News INBAR in conversation with Jan McAlpine, former UNFF Director, INBAR trustee and Bamboo Hero

INBAR in conversation with Jan McAlpine, former UNFF Director, INBAR trustee and Bamboo Hero


INBAR was represented at the UN South-South Development Expo in New York by Board member Jan McAlpine and by Policy Officer Borja de la Peña, who gave speeches and held bilaterals about INBAR, bamboo and South-South cooperation. INBAR dives deeper into Jan McAlpine’s career, and found out how she became one of bamboo’s most respected spokespeople.

Jan McAlpine at the Global South-South Development Expo in November 2018

At the high-level, wide ranging South-South Expo held 28-30 November, 2018 at the United Nations in New York, former director of the United Nations Forum on Forests and INBAR Board Member, Jan L. McAlpine, spoke in a number of sessions and side sessions on science and technology on the relationship between bamboo and rattan and their significance for South-South cooperation. According to McAlpine, “INBAR is committed to demonstrating how these plants can make a powerful contribution to our changing world, including through South-South Cooperation, where these species have a particularly important role to play.” She listed a number of ways in which bamboo can contribute to the movement for plastic waste revolution, as a replacement material for paper and single-use plastics, as well as to more sustainable interior design and manufacturing. She urged delegates to “think bamboo” when considering sources of sustainable biological materials. Ms. McAlpine and Mr. Borja de la Peña also met with high level representatives of the United Nations and UN Member States on the margins of the Expo.

At the side session on ‘Promoting and Scaling up Good Governance through South-South Cooperation and Triangular Cooperation’.  McAlpine also spoke, presenting an overview of INBAR’s already impressive work in this field, including details of projects in Africa, SE Asia, China and South America. As a major mechanism for south-south and triangular cooperation, she noted, INBAR’s unique role  has not yet been well understood.

It was an honour to have Ms. McAlpine represent INBAR at this high level diplomatic event, and especially to have her speak so forcefully and convincingly in support of INBAR’s goals. Over her career she has gained a reputation as one of the intergovernmental processes most powerful weapons when it comes to negotiating and leading on forestry and environmental issues.

Jan McAlpine, right, joins a panel at the UN South-South Development Expo with Jorge Chediak, Director of UNOSSC (centre) and Ambassador Shahid Kamal, Special Adviser, Commission on Science and Technology for Sustainable Development in the South (left)

Although she has much spent her professional life working in the United States, Ms. McAlpine was born in Michigan, USA, but moved with her academician father and nurse mother at the age of three months to Cape Town, South Africa in 1951.  She spent her childhood living in several other countries on the African continent, including Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and attended boarding school in Kenya and South Africa. This diverse upbringing inevitably impacted her identity and outlook, instilling in her a respect for the natural environment.  When she left Africa for college, she chose to study mass media, with a minor in business and French.

This led her eventually to take a job in an international water pollution control science and educational association, where her interest in environmental issues was compounded. It was at this organisation that she was first seconded into the US government to support the EPA’s international program in the Office of the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, where she conceived and put together a national advisory council on policy and technology’s International Advisory Committee to the Administrator of EPA.  Subsequently, she was seconded to the Executive Office of the President (of the U.S.A) at the Office of the US Trade Representative, where she served as Director of Natural Resources.  (As part of the Office of the President, her daughter was delighted to attend a number of events at the White House, including the annual Easter Egg roll). Over the following years, McAlpine was an integral part of a shift in the way the U.S. government addressed environmental issues: a shift from viewing trade and the economics as separate from environmental issues, towards seeing them as an integrated part of society.

Ms. McAlpine (Bottom right) with the INBAR Board of Trustees at the meeting in November 2018)

Ms. McAlpine also was seconded to the University of Michigan for several years, following which she was appointed by the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-Moon, as the Director of the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF), a position she held from 2008 to 2013. This role of course took her deeper into the realm of bamboo, and closer into the orbit of INBAR, which is active in the UNFF.

After celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2017, INBAR is at a key stage in its development. And the board of trustees have a key role to play: that of overseeing the governance of the organisation, and reflecting upon its key objectives and the role it can play in shaping the future. What advice can Ms. McAlpine impart to the organisation going forward?

Use the extensive knowledge base and unique experience that INBAR has built up over the last 21 years, she says:

“As an intergovernmental organization based in China, INBAR is in a unique position to positively influence global events and contribute to the realisation of the Sustainable Development Goals.  Bamboo and Rattan are exceptionally relevant sustainable plants which provide an outstanding opportunity to replace non-sustainable technologies, including plastics, concrete and other manufacturing materials.”

But being part of INBAR isn’t just about work. McAlpine represents bamboo in her personal life too:

“I have sheets, towels, kitchen equipment and more made from bamboo and enjoy their efficiency as much as I enjoy my very clear conscience in using them!”

INBAR is grateful for the support of Jan McAlpine and the rest of the Board of Trustees, who are ultimately responsible for steering INBAR’s governance.