After five years at WRI leading our forest work, I will take up a new challenge on February 1 as president of the Rainforest Alliance, an international non-profit that works to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods, perhaps best known for its “follow the frog” campaign. I will have some big shoes to fill following the inspiring work of previous Rainforest Alliance leaders, Ana Paula Tavares, Tensie Whelan and Daniel Katz, the founder and current chairman.

My strongest emotion as I transition is of gratitude to WRI for giving me the opportunity to help shape a forest program that is making a real difference in the world. Together with WRI’s leadership, particularly Craig Hanson who hired me and supported me every step of the way, and a terrific group of colleagues, partners, donors and supporters, we have created two transformative initiatives, Global Forest Watch and the Global Restoration Initiative, while continuing to combat forest crime with the Forest Legality Alliance. And I know that this work will continue to progress, thanks to a strong cadre of managers, analysts and associates who have constantly impressed me with their creativity and insight.

Looking Back

An ongoing revolution in technology enabled us—along with more than 200 partner organizations including University of Maryland, Esri, Imazon, Google, Norway, the UK, USAID and GEF—to create a global system for monitoring in near-real-time and high-resolution the state of forests and land use around the world. Thanks to this new transparency, those managing resources well can now be recognized and rewarded much more readily. Those managing them badly are in plain sight, and can be held accountable. Further advances in technology and governance will only increase such accountability. Just this week, we took another step forward with Global Forest Watch’s first-of-its-kind high-resolution plantation maps for several forest-rich countries.

The past few years have also seen a surge of interest in landscape and forest restoration as a means to address a wealth of interconnected problems: climate change, food and water insecurity, biodiversity loss, the need for jobs, and the imperative to ensure that women, children and the rural poor enjoy greater opportunity. In response, WRI catalyzed new partnerships across Latin America, Africa and Asia that have the potential to restore healthy ecosystems across an area three times bigger than France. Already, 10 African nations have committed to restore 31 million hectares of degraded land as part the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), while more than a dozen regions and countries in Latin America and the Caribbean pledged to restore more than 27 million hectares as part of Initiative 20x20. Broad acceptance, as seen in Paris at the end of last year, of the vital need to address climate change, will, I believe, lead to further commitments from governments, and investment from the private sector, greatly expanding restoration efforts. This would not have been possible without our committed partners IUCN, Norway and above all, Germany.

The private sector has emerged as a much more significant partner in all of this work than I would have predicted. Hundreds of companies have committed to deforestation-free supply chains, and many of the largest, including Cargill and Unilever, are using Global Forest Watch to identify deforestation risk among their suppliers. Impact investors have committed close to $1 billion to our restoration efforts in Latin America and Africa.

Looking Ahead

Perhaps the greatest challenge for NGOs like WRI, and their partners, is to implement solutions on a large enough scale to achieve lasting change. This requires stability and flexibility of funding that is hard to achieve, managerial capability, and institutional commitment. WRI has always taken the long view, and is better placed than many to address these challenges.

In my new role, I hope Rainforest Alliance will become one of WRI’s most valued partners for lasting change, and together with other organizations, we will sustain the vision and achieve the impacts so many are counting on. There are a number of challenges that our organizations will need to explore. These include, how can third party certification systems like the Forest Stewardship Council and Sustainable Agriculture Network ensure consistently high standards of implementation across a rapidly growing number of non-profit and for-profit certifiers? How can technology help improve the efficiency, effectiveness and reliability of certification and related quality assurance programs? And how can technology help connect millions of small farmers and others to share valuable technical lessons, market intelligence and other knowledge? What strategies will be most effective in expanding formal recognition of land and resource rights for poor farmers and indigenous communities, which is key for them to gain more from the value chains connecting them with local and global markets?

The journey continues.