Professor Melissa Leach CBE appointed CCI Executive Director

28th February 2024

We are delighted to announce that Professor Melissa Leach has been appointed as the new Executive Director of the Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI).

Professor Leach is a renowned academic and policy leader with extensive international experience, combining thirty years of ethnographic work in West Africa with engagements and networks across Africa, South Asia, China and beyond. She has led national and international, policy-engaged programmes and consortia across the fields of global health, environment and sustainability, food systems, and social and gender equity.

This wide-ranging experience of working at the interface of science and policy, and with civil society organisations means that Melissa is extremely well-placed to lead CCI in its ambition to utilise cross-disciplinary collaborations to help solve the nature crisis.

For the last decade Melissa has been Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), helping it to become the world’s leading institute for research, teaching and policy engagement in global development. She also co-founded and co-directed the Economic and Social Research Council’s STEPS Research Centre and global consortium, is a Fellow of the British Academy – the UK’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences – and has won several awards, including a Queen’s Birthday Honours CBE in 2017 for services to social science.

In taking on the role of Executive Director of CCI, Melissa’s leadership will be underpinned by her impressive record of international roles including co-lead of the International Science Council’s Fellows network; co-chair of Future Earth’s Science Committee; leadership of UN reports; social science leader in the WHO Ebola and Covid-19 science and response committees; and founder member of the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems.

Melissa’s appointment follows an extensive and rigorous search and interview process. Professor Anne Ferguson-Smith, CCI Council member and the current Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and International Partnerships at the University of Cambridge said of the appointment, ‘We were impressed by Melissa’s substantial track record of leading impactful multidisciplinary teams. Her appointment will bring enormous value to CCI as we prepare to step up our ambition to secure a sustainable future for all life on earth.’

Professor Melissa Leach said about joining CCI, ‘Nature is under onslaught as never before, as the biodiversity crisis intersects with other global challenges from climate change and pandemics to conflict, poverty and inequality. I am delighted to be joining the CCI at this exciting time and am deeply committed to using this opportunity to bring my leadership skills to help CCI address these challenges head on, fostering the transformations we need for a diverse world in which nature and societies thrive together.’

Professor Jeremy Wilson, Chair of CCI Council and Director of Science at RSPB said ‘CCI was founded in 2007 with its partners coming together and recognising that more can be done to protect and restore the natural world if we collaborate. In 2016 we moved into the David Attenborough Building, enhancing our ability to work together and share resources and expertise. Our Endangered Landscapes and Seascapes Programme and highly successful MPhil in Conservation Leadership are just two examples of our collaborative work having real conservation impact. But the scale of challenge is vast, and it is essential that we scale up our impact. I am delighted to welcome Professor Leach whose highly relevant experience and lifelong passion for conservation and sustainability, will open an exciting new chapter for CCI.’

Melissa will start her role as CCI Executive Director in June 2024.