was a very rewarding experience for IIED team. It was not myself. We were a very big team. A good team, not a big team but a very strong team. And thanks to our communications team, Liz and the rest of the team as well as partnerships team and climate change group, we worked very closely. So, but most importantly I think it’s ownership of the LDC Group, these 48 countries who work with us, and really are pushing for it, it’s what made a change. So, yeah. Definitely.
Liz Carlile [00:19:53]: That’s really good to hear. I mean I think what I shall say now is that, you know, IIED does not like to blow its own trumpet. And I think that is because we know that the endeavour is a collective one and will need to be. And one of the things I wanted to ask you both, actually, is around partnership. Because I think one of the things that I’ve seen change is everybody talks about working in partnership, you know, everybody talks about that being important. But being true to a partnership, developing partnerships, getting connected to different people in different spaces and bringing different people together, is a really challenging task. And I wonder, Achala, now that you’re at the sort of Green Growth Institute, do you have any reflections on, you know, what are the partnerships that you think of being critical? You know, what are the connections and the alliances that we need to push forward on?
Achala Abeysinghe [00:20:56]: So definitely I’ve carried forward quite a lot of lessons learned from IIED for my new role. One is not necessarily what the partnerships are and how many partnerships but the genuineness of the partnership. For example, when we worked with the governments, when we worked with these poorest and the most vulnerable for example, giving them the ownership of the work that we do together, and that’s along the lines of what you are talking about, Liz – not blowing our own trumpet – but we are genuinely working through partnerships with the governments.
For example right now, Global Green Growth Institute is Asia’s trusted advisor to our member countries. We work in 41 member countries and we are embedded in the governments. And the lessons I’ve learned from IIED and through my ten years of work IIED has been extremely helpful. And the other one is, is the civil society organisations that we work with. And there is quite a lot of good interest, in there in terms of work with the civil society organisations and them coming in to help the society for inclusive and resilience work that we do at the ground level.
But making sure that we do that work through real action on the ground beyond the research papers that we produce I think is extremely important. And to do that we work with people on the ground. For example, at IIED when we did our research papers to provide evidence-based research for negotiations, we actually co-authored the publications that we work on with the LDC Group or LDC countries, all those civil society organisations that I talk about. And that practice we try to continue, or I try to continue actually through my current work as well.
Liz Carlile [00:23:14]: That’s great to hear. David, I wanted to ask you something a bit different around partnership because I was thinking, you know, when IIED started, I think, is it fair to say that there was more faith in sort of multilateralism and then we had, you know, we had these decadal conferences and there were great expectations around what could be achieved on that, you know, the law of the sea, sustainable development? All of those different kind of issues? I wondered if, you know, the change that I’ve seen in IIED now is this focus on partnership that roots us very firmly in the local, in the way Achala is talking about. How have you seen that pan out from perhaps that start where there was still faith in multilateralism through to actually this is about a collective action on the ground? Do you have a sense of that?
David Runnalls [00:24:07]: Well, yeah in a way, one depends on the other. I mean I think one still, one clearly has to believe in multilateralism. Particularly in the area of climate change – it’s a genuinely global problem. A tonne of CO2 emitted in London is the same as a tonne of CO2 emitted in Rio de Janeiro. So we’re going to have to make the multilateral system, clunky and cranky as it is, work. But it’s only going to work, essentially, if the countries themselves realise the importance of it and the necessity for it. And I think, as she mentioned, getting countries ready to participate in this circus every once in a while is really quite critical. And I think IIED’s done a wonderful job of doing partnerships in such a way that they’re actually partnerships. All, many of these partnerships between Northern and Southern institutions are, “Yeah, yeah, we’ll put your name on it, we’ll go and we’ll meet every once in a while but we’ll supply all the expertise and we’ll do all the work and you can sign at the bottom of the page.” And IIED’s never done that, and I think it’s actually quite critical that it doesn’t.
And just, can I just say something about the tooting your own horn problem. This is a colossal problem for anybody who works on international issues, and particularly international negotiations. And donors are always asking for logical framework analyses and results-based and what have you actually done. And it’s very… it’s actually genuinely difficult to assess for example what IIED’s influence has been in the climate negotiations. You know we… you have made various countries far more effective at negotiating, made them much more confident in what they’re doing – how are you going to write all that down in a logical framework analysis? So it partly depends on the institution – in this case IIED – having the backbone to not take credit for everything. And it partly depends on having donors who understand how extraordinarily complex this process is. And you can’t simply say, you know, “I pushed this button and this sausage came out at the end of the machine.” And, and it’s a constant problem for people trying to fundraise for institutions like IIED or like IISD, which I used to run.
