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August 29, 2007

Conservationist R. Michael Wright named managing director of the Natural Capital Project

Conservationist R. Michael Wright has been named the first managing director of the Natural Capital Project, a partnership of The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) and the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University that's designed to make conservation economically attractive and thus mainstream.

Launched in October 2006, the project is developing new tools to help public agencies, nongovernmental organizations and businesses calculate the economic value of clean water, climate stability, flood control and other essential services provided by nature. The project is focusing its initial effort on four main sites in Tanzania, China, California and the Hawaiian Islands.

"In modern society, we seem to have lost touch of the fundamental dependence we have on conserving nature," said Wright, who has served as director of conservation and sustainable development at the Chicago-based John T. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation since 2002. "It is critical to show how humans benefit from nature by calculating the real economic value of those benefits. That's exactly what the Natural Capital Project wants to achieve."

Wright has been a leading figure in global conservation for more than 30 years. From 1994 to 2002, prior to joining the MacArthur Foundation, he served as president and chief executive officer of the African Wildlife Foundation, the oldest organization in the United States dedicated to natural resource conservation in Africa. From 1970 to 1994, he held several key conservation positions at WWF, including senior vice president responsible for all programs in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. In 1980, Wright took a one-year leave of absence from WWF to serve as assistant director of President Jimmy Carter's Task Force on Global Resources and Environment. He also helped launch The Nature Conservancy's International Program in 1974 and served as its first director until 1979. Wright earned a bachelor's degree in history at Stanford University and a law degree from Stanford Law School.

"Michael Wright brings tremendous strength to the Natural Capital Project," said project co-founder and chair Gretchen Daily, senior fellow at the Woods Institute and professor of biological sciences at Stanford. "He is a master of startups, having launched really successful and enduring programs at WWF, The Nature Conservancy, MacArthur and elsewhere. His work throughout his life has been geared to the project's mission—to align economic forces with conservation and to provide the scientific and policy tools, and practical on-the-ground experience, for doing so."

Ecosystem services

"The Natural Capital Project brings together three leading institutions to make sure the world considers the economic value of intact ecosystems in making decisions about their future," said Carter S. Roberts, president and chief executive officer of WWF in Washington, D.C. "I can think of no better person to lead this crucial new partnership. Michael brings decades of leadership in advancing programs that integrate the conservation of biodiversity with efforts to protect people's livelihoods. With experience in all three organizations, he brings the perfect perspective to this important collaboration."

As managing director, Wright will serve as the project's first chief executive officer, with overall responsibility for setting strategy, developing a business plan and directing project management. He also will hold the title of consulting professor at Stanford's Woods Institute. Both appointments were made possible by a grant from Stanford alumni Peter and Helen Bing.

"Human well-being depends on the services and assets that nature provides," added Steve McCormick, president and CEO of The Nature Conservancy. "Our challenge is to make consideration of the value of those services and assets routine, so that their value is part of land and resource-use decisions. I am confident that with his management acumen and on-the-ground conservation experience, Michael Wright has the right skills to address this challenge."

Wright will start his new position on October 15. He plans to spend about two-thirds of his time based in Washington, D.C., and the rest at NatCap's California office at Stanford University.

"What really excited me about this job was the opportunity to work in a partnership with a great university and the country's two premier conservation organizations," Wright said. "This idea of putting a price tag on economic services is gaining momentum around the world, but if we're going to do it, we have to get it right."

Editor Note:

For a photo of R. Michael Wright, contact Mark Shwartz at the Woods Institute.



Mark Shwartz, Woods Institute for the Environment: (650) 723-9296, [email protected]


Michael Wright, Natural Capital Project: (312) 479-1732, [email protected]

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