Maurice Strong was in many ways Canada’s own Rockefeller: a self-made businessman who turned his managerial and deal-making acumen into a force for human development based on research and evidence.

After running Canada’s International Development Assistance programme (CIDA) for four years, Maurice was convinced that the linkages between environment and development were central to the sustainability of our species on the planet. Maurice began defining, for the global community, the interdependence of the environment, people and development by assisting the Swedish diplomat Sverker Åström in organizing the UN Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm in 1972. For the first time, this meeting put environmental issues squarely on the agenda of the UN. Subsequently, Maurice was instrumental in the founding and leadership of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), serving as its first Executive Director from 1972 to 1976.

In 1987, the World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED) provided the blueprint “Our Common Future”, giving birth to the concept of sustainable development. The work of the Commission, of which Maurice was a member, led to the foundation of a group of research institutes and think tanks — World Resources Institute, International Institute for Sustainable Development, International Institute for Environment and Development and SEI — dedicated to exploring the sustainable development and environment nexus, and bridging science and policy. Maurice served on the boards of WRI, IISD, IIED and SEI and helped to ensure that these institutes continued to play a central role in the international policy arena.

At the Rio Earth Summit in 1992 Maurice was at the peak of his career, overseeing the largest UN meeting ever. It was an unprecedented achievement in diplomacy, rallying around the new-found concept of sustainable development and laying the foundations for three global conventions: on climate, biodiversity and drylands. A key element in this success was Maurice’s conviction that non-governmental organisations be allowed to speak for stakeholders and to have a voice in the international policy arena.

Maurice was instrumental in establishing SEI as an independent research institute bridging science and policy on environment and development. He was a leader dedicated to the cause of human development. His legacy is a new way of looking at the world – as a place of shared development. I hope to see others follow in his path.