Liz Carlile [00:26:31]: And, and we feel that very keenly because I think, you know, the way that we work with our colleagues and partners and we can see that reality. You can… you cannot attribute to one person, to one organisation. You know, this question of partnership taxes us all the time. I think this point about equal partnership, true partnership. And I think going forward, and perhaps this brings us to the next sort of line of thinking that I wanted to sort of pursue with you is, you know, if we’re thinking about how we make change happen in the future, what do we need to keep doing?
One of the things that is exercising us, I think, profoundly, is the nature of working between global South and global North in a more equal way. What is the kind of development sector in an anti-racist future? How is this actually going to be? How are we going to bring the best of ourselves into an equal and open world? So I guess I’d like to ask you, maybe Achala, what do you think the organisations like us, or us, need to keep doing? We’re based here in the North, we work with many people and organisations in the South and globally. Where should our real added value be?
Achala Abeysinghe [00:27:52]: I think one of the features that IIED needs to continue doing is actually raising the voice and visibility of the poorest and the most vulnerable. I don’t think that should change ever because that is the niche of IIED and that’s the… it doesn’t matter whether IIED’s based in London or wherever IIED is based, that’s what IIED does best. So that we need to continue.
In terms of the global picture, I think for so many years we talked about sustainable development, we talked about many other areas that we need to focus on but before the SDGs, the adoption of the SDGs and the adoption of the Paris Agreement, it felt like we were moving ahead but without a map, without a clear destination. And now I feel with the SDGs and with the Paris Agreement we have a clear vision, clear direction of travel in terms of where we are going. And through the short-term plans like NDCs I think we have a short-term action plans there as well.
And in terms of moving forward, I think IIED also needs to continue to operate in the action area, implementation area. There is a huge implementation gap, particularly when it comes to these poorest and the most vulnerable communities that we are talking about. We are talking about trillions of funding, millions of green jobs, so many private sector entities coming into play and take action on the ground. But none of these are really focusing on these least developed countries and the most vulnerable. So therefore I think IIED needs to continue promoting the need for further and more support to these countries and communities.
In terms of new areas, perhaps we could think about, there is a huge need for us to focus on aligning these climate action plans with, I think, COVID-19 recovery now, which I think will happen for many years to come. We won’t be able to recover within a few months so within a year or so. It needs to continue for many years to come. And along those lines, aligning the green recovery of COVID-19 green recovery with Nationally Determined Contributions and SDG action plans on the ground, has to happen more proactively and more urgently. And there is quite a lot we can do in the policies space, converting these plans into green jobs for least developed countries and the communities that we are talking about. Green businesses, you know, encourage the creative space for business incubation as well as business acceleration in least developed countries, in other vulnerable communities, to really truly ensure that no one is left behind. And that I think is a role that IIED needs to continue playing.
Liz Carlile [00:31:27]: That’s brilliant, Achala. And I think you, your certainty around, you know, this is about implementation, this is about practical action, this is about keeping up the pressure, isn’t it? This is not about too much thinking. David, what, from your perspective of having been in IIED and then IISD, is what Achala is saying, is that ringing true for you? What’s the role of the kind of future think tank? Because we like to think of ourselves as a think tank but we’re talking action, aren’t we? We need action.
David Runnalls [00:31:59]: Yeah, but I think, I mean I think there are new kinds of think tanks, I think a number of us now think that simply producing papers and organising conferences maybe useful but at the end of the day it’s really what happens at the ground. And it’s interesting to watch organisations like the World Resources Institute in Washington which has stacks of money actually reaching out and having offices in developing countries run by people from developing countries that are actually trying to get much closer to the action so to speak. I think there’s a real dilemma here for IIED, and it’s the classic thing. I remember once somebody described the Aspen Institute as being like the River Plate, which is a river in Nebraska and it’s a mile wide and an inch deep.
