15.06.2012 - Natural Sciences Sector

Tribute to Elinor Ostrom, 1933- 2012

© Ric Craddick, Indiana UniversityProfessor Ostrom

Professor Elinor Ostrom was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. She received it for her work on economic governance, especially of the commons. "Elinor Ostrom has challenged the conventional wisdom that common property is poorly managed and should be either regulated by central authorities or privatized," the Swedish Royal Academy of Sciences said. "Based on numerous studies of user-managed fish stocks, pastures, woods, lakes, and groundwater basins, Ostrom concluded that the outcomes are, more often than not, better than predicted by standard theories."

She has shown that local groups in many different environments and cultures have developed a rich variety of ways to manage resources sustainably, by drawing on considerable indigenous knowledge.

We support her views that there are no such things as universal and unique solution, applicable everywhere under any circumstances. We work on interactions between people and nature, between people and people. Diversity is a source of enrichment and knowledge and may provide for the capabilities that we need to be adaptive and robust as well as paths for resilient socio ecological systems and sustainable development.

Our programmes and work on biodiversity and cultural diversity are teaching us that no panaceas exist. We agree with Elinor Ostrom when she wrote that “Multiple and flexible approaches need to exist that can fit local circumstances and adapt to changes in resources conditions and threats to them over time, if long term sustainability is to be achieved”.  Her work pays tribute to the importance of linking cutting-edge research with policy-making.  

I was honoured and encouraged that Elinor Ostrom was working with the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Programme on a research agenda that uses biosphere reserves and IFRI forestry sites to study the sustainability of socio-ecological systems.

We were deeply honoured and happy that Elinor Ostrom came to UNESCO on 22 June 2011 to give a conference on her ‘Multi-Tier Framework for Social-Ecological Systems’ that is being used in this joint research programme -- to understand how to strengthen the resilience of socio-ecological systems and to reconnect societal developments to the biosphere.

Her tremendous work and research will continue to inspire us, including through the Vincent and Elinor Ostrom Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, at the Indiana University and through the numerous scholars and researchers that will continue the thinking and collective action.   


Gretchen Kalonji
Assistant Director-General for Natural Sciences, UNESCO


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