Sir Richard Jolly (A. 1948-53)

Sir Richard Jolly is Honorary Professor and Research Associate of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex.

Before returning to England in 2000, Richard was an Assistant Secretary General of the United Nations holding senior positions in UNICEF and UNDP for nearly 20 years. He was from 1996 to 2000 Special Adviser to the Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and architect of the widely-acclaimed Human Development Report. Before this, he was, Deputy Executive Director in UNICEF, with responsibilities for UNICEF's programmes in over 130 countries of the world, including UNICEF's strategy for support to countries in reducing child mortality and implementing the goals agreed at the 1990 World Summit for Children. From 2001-6 he was also a Trustee of OXFAM and Chairman of the UN Association of the United Kingdom. He was made a Knight of the Order of St. Michael and St George in the New Years Honours of 2001 for his contributions to international development.

He has written or been a co-author of some 20 books including four of the volumes on UN history.

On a lighter note, in 1959, Richard Jolly was Secretary of the British Alpine Hannibal Expedition, which investigated Hannibal's route across the Alps with the aid of Jumbo, a 1.5 ton elephant. This raised money for the UN's World Refugee Year and led to Richard's first published article "Hannibal's route across the Alps: results of an empirical test".

  1. When you were at Brighton College, what did you want to be when you 'grew-up'?
    I didn't have much idea at the time -but who does, when they are in their teens. Mr Lester, who taught me maths in the sixth form, suggested I consider being an actuary. Daddy Dykes – my housemaster (not what such a nickname might suggest in today's co-educational college)- suggested I become a barrister but neither made much sense to me. At Cambridge, I started with maths but in my second year switched to economics, and found it fascinating and important. After university, I found myself working as a community development officer in Baringo District of Kenya–and discovered what I wanted to do: to work internationally in economic development. I did further studies, gained a doctorate at Yale and in various ways and places have been in development ever since. I have found it totally fulfilling.
    Although I have been a development economist all my life, I am often a sceptical renegade one and increasingly an activist protestor for peace. Indirectly, the College played an important part in my later conscientious objection to military service. At school, I was a keen member of the cadet force, attending many camps and ending up as an under-officer, third in line for a place in the Abbey at the Queen's coronation, when the College was chosen to provide the representative for all the cadets in British schools. However, I was taken aback by a official film at one of the cadet camps about bayonet practice that ended "Remember, the goal of every infantryman is to KILL! KILL! KILL!" At university, I began to question further and was deeply shocked when Britain joined France and Israel in launching an attack on Egypt over Suez. So my time in Kenya was ordered by the court as an alternative to military service. It changed my life.
  2. What are you now you've grown up?
    I am not sure I have yet grown up –certainly my children and some friends doubt it.
  3. What is your best memory of school?
    Actually, what comes first to mind is my worst memory. On my first day in the Junior School, we went for break to the senior school playing field where I saw a school prefect, cane in hand, in one of the fives courts, keeping a circle of about 20 squatting students moving around him, while about 50 other senior school students stood on the walls throwing stones at those squatting. This was June 1945 and fortunately nothing as horrible happened afterwards! Caning and other forms of corporal punishment were banned in the 1960s.
    But I also have good memories – physics (and many laughs)with Peter Gough, English with Geoff Lees (who gave me an assignment of 10 'lines', which I remember to this day: "I must learn to temper my hilarity with a modicum of reserve", history with Bill Stewart, organizing Aldrich to win "standards in athletics," in 1953, secretly practicing diagonal marching with the Aldrich squad as a psychological weapon against other houses for the school marching competition and, of course, the final year school pantomime. I was a bit of nerd, not much good at sport, though I greatly enjoyed entering the Leonardo prize with essays on the physics of the cricket ball and the mathematics of riding a bicycle.
  4. What was the best piece of advice you were given.
    Be true to your convictions, but learn from experience and be ready to change your mind.
  5. What did you do as a career?
    As a development economist, I have worked in Africa and the Middle East and visited many countries. For half my life I have done research and directed the Institute of Development Studies at Sussex. For 20 years I was with UNICEF and UNDP, as an Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations in New York. Being part of the great work of UNICEF, and leading UNDP'S "Human Development Report was the most fulfilled part of my life – apart from having four children and three grandchildren.
  6. What does your job involve? I'm semi-retired but I still do some teaching at the university and take part in UN meetings on human development and human security issues. Much of this draws on my experience with the UN and on a ten year study of UN history which I co-directed at the City University New York after I left the UN. The final book, UN Ideas that Changed the World, provides much to talk about and I love hearing reactions from students from all over the world, many of whom don't realize how much the UN has done that is positive and the difference it has made. And I have now learned to cook!
  7. What are the most challenging parts of your job?
    Being open to different national experiences, cultures and perceptions while avoiding national stereotypes and any feelings that Britain has always been best.
  8. What have you done that you are most proud of?
    I feel less proud than fortunate. So much of my career and opportunities have been part of historical luck. I have been lucky often to work as part of small groups or teams which pioneered new thinking and approaches to development – in Colombia, Sri Lanka and Kenya exploring how to give priority to employment, poverty reduction and equitable distribution, when in UNICEF to show how austerity policies were neglecting children in Africa and Latin America, in UNDP working with the Human Development Report to show how human values and concerns -as opposed to narrowly economic or financial ones- can be made central in national and international policy. In the last two years, I have joined with a dozen others to produce an OXFAM booklet, Be Outraged -there are alternatives to austerity in Europe and the UK. I am always interested in alternatives that can make a positive difference with examples of where these alternatives are already being applied.
  9. What is the single thing that would most improve the quality of your life?
    Seeing my grandchildren grow up happy and fulfilled in whatever way they choose. It is probably what motivated my parents when they sent me to Brighton College.
  10. What are the three objects you would take with you to a desert island?
    A radio tuned to the BBC, a solar panel charger to keep it working and an endless supply of Green and Black's chocolate.
  11. How would you like to be remembered?
    As a family man who worked for children and UNICEF and showed how the UN could lead the way in humane global governance

Contact Us

Brighton College
Eastern Road
Brighton, BN2 0AL
+44 (0) 1273 704 250
Registered Charity Number: 307061