Liz Carlile [00:32:48]: [Laughs]
David Runnalls [00:32:48]: And focus is a really difficult issue. We’re talking about global issues here, we’re talking about a very small institution. I know we wrestled with this all the time when I was there and I’m sure you must be doing the same thing. And that is, how do you prevent the kinds of actions you’re taking from simply being pinpricks? I mean how do you actually get to the famous nirvana or replicability? I mean, yes, it’s wonderful to work on a particular project in particular village in country X, but how do you get to the stage where that has more universal lessons? And it’s not an easy issue to resolve.
I think the second issue for IIED, and this is a little off track, is not to fall into the trap of becoming a tub-thumper for the UN. The UN is an institution which is creaking very badly at the seams. And there are lots and lots of programmes run by UN agencies which is quite easy to sort of glom onto, “It’s a great idea, we’ll be in favour of this.” I’m not talking about the SDGs, I’m talking about lots of other things. And I think it’s important that IIED has a sort of critical view of how the international system is functioning. Because otherwise you get stranded. You know, you’ll get to the stage where something clearly doesn’t work, and it, the UN, is clearly not the answer. And I think IIED has to be prepared to say that.
And then finally, as, as Achala said, there’s this dilemma. What do you do about private money? It is quite clear we’re not going to even remotely solve the climate crisis without a lot of money and it’s quite clear that a lot of this money is going to have to come from the private sector. And it’s quite clear at the moment that almost none of that is going to go to the least developed countries. So are there ways in which IIED can begin to square that circle a bit? Because climate change in the sense is a simple problem if you just want to deal with emissions, you deal with the G20 and you’ve got 80 or 85% of global emissions. And frankly nobody else counts. And so there’s an… there’s a kind of in-electable logic to part of the climate change debate which you have to avoid. And IIED’s done very well by that, by giving the developing countries their voice.
And I watched the coverage as best I could from Glasgow and there were lots of lots of appearances by ministers from Maldives and from Vanuatu and so on and so forth, making the case that, you know, the human tragedy here is unacceptable. And that’s the only way these countries will actually end up getting a seat at the negotiating table that means anything. Because at the end of the day, if you put the G20 in a room and were able finally to get all of them on the same page, you could solve the problem not easily but relatively quickly and you wouldn’t have to worry about 200 people sitting around in a room all deciding whether they’re going to deal with the word ‘obey’ or ‘non-obey’ or whatever. So there’s a, I think there’s a kind of… there’s an interesting role for IIED in that space.
I don’t know how you play it. It’s a fairly dangerous space to operate in. But I think that’s something that’s missing right now, is how do you connect the necessity for providing massive amounts of money with the fact it’s largely going to come from the private sector? And the private sector’s going to put their money into places they’re familiar with: China, India, maybe Brazil, Argentina, etc. It’s not going to be Chad and Niger or Kenya and even probably Nigeria. So I think that’s going to be a very interesting exercise for IIED to kind of manoeuvre through.
Liz Carlile [00:36:47]: I know, you’re certainly right there and I think, you know, our climate change groups is working very hard on this whole theme. You know, getting money where it matters, getting the right money to the right people who can solve problems on the ground and where that money comes from and how it moves through the system is very much something we are exercised about and working on.
I’m going to thank you both for what is a really interesting conversation. And we’re coming to the end now. I normally ask our contributors to the podcast what’s the change they want to see, but I’ve just asked you that and you’ve been very thorough. So I’m now going to say what do we need to let go of? What is it that we perhaps have been holding too dear and need to let go of and sort of open our minds to something else? Achala, have you got any thoughts on that?
Achala Abeysinghe [00:37:41]: Maybe I can link with the previous answer. Your question, Liz, about IIED’s being a think tank and how do we therefore, what else do we have to do in terms of implementation? I think we have to let go of that thought, which is we are a think tank and therefore we probably don’t, you know, we have to figure out how to engage in the implementation work. And for me the implementation work in terms of addressing climate change as well as achieving SDG goals involves quite a lot of thinking and a lot of research, a lot of creative ways forward. And therefore I think IIED can still play that think tank role, and help the developing countries to address the policy gaps as well as the thinking they need to do to really have impactful programmes on the ground.
And the brutal truth is, you know, we are talking about the poorest and the most vulnerable in the world. They are… their existing vulnerabilities are and the poverty is going to be exacerbated by climate change or dwarfed by the types of climate change and the environmental degradation. And how we address that is through action on the ground. But to do action on the ground we have to really address the policy gap. And that’s where we have to start thinking about creating green jobs through enabling environment, through enabling policies in these countries. Bringing in private sector funding, private sector finance and investments through addressing enabling environmental issues that we have in these countries. Discussing how investments of climate change can work for these countries to address their poverty issues or climate change impacts. And that needs to continue.
