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FEATURE: In conversation… with Paul Cleal, former CDKN CEO


Simon Maxwell: Paul, you’re a senior partner of PwC (PricewaterhouseCoopers) and you’ve come in as the Chief Executive of the Climate and Development Knowledge Network. Why is PwC as a large global organisation interested in this topic and in this project?

Paul Cleal: PwC is committed to making a difference in the world on a lot of different levels. But over the last three years we’ve put a lot of resources into developing significant expertise in the field of climate change and sustainability, and we’ve got a long track record in working with the Department for International Development on development projects around the world too.

Simon: Do you think that we’re going to be facing very different kinds of demands on us as a result of this new issue of climate change has come onto the agenda?

Paul: Well there’s no doubt that over the coming years we’ll face a lot of new challenges. Our clients are already beginning to understand that and that’s something that we’re now talking to the clients actively about and helping to lead their thinking, responding where necessary to their particular needs. And I think it’s very true of private clients that we have already, but equally true and perhaps more so even of developing country governments, where I think everyone understands that the effects on poorer economies will be much greater, particularly if they’re reliant on agriculture and therefore more vulnerable to the effects of climate change.

Simon: We form part of an alliance, PwC and the other organisations participating in this project, and what’s particularly attractive about PwC, I would say, to the rest of us is partly your global reach. But also the fact that you work very strongly both in the private sector and in the public sector. And I’m interested in how you see especially the private sector response to these climate issues within companies and as the private sector as a whole in developing countries.

Paul: We’re seeing private sector companies form greater and greater understandings wanting to go into new training courses, put their people through those so they can learn about the effects and adapt their behaviour. Partly I think it’s motivated no doubt increasingly by the economic situation because in many cases, adapting to climate change and having more sustainable policies can also be economically effective. But I think more and more people are seeing that there’s a corporate responsibility angle to this and indeed, just the right thing to do in the world.

Simon: As we work through this project we’ve got a number of different funding windows available to us. We have a research window of course, we have a technical assistance advisory window, we have knowledge management, we have partnerships. When we work with clients are we going to keep all those separate or are we going to try and find some way to tell the single story?

Paul: I think the important thing for us to do is be able to talk to our clients in the developing world about what they need, the support they need to help adapt their policies. And that may lead us to do some research to inform their decisions, it may lead us to help them with some more direct assistance by way of advisory services.

Simon: One other thing about this, which is interesting for us, is that we’ve said many times we want to be demand led and client focused. But we also want to develop a particular expertise within our programme and we have focused very much on this idea of helping decision makers and leadership groups in countries to develop medium-term climate compatible strategies. Do you think we’re going to have any difficulty balancing the demand led on the one side and the development of our particular expertise on the other?

Paul: Well I think inevitably we need to balance being demand led and responding to what we’re asked for with developing our own niche. This is a relatively new area. People are understanding it better and better all the time. Simply being demand led isn’t enough. And I think the niche of being policy focused is critical here, because that’s the gap that we really believe exists.

Simon: We have in our partnership, in our alliance of course PwC, but we also have think tanks, research institutes, we have quite an NGO capacity, we have some Southern organisations, we have people who understand about building leadership groups in countries. So I suppose it’s fair to say we have some expertise of our own that we bring to the table.

Paul: We have a huge amount of expertise across our alliance and I think it’s fair to say that the alliance is incredibly diverse as a set of organisations. A large professional services organisation doesn’t usually work with such an array of different non-governmental organisations, particularly spread across three continents of the developing world.

Simon: You’ve described our problem of managing and running the Climate and Development Knowledge Network as being: trying to build a car and drive it along the road at the same time. And it is a real challenge, isn’t it, to deliver services quickly and to find those quick wins we want to have to show that we’re useful to the world, but at the same time build the website, build the procedures, build the capacity of the staff and so on. How are you getting on with that?

Paul: Well that’s right, you’ve described it very well. We’ve encapsulated it as the problem of building the car and trying to drive it at the same time, and it does feel like that at times. I think inevitably it seems easier to first build something and then to use it. But in actual fact of course when you’re doing something as new as this you actually have to test it out as you go along. So actually having the opportunity to try and deliver services as you go along, and then change the way that you’re designing your organisation is very important. It means we have to be flexible and adapt the whole time. But I think after about a period of the first six months we should be in a position to have stabilised the way we do things and have stopped quite the need to learn and develop.

Simon: We’ve had an election in the UK since we started work. We have a new government. A strong commitment to climate change, support for our programme?

Paul: Certainly.  I think the new government has an enduring commitment to both international development. There’s been commitment to continuing to move towards the target of spending 0.7% of GDP on development expenditure. And also to the area of climate change, both through DFID as a department but also through the Department for Energy and Climate Change. So we’re confident that the government will continue to support initiatives such as the Climate and Development Knowledge Network and we’re very pleased to be involved in that.

Simon: Paul, this is a big job you’ve taken on and it’s going to be fun and difficult and challenging. And we wish you all the best of luck with it!

Paul: Thanks very much Simon, thank you.

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