Natural Resources: Curse or Blessing?
28 September 2012
Lord Browne of Madingley shared his unrivalled knowledge of natural resources and their impact with MPP students on Tuesday with a lecture and Q&A session. The lecture was a key highlight of an intensive ‘Policy Challenge’ the students have undertaken in their first week of study, focussing on whether natural resources are a curse or a blessing.
Lord Browne is Chair of the International Advisory Board of the School. He worked for BP for 41 years, including 12 years as CEO of BP Group. He was voted "Most Admired CEO" by Management Today from 1999 – 2002, and was credited with turning around the fortunes of the company. He drew on his extensive experience as CEO of the oil-giant to provide a genuine, practical insight into the impact that discovery of a valuable natural resource can have on a country.
‘Natural resources are not inherently bad or good. Their character are determined by the choices we make.’ Lord Browne illustrated the mechanisms that can be used by both governments and businesses to mitigate the potential negative impact of natural resources with specific examples of his leadership at BP. He spoke of the mistakes the company had made in Colombia by ‘building a fence’ and using security personnel, causing resentment in the local population, and how this was corrected by the company in Indonesia through public consultation and local ownership.
Learning to resolve ethical dilemmas that arise in public policy design and implementation is a key component of the MPP and of the Policy Challenge. By describing his own experience of navigating decisions with moral implications, Lord Browne demonstrated to the students that the issues being studied are not theoretical propositions but extremely pertinent to communities at the global, national and local level. For MPP student Aparajita Bharti, his description of working with governments provided ‘an interesting dimension of expectations of the private sector from the government’, that students will find informative for policy-making later in their careers.
The students relished the opportunity to pose tough questions to the former CEO of one of the most powerful companies in natural resources, particularly regarding the sincerity behind BP’s drive for sustainability. For Lord Browne however, sustainability is not an empty fashion, but a business strategy that looks to the future. He emphasised the importance of research into alternative energy sources for businesses such as BP; ‘you never know, you might find something extraordinary’.