Alumna of the month - July 2012
MSc in International Business and Economics, 1994
Economist and environmentalist Miriam Kennet is widely credited with turning the concept of ‘green economics’ into a respected academic discipline and raising it to the top of the global agenda. Now, as co-founder and CEO of the Green Economics Institute and editor of the academic journal International Journal of Green Economics, she is at the forefront of what the Bank of England recently described as one of today’s most vibrant and healthy areas of the economy.
Miriam’s commitment to green economics – defined as ‘reclaiming economics for all people everywhere, for nature, the planet and its systems and comprising both social and environmental justice at the same time’– is based both on practical experience and extensive research.
After graduating from Leeds University, she spent 20 years in engineering. Moving from heavy industry to telecoms, she implemented the technology that enabled the first voice over internet protocol (VOIP) and set up and managed global hi-tech outsourcing teams for governments and the communications industry.
Alongside her demanding career, she was also a committed campaigner on green and social issues. Then a trip to India provided an epiphany. ‘We met a young boy in the gutter,’ she explains. ‘He had no legs. He’d been deliberately mutilated by his parents so he could make more money begging. We wanted to buy him dinner, but the restaurant wouldn’t let him in. That’s when I realised I had to try to make a difference to the way the world worked.’
Realising that economics was the key to bringing about change, Miriam enrolled on South Bank’s masters’ course in International Business and Economics. She continued to work full-time in engineering, travelling across London twice a week for tutorials with her small daughter in tow.
She cites five South Bank tutors in particular with helping her to understand the powerful forces that shape the world we live in. ‘Robin John, Colin Knapp, Professor Grazia Ietto-Gillies, Nigel Grimwade and Sylvester Monier – they taught me so much about the realities of international business and how trade affects people’s lives. The course helped me develop my own narrative on world economics. It changed my life.’
Armed with her new knowledge, Miriam began to develop her own economic theories. After a stint at Oxford – by which time she had run out of money, and had to put her course fees on her credit card! – studying economics and environmental science, she began the long haul towards getting her ideas accepted, first organising a conference and then co-edited a book, Green economics: beyond supply and demand to meeting people's needs. Since then she has written over 100 articles, papers and chapters and produced nine more books.
She admits that it was hard to gain traction at first. ‘Environmentalists, green campaigners, universities – they all laughed at me when I dared to suggest that green economics would be a suitable subject for a PhD or a book or a global campaign.’ Then she managed to persuade publishers Inderscience to let her set up her highly successful journal, and everything took off. She left her job in engineering to devote herself full time to writing and speaking all over the world, spreading the message that environmental and social justice go hand in hand, and that there can be no sustainable economy without equity and inclusion for all.
Since then, she has used her telecoms experience to help create a global network of people who want to make a difference. ‘I work with activists, academics, princes, professors, minority groups, politicians – people from all walks of life, including those who wouldn’t usually have the chance to help shape the global economics story.’
She has lectured at universities all over Europe and addressed governments and parliaments around the world. She is a Member of the Assembly of the Green European Foundation, and sits on the steering group of the European Network of Political Foundations. She was recently invited to join the IPCC’s panel of climate change scientists and was nominated by charity One World Action as one of 2011’s 100 most powerful women.
Through the Green Economics Institute, which she co-founded in 2003, she is helping to shape the debate about the future of economics from the streets of Egypt to business students in India and China up to the very highest echelons of policy-making. At the recent Rio+20 summit, she set out a new roadmap for green economics.
The Institute itself provides a model for new ways of working. ‘We have a diverse team,’ says Miriam, ‘and we try to stay focused on our goals, working backwards from there to see how best we can achieve them. Ours is a high-tech, innovative network, committed to creating solutions that curb excess, tame the markets and help build a sustainable future for everyone and everything on the planet.'
Find out more about the Green Economics Institute and how you can get involved at www.greeneconomics.org.uk or email Miriam at firstname.lastname@example.org. She would be delighted to speak to LSBU students past, present and future.