Weblogic

Maurice Strong: a study in leadership - The Preparatory Process



From his time as head of Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), he had a strong interest in development and the environmental issues and had nurtured a vast, global network of high level personal contacts. He valued personal contact and had well-developed diplomatic and conflict resolution skills. In his autobiography, he summed up some of these experiences with the words “never to confront but to co-opt, never to bully but to equivocate and never to yield.”5/
In the following, the key elements of this crucial leadership factor for the Conference are analyzed. This includes some significant cases where political constraints forced Strong to lower his original goals in the interest of securing a positive end result.6/

Design of the preparatory process

Maurice Strong’s first and foremost task was to re-gain the government confidence that was lost due to the evident mismanagement of the UN Secretariat earlier in 1970. He managed to do so with a masterful performance at an informal meeting of the Preparatory Committee on 9 – 10 November 1970, immediately before he formally took up his position. His message, to “place our search for sound environmental policies in the socio-economic context of development,”7/ received important “conditional but encouraging” support from developing countries. He also took decisive control of the preparations and injected intellectual clarity and order in the void caused by the non-performing Secretariat. This served to move the substantive level of the preparations considerably beyond what had emerged from the first session of the Preparatory Committee.

He conceived a three-level preparatory process that would avoid the seeming contradiction between the desire by governments for both comprehensiveness and action. His design was welcomed by governments who were, for the most part, uncertain of how to proceed with this new type of multilateral process.

Level 1: Intellectual and conceptual framework – designed to provide a comprehensive review of the existing state of knowledge and opinion on the relationship between man and his environment. The main contribution was an unofficial report prepared by Barbara Ward and René Dubos with the assistance of a 152-member committee of corresponding consultants in 58 countries. Its title carried the motto of the Stockholm Conference “Only One Earth”, symbolizing the rise in awareness and beginning of a paradigm shift that had developed since the original initiative in December 1967.

This innovative publication constituted the world’s first state-of-the environment report when it was published in 1972. 8/ As such, it had a major impact on public opinion and elites in industrialized countries and also, to some extent, in the developing world. The report was not considered at the Conference because of its unofficial character. Strong had chosen this unorthodox, but completely legal way because of bureaucratic rigidity in the UN Secretariat.9/

 

5. Strong, p. 123.
6. If not otherwise stated, the account is based on the recollections of the author. The observations can also be found in abbreviated form in Engfeldt (1973).
7. Strong, p. 122, second quote from Strong’s opening remarks at the meeting, p. 9.
8. Barbara Ward and René Dubos, Only One Earth – The Care and Maintenance of a Small Planet (George McLeod Ltd, Toronto and simultaneously by other publishers around the world, 1972.
9 Strong, p. 125.