I became interested in conservation economics in the early 1980s through Kenneth Boulding’s PhD seminar at the University of Colorado. Kenneth spoke of the three factors of production as energy, know how, and materials. He was very much a founder of ecological economics.
Shortly after taking up a post at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa in the mid-1980s, my interest was rekindled by a visit to a family-run private game farm adjacent to Kruger Park. Here was private enterprise delivering conservation benefits through the responsible use of wildlife. Since that visit, my career has focused on the nexus between conservation and commerce.
In addition to teaching the first MBA elective on environmental management at the Wits Business School, I lectured on economics to the conservation biology students at the University of Cape Town. With a few colleagues, we also set up Eco Plus offering economic policy and business strategy advice to the conservation sector. For example, our economic assessment of a proposed dune mining project facilitated the declaration of the country’s first natural World Heritage site at iSimangaliso.
Moving to Nairobi in the early 1990s to join the African Wildlife Foundation as their first economist enabled me to build interest and capacity in conservation economics in the region. This in turn lead to an appointment as the first economist at IUCN joining a Swiss-based team promoting the Convention on Biological Diversity. Key themes were economic incentives, trade, finance, and private sector engagement.
In the early 2000s, the Earthwatch Institute asked me to run their European office in Oxford where there was an exciting opportunity to build conservation awareness in companies by engaging employees in participatory conservation projects. Following a career move of my wife, I found myself back in the Geneva area and established Earthmind. Over the years, Earthmind has worked for several multilateral organisations, international companies and NGOs, and others on market approaches to conservation.
About 5 years ago, a process was started to establish the African Wildlife Economy Institute at Stellenbosch University. I was appointed as a Professor Extraordinary to serve as its first Director. Currently, I am also the Academic Director of the African Leadership School of Wildlife Conservation in Kigali where we are building exciting learning journeys on the business of conservation for undergraduates, graduates, and young professionals.
My current research focuses on the implications of what we mean by wildlife and conservation in the context of international policy and on how we can unlock the wildlife economy across Africa in support of inclusive, sustainable development.