I’m afraid we are nowhere near to really having enough research done or enough thinking done on how we actually address these issues. So we have to continue or even strengthen what we are doing to be on the ground, to support these countries to really implement action on the ground through the creative thinking that the LDC, the IIED has been doing for so many years. And we have practical programmes like the LDC Initiative for Effective Adaptation and Resilience that the Climate Change group is, is implementing together with the Least Developed Countries Group. We have the LDC Universities Network that we have established together with our sister organisation, ICCCAD. We have LDC Initiative for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency that we have put together and those are initiatives which are large scale, impactful programmes, needs to be taken forward through further work of IIED.
Liz Carlile [00:41:18]: Great, thank you, Achala. So it’s quite clearly shows us we’ve got a lot to do [laughs]. So we… but we just need to be really creative and keep our thinking very relevant and pertinent. David, what do you think – is there anything we need to let go of? Is there anything that Barbara might say to us, you’ve got to change this, you know? Equality’s still so important, there’s so much more to do? What do you think?
David Runnalls [00:41:44]: Yeah, I was thinking about that when you asked me to do this. I mean, if Barbara was still alive and she looked down at us, what would she think about IIED and about how IIED’s mission has evolved? And I think she’d be very pleased. I think that it’s… IIED has retained its focus on poverty alleviation. It’s retained its focus and enhanced its focus on capacity building, on real partnerships. I mean partnerships that actually involve partners as opposed to the kind of paternalistic thing that quite often goes on. I think she’d be actually very pleased.
I think she’d be, same as we all are, intimidated by the scope of the challenge. And by the fact that IIED remains, although it’s much more robust than it was when I was there, it’s still a very small institution. And I guess the the real question would be focus. How do you actually – and Achala’s answered some of that – how do you actually focus on perhaps two or three key issues and avoid, dissipating your resources over a whole canvas of issues? And I know how hard that is. I ran an institute which was supposed to be an institute for sustainable development and if I had somebody come up to me once and say, “Well if you’re in sustainable development, why don’t you have a programme on fishing or urban or whatever?” The answer would be, because we don’t have the resources to do that. Because it’s very easy to spread yourself very, very thin across this vast canvas. But I think Barbara would be very pleased and I think she is probably smiling at you from heaven saying, well done. Glad you got through 50 years as a vibrant institution which seems to able to reinvent itself and good, good on you.
Liz Carlile [00:43:41]: Well thank you for that. That’s a really good thing to hear and I think, but what I’m also hearing is, you know, not too much self-congratulation, not too much sitting back on our laurels. There’s things to do. But perhaps what we do, what we can say, is the things that we’ve learned, the people that we’ve met, the kinds of achievements we have been collectively part of over our journey, does set us up really well not to give up and to stay focused, to stay creative and to stay where these, there’s still the challenges around equality and poverty alleviation remains strong.
I’m going to just finalise by saying thank you both so much for being with me. Our listeners probably don’t realise that you are on either sides of this globe, so the time span that we’re covering is enormous. I know one of you is up very early and the other is shutting down for the day, I’m sure, any minute. Thank you very much indeed and it’s been a real pleasure for me to talk to you as two of you who’ve been inspirational ex-colleagues. And it’s been a joy to talk today. Thank you very much.
David Runnalls [00:44:53]: Thank you. It’s been fun. It’s been very enjoyable. It made me think about things I haven’t thought about for a good long time.
Achala Abeysinghe [00:45:00]: Thank you, Liz. The feeling is mutual. Thank you so much for inviting us for this discussion.
Liz Carlile [00:45:08]: That’s great. Well it just remains for the three of us to wish IIED happy 50th birthday.
David Runnalls [00:45:13]: Hear, hear!
Achala Abeysinghe [00:45:14]: Happy 50th birthday.
Liz Carlile [00:45:16]: Thank you.
Host [00:45:19]: And you can find out more about today’s podcast, our guests and their work at www.iied.org/podcast where you can also listen to more episodes. You can leave us feedback or follow the podcast series at soundcloud.com/theiied. The podcast is produced by our in-house communication team. For more information about IIED and our work, please visit us at www.iied.org.
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