For the past five years, I have been investing more and more of my research time into questions and systems that I think interface well with other disciplines and with my perception of what our society is looking for in terms of conservation solutions. This has been slow work. Lots of learning. It turns out it is a lot easier to tell others about our obligation to make our science as visible and relevant as possible than it is to build skill the sets and collaborations needed to directly address the thorny issues standing between society and sustainability. Earlier this month, I was given an opportunity to put all of my energies where my rhetoric has been heading. Later this year, I will start building the Luc Hoffmann Institute at WWF (the World Wide Fund for Nature). This will be a new type of global environmental synthesis and knowledge generation center focused on mobilizing scientific capacity around some of the largest and most pressing environmental and conservation issues of the 21st century.
The Hoffmann Institute will be a global endeavor. As the first director of the institute, I will be based in Gland, Switzerland, outside of Geneva, at WWF’s global office. This will be exciting work. WWF works in over 100 countries, and one of the key ways WWF leverages their global network has been through 13 global initiatives: large-scale multinational efforts with the potential for broad positive impacts across a wide spectrum of species and regions. All of these initiatives have science and information needs, and a big part of the Hoffmann Institute’s job will be to act as a conduit and catalyst for the science needed to help these initiatives crack some of the big challenges they face. The Hoffmann Institute will help build the knowledge base for evidence-driven conservation and sustainability in the future. Fundamentally, the goal is to bring the best possible synthesis, discovery and analysis to bear on some of the most important information gaps facing global conservation today, and tomorrow. I see this as a unique opportunity to combine cutting-edge science with the delivery capability of the world’s largest privately supported international conservation organization.
This is a big shift for me. Seattle to Geneva, Natural History to Global Environmental Science, building a lab group to building a global community. But some things are already becoming clear. I will keep some research going, and I will remain committed to the folks already in my lab. At the same time, the scope and scale of the work I will be engaged in will be expanding rapidly (as if I wasn’t already a bit scattered…).
The decision to make this move has not been easy. Kirsten and I feel as if we are among the luckiest people in the world here at UW. The community at UW has been supportive and excited about this opportunity. And this has been huge. I will be heading to Switzerland in November, and Kirsten will be stay on with the Burke and Biology here though the end of 2012, as she has a ton of ongoing work at the Burke Museum – new research, bringing back a long neglected collection, leading a major new exhibit for the Burke. Kirsten will continue working with the Burke after our move, but Kirsten burns her candles hot, and so she will also be building new work in Switzerland No small task, but Kirsten is just not someone who will be content to simply explore the Swiss Alps (well, at least not forever). Fortunately, it looks like there will be lots of opportunities in and around Geneva, and lots of folks to work with as we build a new version of our somewhat crazy lifestyle in Switzerland.
A bit more about the institute: My initial thinking involves working groups, a strong post-doctoral “Hoffmann Fellows” program, commissioned science, and the development of collaborative relationships with a few key institutional partners. All of what we do must be focused on providing the best possible science to environmental challenges and building and sustaining a global network of scientists and scholars dedicated to multi-disciplinary environmental research, synthesis and solutions.
There is a lot to be excited about, and a lot to do in the coming months, but an early objective I am particularly eager to get working on is the formation of global partnerships. Our ambition is to be a global catalyst for environmental and conservation synthesis; this cannot be achieved from one place; we will need strong partnerships with academic institutions across the world, creating a network of synthesis, knowledge creation, and knowledge aggregation.
Thanks to everyone for all their support in this move. I’ll put more information about the institute here as we move forward.