Esteemed colleagues, partners and friends,
The time has come to say thank you and goodbye. Tomorrow is my last day at the Natural Resource Governance Institute, where I proudly served as president and CEO from 2012 until earlier this year.
Thanking you is first, with heartfelt appreciation to you all for the amazing shared journey. You have taught and inspired me so much in our common quest to make a difference on resource governance and international development. Together we have striven to made a difference for the disadvantaged and disenfranchised—including the estimated two billion people surviving on less than five dollars a day in resource-dependent countries around the globe.
I wrote to you this past December, when I outlined some of our joint achievements and shared my own upcoming transition plans. As I mentioned back then, I started at the helm of the Revenue Watch Institute in 2012 after stints on its advisory council and governing boards, and oversaw its merger with the Natural Resource Charter, which resulted in our own NRGI. We went on to implement NRGI’s first strategy, which concluded at the end of 2019. Our new strategy, emphasizing the energy transition and addressing state capture and corruption, is now more urgent than ever.
NRGI colleagues and I, with your support, have built a unique organization, promoting good governance and sustainable development, and engaging closely with people and leaders in many resource-relevant countries and global institutions. We have complemented our concrete engagement with many partners and countries with NRGI’s strong ongoing research, data and analysis. The impact and broad recognition of this applied analysis helped us to climb think tank rankings over the years.
Those who know me will not be surprised that even when saying goodbye I cannot pass up the opportunity to mention data and evidence-based policy advocacy and decision-making. Fact-based approaches are now more important than ever, given adverse political developments in many powerful countries, coupled with the stark realities brought about by the coronavirus pandemic, as well as the imperative to urgently address climate change. As the now-common refrain goes, “data is the new oil”: we simply cannot miss the opportunity presented by the data revolution. Nor can we focus only on the pitfalls of addiction to oil or the unfettered pursuit of mineral riches.
NRGI is working on major challenges ahead and its skillful leadership team and world-class staff (supported by its talented board and advisory council) are ready to collaborate with you in NRGI’s countries of focus. NRGI’s greatest and most unique asset is its staff. My time at NRGI has been marked by the high caliber of my peers and their willingness to engage constructively and speak truth to power; it has been a great privilege to work alongside them. In February I stepped back from leading the organization to serve as its chief advisor and focus on particular strands of governance work. Since then, Suneeta Kaimal—with whom I have been so fortunate to collaborate since I joined the organization—has been the interim president and CEO, working closely with the rest of the leadership team and the board. Even in this brief and globally challenging period, I have proudly witnessed NRGI’s continuing organizational achievements.
The pandemic has precipitated stark changes for the whole field of resource governance and for the concrete strategies and programs that support sustainable and equitable development in scores of resource-relevant countries. There is a game-changing “perfect storm” brewing in most such countries. Key stakeholders in the field—governments, industry and civil society organizations, as well as the main international financial institutions and global initiatives such as the Extractives Industries Transparency Initiative (where I had the privilege of serving on the international board)—must confront this tempest with bold evolutions and open minds. More reviews and studies, defensive actions, or even flexible adaptations, will not suffice.
We must seize such unprecedented challenges with audacity, and embark upon a concrete reset in the field. This reset requires a rethink, traversing to another level on energy transition, concretely implementing reforms to urgently address climate change and environmental sustainability; embracing decisive implementation of “radical transparency” and helping to reverse the attack on citizens’ voice and democratic accountability; revamping industry; and addressing the growing threat of state capture and high-level corruption in many countries—including some rich and powerful ones traditionally seen as well governed until not long ago.
I look ahead with excitement to the prospect of you all seizing the opportunity to build more just and inclusive societies, living peacefully on a cleaner planet that provides for more than the basic needs of all its people, including the bottom two billion. You all inspire me, including the innovators and activists among the youngest generation.
My tempered optimism isn’t exaggerated, or the requisite positive spin of a farewell letter. History offers lessons in the art of the possible in turning darkness into dawn. Some ancient global pandemics did wreak havoc, yet for the survivors they opened minds in unprecedented ways, which led to innovation and human progress.
I conclude with a final appreciation of each one of my colleagues and of you all for your tremendous support over the past years. And please do take care of yourself and your loved ones.