Pioneering contributions usually come the way of those who happen to be lucky enough to be at the right place at the right time and who have the good fortune to be teamed with the right kinds of colleagues who can share the burdens and excitements of creative endeavor. At various times and places, and on several emerging issues during the nineteen seventies and eighties, I was the very privileged beneficiary of such combinations of circumstances:
- In 1965, I collaborated with Professor Roger Revelle and other teaching fellows to design and teach the world’s first college course on the environment at Harvard University. Professor Revelle, a distinguished physical scientist of many achievements, was the discoverer of the rising levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide and the consequences of this for climate change. He was also adept at social sciences, including demography, anthropology and human behavior. This rare, multidisciplinary course was entitled “Natural Sciences 118: Population, Resources and the Environment” and was one of the most popular courses at Harvard, attended by Al Gore, Benazir Bhutto and many others who later became global leaders sensitive to environmental issues.
- In 1971, I was appointed by the Prime Minister of India, Mrs Indira Gandhi to head the newly formed national agency for the environment, as a division in the Ministry of Science and Technology. This was the first official environmental agency in a developing country and the seventh worldwide. During my five years as director of this body, my co-workers and I created a wide range of official policies, programmes and projects that subsequently were adopted by the states of India and by countries overseas. As a representative of the Government of India, I was in a position to play a major role in the creation and evolution of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
- In 1976, I was appointed by Maurice Strong, then the Executive Director of UNEP to design, establish and head Infoterra, the first global environmental information system. Infoterra was an inter-governmental agency providing users access to sources of environmental information and expertise globally. During the five years of my tenure, the team had built up a membership in Infoterra of 120 countries, each with high-level agencies acting as focal points, supplying and using information on environmental issues. Infoterra continued to be the prime source for such information for more than 20 years before its services were overtaken by the Internet.
- In 1980, I was an active member of the small team from IUCN, supported by experts from partner organisations UNEP and WWF, which prepared the World Conservation Strategy, the first publication (launched on 5 March 1980) to present the concept of “Sustainable Development”. Subsequently, as Special Advisor to the Brundtland Commission (WCED), I assisted the Commission in making the concept a central part of its recommendations, and then as Chairman of the NGO Forum at the First Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro (1992), helped in raising the concept to the level of international commitment.
- In 1982, I set up the world’s first social enterprise dedicated to sustainable development, the Development Alternatives Group, which consisted of DA, the not-for-profit flagship entity responsible for Innovation, TARA, the commercial wing responsible for Incubation and Implementation of the Group’s products and services, and People First, the conscience-keeper of the Group to ensure the highest levels of integrity for all its operations. The DA Group continues till today to be among the largest and most effective social enterprises