Trustee chairs in conversation: Maureen O'Neil and Rebeca Grynspan (Part III)

Article, 20 August 2014

The new chair of the board of trustees of the International Institute for the Environment and Development (IIED), Rebeca Grynspan, discuss IIED's contribution to global change with her predecessor Maureen O'Neil.

Maureen O'Neil said that IIED's objective was to contribute to global change, referencing the "enormous energy and enormous collaborative strength" to working with people in local communities during her time as chair.

She added that IIED had had a big impact in shaping ideas about how an organisation could be activist but also evidence-based.

The work by IIED in international forums had also been an important driver for change, particularly work to help the least developed countries build their negotiating skills.

IIED's incoming trustee chair Grynspan made clear that the combination of research and action on the ground was a rare and powerful combination, saying: "It's very difficult for a research organisation to have this connection with the people, with the communities on the ground. It is amazing that IIED has maintained that for so long. That is definitely a huge strength."

She added it was crucial that local communities were able to influence the research agenda, saying: "That is so important because they are usually not heard. If you want to change the power relations on the ground, you want to empower them, you have to first start to make visible their knowledge and their contribution already to many of the problems — not only as recipients but really as actors".

Looking to the future, O'Neil said she thought a big task for IIED would be to consider the issue of gender in relation to environment and poverty, with many people working in the development arena seeming to have difficulty in recognising this as an issue. 

She said: "And yet, when you recall, if you look who is poor, most of the people who are poor in the world are women. So there is an area where there is going to be still lots of work to be done."

The 20-minute conversation between IIED's incoming and outgoing chairs is being published in four parts. Other segments include a discussion of how the IIED lived up to O'Neil's expections, the importance of good governance and Grynspan discussing her enthusiasm for her new role.