Change on the Ground, Change in the Air
WRI’s Institutional Achievements
2022 was a year of significant institutional change for WRI. As a result, WRI has a new five-year strategy, a new leadership team, and a renewed commitment to rigorously measuring WRI’s impact in the world.
Any one of the achievements below would represent a major shift in how WRI operates. But together these five achievements arguably add up to the biggest institutional shift in our 40-year history.
Change on this scale isn’t always easy, but, at this moment in time, deliberate and strategic institutional change is a good thing. Far from another year to survive, 2022 was the year WRI successfully retooled for the journey ahead.
A New Global Leadership Team
WRI has grown and changed enormously over the last decade. A far cry from a Washington think tank, today more than half of WRI’s staff work on in-country implementation. In recognition of the organization that we have become, Ani Dasgupta created a new leadership team befitting WRI today.
"As leaders begin to grapple with the difficult task of turning commitments into action, WRI is well positioned to help. WRI’s new strategy is both a detailed institutional plan and a powerful roadmap for operationalizing sustainable development principles on the ground. The global challenges before us are great, but WRI’s systemic approach to driving targeted transitions where they are most needed gives great cause for optimism."
Co-Chair, WRI Global Board of Directors
Five new Managing Directors were brought on to lead WRI alongside Ani: Craig Hanson, Programs; Adriana Lobo, Global Presence and National Action; Moazzam Malik, Global Delivery; Wanjira Mathai, Africa and Global Partnerships; and Janet Ranganathan, Strategy, Learning and Results. Collectively, they embody nearly 70 years of service to WRI.
Based across four continents, the five Managing Directors comprise WRI’s first truly Global Executive Team alongside Elizabeth Cook, Executive Vice President of Governance and Development; Stientje van Veldhoven, Vice President and Director, WRI Europe; Jocelyn Starzak, General Counsel; and Kevin Moss, Chief of Institutional Alignment. Together, WRI’s new leadership team is strengthening collaboration across our unique global network.
A Rigorous Strategy to Guide the Next Decade
Every five years, WRI sets a new institutional strategy. With the specter of reaching net zero emissions by 2050 now just one generation away, and several indicators of development heading in the wrong direction, the sense of urgency heading into this planning year was palpable.
At its heart, the new 2023–2027 strategy is about creating a low-carbon world that is good for people and good for nature. We’ll get there by tackling three fundamental transformations of the food, land, and water system; the energy system; and cities. To do this, we must also ensure that our economic, financial and governance systems are helping, not hindering, the great transition.
We know that most change will happen on the ground, so our new strategy focuses on country transitions. This requires WRI to take an even more rigorous approach to setting clear theories of change against which we will measure progress and learn from our work. Throughout, WRI will be guided by ambitious global goals, ensuring that we play a constructive and conscientious role in the wider development community.
True to WRI’s culture, the strategic planning process was highly inclusive, involving hundreds of WRI staff along the way. The Global Board of Directors also played a significant role in shaping what has emerged as WRI’s most rigorous strategy yet.
Strengthened Regional Presences in Latin America and Africa
As part of WRI’s pursuit of high-quality and strategically aligned growth, 2022 marked the opening of the newest WRI country office — WRI Colombia. WRI has been working in mega-diverse Colombia for more than a decade, though programs and projects were operated by the Global office.
WRI also grew the WRI Africa team significantly to cover five African countries — Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Republic of the Congo and Rwanda. This was in addition to establishing a legal WRI presence in Kenya in 2022.
Not only will strengthening WRI’s regional presence in Latin America and Africa drive greater institutional alignment and efficiency, it will also create greater opportunities for holistic programmatic work around the Amazon and Congo regions. The Amazon is home to 1 in 10 species. The Congo Basin is the world’s largest carbon sink. Both are critical to meeting our global goals.
Scaling and Sustaining Data Innovation
In 2021, a small team of WRI staff came together to take stock of WRI’s data and technology work. The team found that while WRI had an exceptional track record of innovation and product delivery, the institute was not structured to sustain or scale this work.
In 2022, we responded by transforming the Data Lab from a small data science unit into a 40-person team of engineers, product managers, and data scientists at the heart of WRI’s data innovation and delivery. The transformation is already delivering results for WRI’s programs and country offices.
"As globalization continues to give way to fragmentation and competition, WRI’s unrivaled reputation as an effective partner and thought-leader across government and business in many regions of the world sets them apart. WRI is uniquely positioned to deliver collaborative solutions and leverage emerging momentum for a global economic shift from efficiency to resilience."
Member, WRI Global Board of Directors
In 2022, the Data Lab helped deliver groundbreaking AI innovations, including Dynamic World — a first-of-its-kind, real-time AI model developed with Google and Land & Carbon Lab that allows us to understand and act on changes in land cover and land use anywhere in the world. The Data Lab also helped WRI teams build and scale new data products and supported in-sourcing of product management and engineering for established products, lowering costs and improving learning.
Under WRI’s new five-year strategy, the Data Lab will continue to scale up support for WRI’s programmatic work while also expanding to serve the sustainable development sector at large.
Walking the Talk
It’s never been more important for WRI to walk the talk on sustainability as well as diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). We cannot ask governments, businesses and the public to make changes to their policies and lives if we are not willing to do so too. It is a matter of principle and reputation.
WRI continues to develop a more sophisticated understanding of and dedication to what walking the talk means for us as an institute. In January 2022, WRI launched the pilot cohort of the Global DEI Ambassador program. The Ambassador program was established as a global initiative to integrate structural, cultural and behavioral DEI practices across all WRI offices, creating a more inclusive workplace culture. Just as the pilot cohort of 37 staff energetically completed their course, a new 2023 cohort have followed behind them.
WRI also set a business travel target of a 46% reduction from (pre-pandemic) 2019 levels, in alignment with the 1.5°C Paris Agreement goal. To reach this target, staff created four detailed steps for how to be strategic about air travel for FY2023. The steps cover team planning, goal setting, tracking progress, and sharing our resources, tools, and publications with vendors and partners.
WRI’s sustainability and DEI efforts are in no small part driven by our passionate staff who believe deeply in the world we are working to create together.