Newsmaker: Global green giant

WWF-UK chief executive David Nussbaum believes in charity-business alliances to pursue environmental values.

David Nussbaum
David Nussbaum

David Nussbaum is a man of many talents. He graduated in theology, trained as an accountant and started his career in business. He turned his skills to the not-for-profit arena and is now chief executive of one of the best known charities in the country.

He is a passionate campaigner and committed to pursuing the environmental values espoused by WWF, of which he became chief executive earlier this year. "WWF is at the forefront of innovation, and it's very exciting to be part of that," he says.

"We are at a point now at which people are increasingly recognising the significance of environmental change. Climate change has highlighted that, but it is actually going much wider and deeper. It's a great job to be able to have."

Nussbaum says that his previous role as chief executive of global anti-corruption charity Transparency International has equipped him well for his new post. "Transparency International was very much about engaging with governments, national institutions and businesses to create change," he says. "WWF is also about working internationally. We are engaging with communities globally and looking at how we can live in harmony with the natural world around us to make a sustainable future."

Nussbaum believes that businesses should be increasingly seen as part of the solution to global issues, rather than the problem. Earlier this month, WWF announced the beginning of a new partnership with Marks & Spencer to track supply chains and work towards procuring materials from sustainable sources. Nussbaum's skill in negotiating this sort of alliance clearly springs from his experience in business and his evident enthusiasm for commerce. "I worked in a company that bought things, sold things and made things. We had to think about how we could do that positively," he says. "WWF is particularly well placed to work amicably and constructively - but not uncritically - with business, and that's how we seek to operate."

He says it is healthy for different voluntary organisations to approach business in their different ways. "I think there's a really important place for NGOs that do not get any funding from business, and there must also be a place for those who are closely aligned with business and are unwilling to be publicly critical at all," Nussbaum says.

Nussbaum also says there should be no room for hypocrisy in the sector. "In the end, we are not there just to have a pop at companies that don't get it right first time," he says. "We all make mistakes; we don't get everything right."

But if businesses should not be needlessly criticised, nor should charities. Nussbaum's experience in tackling fraud and corruption at Transparency International leads him to play down recent fears of charities being open to abuse by terrorist organisations.

"The amount of money that is going through charities is absolutely tiny in comparison with the amount going through the City of London," he claims.

"Apart from charities, we should also look at some of the other facilitators of corruption - lawyers, accountants, bankers and trust administrators - some of which are involved in activities that might allow terrorism to wash through the system."

Meanwhile, WWF is embarking on a review of strategy, and aims to have new plans in place by next summer. Nussbaum believes his staff have unrealised potential and the charity could be more effective. "We're already doing many wonderful things, but the chances are that there's more still to do," he says.

Nussbaum CV

2007: Chief executive, WWF-UK
2003: Chief executive, Transparency International
2002: Managing director, Transparency International
1997: Director of finance, information and planning, and deputy chief
executive, Oxfam
1992: Finance director, Field Group
1990: Commercial and business development manager, Reedpack
1987: Investment controller, 3i

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