skip to content

Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

Richard Calland talking at COP 28 event

19 June 2023 - Prof Richard Calland has been appointed as the new Director of CISL South Africa, where he will lead the Institute’s work in South Africa – the region he now regards as home.

Richard came to South Africa in 1994, the year of its first democratic election, which saw Nelson Mandela become the country’s first democratically elected President. “It was supposed to be a one year sabbatical [from his career at the Bar in London], but it turned into an indefinite one,” he quips.

In the intervening period of almost three decades, Calland has become a well-known commentator and writer, whose career path traverses the fields of law, politics and sustainability.

In 1995, he was employed at leading democracy think-tank, Idasa, to develop a new programme – the Parliamentary Information & Monitoring Service – which brought him into close contact with many of the people who now occupy senior positions in government, including President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chaired the Constitutional Assembly.

“I was fortunate to be able to be a close witness to the process of writing South Africa’s final constitution in 1996. It was a golden period of law reform, too, and institution-building,” recalls Calland now.

A specialism in freedom of information law emerged; Columbia University scholar Sheila Coronel later described Calland as “a South African activist and academic who was one of the pioneers of the global Right to Information movement.” For 10 years, he served as a member of the World Bank’s first Access to Information Appeals Board.

In South Africa, Calland was part of a civil society coalition that pressed not just for a constitutional right of access to information but a far-reaching one that would apply to privately-held information where access was needed for the exercise or protection of another right.

This led to Calland’s first appearance on a CISL programme in 2005, coincidently the year in which he acquired South African citizenship, when he delivered a presentation on corporate transparency and sustainability. Calland notes that “then it was more about social licence to operate and legitimacy; now, of course, the idea has come to greater prominence with the whole ESG reporting ‘revolution.’”

Since then, Richard has been a member of faculty on many executive education programmes for CISL, for organisations such as the World Bank, African Development Bank, PWC, Network Rail, Namdeb, Tata, Anglo American PLC and Nedbank.

He has been a senior associate and, in recent years, a Fellow of CISL. Since 2022 Richard led CISL’s Board Leadership programme – a role that Calland says he “loves because of the mixture of corporate governance, strategy, and high-level facilitation."

In 2007, Calland joined the University of Cape Town as an associate professor in public law, a position that he will leave in order to be able to focus on his new CISL role. Over the years, Calland has founded and/or led a number of organisations including of the Council for the Advancement of the South African Constitution (CASAC), the Parliamentary Monitoring Group (PMG), the Democratic Governance & Rights Unit at UCT, and the Open Democracy Advice Centre (ODAC).

From 2009, Calland added climate finance governance to his portfolio, which led him to being the co-chair, with Amar Bhattacharya of the Brookings Institute, of a technical task team of experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General to prepare a landmark report on the state of international climate finance ahead of the 2020 COP and in 2022 he was a member of the High Level Expert Group on Climate Finance, which reported to COP27 in Egypt.

One of Calland’s passions is the intersection of education and sustainability, to which end he is the co-founder of the Sustainability Education initiative, which is working with school and other partners around the world to create opportunities for critical reflection by school leaders on questions of what, where and how they teach.

In the realm of political economy and political risk, he is a Founding Partner of The Paternoster Group: African Political Insight, whose past and present clients include Citadel, PepsiCo, RCL Foods, Nando’s, VWSA, Discovery Health, MTN, Anglo American PLC as well as the French Development Agency and the Embassies/High Commissions of The Netherlands, Australia and New Zealand in South Africa.

In February 2019, Prof Calland was appointed by the South African Minister for International Relations to chair an eight-person Ministerial Task Team to make recommendations on the design and establishment of a new diplomatic academy, a process that was completed on schedule in August 2019. In 2020, he was asked by the Minister of Trade & Industry in South Africa to be part of an informal advisory team to help him develop a coherent vision for the post-COVID economy.

“Building a new strategy for impact in Southern Africa, and a team to deliver it, is a thrilling challenge,” Calland says, “And I hope to apply the many lessons I have learnt over the years now, as I build CISL SA and a new programme of work for us and our network in the region.”

A columnist for the Mail & Guardian newspaper in South Africa since 2001, Calland’s latest book – The Presidents: From Mandela to Ramaphosa, Leadership in The Age of Crisis – was published in late 2022. Earlier books include Anatomy of South Africa: Who holds the power? (2006), The Zuma Years (2012) and Make or Break: How the next three years will shape South Africa’s next three decades (2016).

Read more about CISL's work in South Africa

Read Richard's blog series on board leadership


Zoe Kalus, Head of Media  

Email | +44 (0) 7845652839