Olivier Langrand is constantly travelling, and to be able to get an interview, one has to be on the lookout in CI's hallways, just as the ornithologist would wait for a bird. A migratory bird – this is the best way to introduce Olivier, always flying between his two lives, one day working in the field, and the next day, in discussions with world decision makers. Here is the portrait of a multifaceted man devoted to a single passion: nature.
As Conservation International's (CI) Center for Conservation and Government (CCG)'s executive vice president, Olivier describes his work as directly linked with CI's new strategy. "Together with my team, we try to influence public policies in favor of environmental conservation and natural resources preservation," he says. "Partnership with government is essential. Moreover, we need to make sure that budgetary decisions are sufficient to keep those public policies afloat."
IN DEPTH: Center for Conservation and Government
A Passion Awakens in France
When Olivier speaks about nature, he does it with passion: "I would need a coach and a psychologist if I had to give you all the reasons why I chose this career," he says.
Even as a child, Olivier enjoyed watching birds. Raised in a naturalist family in the Parisian suburbs, he rapidly developed a strong environmental sensibility. He enjoyed spending his days in the woods of Saint-Cloud's Park, where he was first introduced to nature. Later, he undertook biological studies, which finally led him to scientific work in Africa.
Nature continues to be the ongoing motivation for Olivier as his life and work evolve. Ornithology is still his daily passion, as the bird-sighting list maintained at CI's Arlington office will attest. Birds are his "second family," as he calls it, just after his wife and children, who occupy most of his free time in the United States or back in France.
From Africa to Arlington: A Turning Point
From 1986 to 2000, Olivier worked for the World Wildlife Fund in Madagascar and in the Congo Basin. He joined CI in 2000 in Cape Town, South Africa. "I spent most of my career in Africa," he relates, a touch of nostalgia in his voice, "one day with the local people, the next with state leaders."
Olivier moved to CI's office in Arlington in 2001, leaving his hiking boots behind for a formal business suit in order to negotiate with international leaders and decision makers.
"In my point of view, science and politics are compatible. In the context of negotiation, field knowledge is an advantage because it gives us credibility: We know what we are talking about," he says. "To ignore the field would be treacherous. I would lose my practical reality. I would become a bureaucrat lost in abstraction."
Bringing a European Point of View
When Olivier joined CI, he brought a much-needed European perspective. His transition from Cape Town to Arlington came at a difficult time, though. "I arrived just after 9/11, in a tense international climate when France's point of view was not well understood in the United States and where I felt under pressure, socially speaking. Things have evolved positively since then."
Once the political ground steadied, he was able to make significant progress for CI's relations with European governments. "I'm very proud of the partnership I managed to create with France, my native country. I am also proud of the evolution of our partnership with Germany. Finally, our new Brussels office represents the future of CI's investment on the European scale," he relates. "Its location symbolizes the collaboration with the European Union, which is the most important funding source for world development aid ($45 billion Euros in 2010, $60 billion in 2012)."
LEARN MORE: CI's global offices
Evolution of a Man and a Mission
In spite of this success, there is more to be done. "CI still needs to collaborate with important European countries such as the United Kingdom, Denmark or Sweden to increase its influence on a European scale," says Olivier.
And there will always be more to be done, he admits. "In the world of protecting biodiversity, the field is constantly evolving and changing every day. It needs unremitting work in which we stay optimistic and motivated."
LEARN MORE: Biodiversity
CI's new mission is an example of the necessity of change. "This is the source of an important challenge in my career," Olivier relates. "The previous mission didn't manage to preserve biodiversity. Even if our organization succeeded in many things in this field, we can't deny that global biodiversity keeps disappearing." True to his sense of optimism, he states: "Nevertheless, we can't speak of failure, but a lack of pertinence in a pertinent mission. The old mission is preserved, but the debate now takes place on a higher scale: the scale of political leaders. It's a huge step!"
The Mission Continues
More time and many pages would be necessary to really get to know Olivier Langrand. Time for him is a rare resource. He belongs to the kind that dedicate their lives to a major cause which is in constant evolution, requiring passionate and unrelenting work.
"Nature is part of my life," he says. "I contribute to its conservation, and this is one of my strongest values. My evolution is that of a naturalist activist; it is a natural evolution."