Do the words trade, biodiversity and hope belong in the same sentence?

Gianni Scognamiglio | Unsplash
4 February 2019

By Melanie Ryan, Senior Programme Manager, Luc Hoffmann Institute

On a chilly morning last October I emerged from bed before dawn, donned my warmest coat, grabbed my reusable coffee cup and headed to Cambridge train station. As a night owl, this early start was not in my usual routine. But I was awake and alert – it was a big day ahead.

This day was sandwiched within weeks of workshops, meetings, thesis writing, facilitation, and office management. It was the day that colleagues and I would trek to London – from China, Brazil, Cambridge and Oxford – to face an interview panel for the UK Research and Innovation Global Challenges Research Fund proposal that we all had a hand in designing. At stake were tens of millions of pounds aimed at making trade a positive force for both marginalised people and nature conservation.

I wondered if my brain would be sharp enough, what questions they would ask and whether our proposal would stack up. Is it possible to take 50 partners, from almost every sector and continent, and start to steer the juggernaut of global trade in a new direction?

The interview panel wanted to know as well. Questions ranged from the minutiae of how practical choices about programme management would be made to how the complex systems of global trade, biodiversity and poverty are tightly bound and how we would work within them to create change (and were we naive to try!). The interview was over in a heartbeat.

Then the waiting began.

Had we done justice to the hundreds of hours dedicated to the proposal by the many talented, thoughtful, hopeful and world-aware (or world-weary) people who were invested in this work? When I signed up to support the proposal's design, namely the theory of change and impact design, I wondered what a global hypothesis of change might look like. I also wondered, was it even useful and doable?

Turns out, it might be. In the months that led up to 3 October, the voices from Brazil, Cameroon, China, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Indonesia, the UK, and Tanzania came together over and over again to unpick the diverse and messy ways in which the nexus of trade, biodiversity and society plays out. Not just to understand it, but to co-design how they could act in cohesion (but not as carbon copies of each other), co-produce new and tailored research, and go further together than they may have apart. It was as simple and as complex as that.

On 22 January 2019, in the same week that the New Deal for Nature was floated at Davos, the announcement was made that the UNEP WCMC-led TRADE Hub proposal had been successful. It was fitting that the public announcement came during the Davos conference. The nexus of trade, biodiversity and society played out in technicolour, beamed out to the world via the Twittersphere. This nexus is a complex tangle that several Luc Hoffmann Institute collaborations have been delving into.

The TRADE Hub grant will roll out over five years, culminating in a set of policy options to improve the sustainability of global trade at a sourcing level. A lot can happen in five years. Toddlers grow into school age children, the 2020 mega year for biodiversity will come and go, over 50 million children will die from preventable causes, teenagers will turn into voting adults, thousands of species will continue to decline or go extinct and our world will grapple with what to do about it all.

Importantly, 50 partners from every sector and almost every continent will start to build hope. They will act, grounded in the places they are from, now connected by funding and shared aspiration. Are they naive? No. Will it be easy? No. But, there is no better time than the present to begin.

Read more about the TRADE Hub project.

Want to get in touch?

Email the project team at
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