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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Polly Courtice speech

29 September 2021 – The University of Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership and leaders from across its global network came together to celebrate and thank Founder Director Dame Polly Courtice for her years of leadership. 

The sun shone as CISL’s staff, senior faculty and partners gathered on the lawns of Kings College to celebrate Polly’s achievements and to look ahead to an exciting new era for CISL, marked by the opening of the Entopia building. 

Alongside Vice-Chancellor Stephen Toope and CISL’s new Director and CEO Clare Shine, Polly reflected on the journey of the Institute over the past 30 years, and its changing role in society as business, government and financial institutions begin to prioritise sustainability. 

“Stepping back from the fray of day-to-day life, I’ve also had time to think about future generations & whether there cause to be hopeful, or even optimistic?

Hope is grounded in the possibility for change. And CISL’s whole purpose has been to drive change, to mobilise leaders to act more radically in the face of the serious challenges we face. All the evidence is pointing to the fact that the transformation that is needed is simply not happening fast enough. But it’s important to acknowledge that over the past few decades we have seen real and meaningful change.

And I like to think that CISL has played a significant part in shifting individual attitudes and company strategies, and in shaping thinking at the all-important systems level of our society and economy. 

So, I leave you with hope, optimism, and gratitude. Hope in our possibility to transform, optimism because you and others are the leaders we need right now, and gratitude for the many friends and colleagues that have travelled with me thus far.” 

Paying tribute to Polly, Clare said: 

“Polly, many years ago, far away, you were described to me as “a force of nature”. I didn’t think then, or until recently, that I’d have the honour to stand alongside you, still less take CISL into its new chapter. Thank you for your vision, your leadership – and now your friendship.” 

Looking ahead to CISL’s next chapter, Clare outlined the importance of CISL’s vision and responsibility to “call out tomorrow” as we enter a critical decade for action on climate, nature and social impact. In particular, she highlighted the role of the Entopia building as a “springboard for radical openness and inclusive debate”. Far from being in an ivory tower, Entopia will be a living laboratory on the high street - where ideas and invention fuse with leadership and action for people, nature and climate.

  • For CISL as an organisation and as a global network of leaders and changemakers 
  • For entrepreneurs and regional SMEs: The Canopy will become a go-to hub linking entrepreneurs, SMEs, our business and financial networks, researchers, schools and cultural innovators.
  • For the University – brokering new collaboration and dialogue and linking breakthrough research to policy, practice and innovation 
  • For the community – from schools to health workers to the council

Find out more about the road to Entopia 


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

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